Susan Westwood Seed Quinn:
Words for a Service of Memory and Hope
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
May 18, 2017
at First Church in Sterling, MA
Good afternoon, beloved.
I just want to begin by saying thank you. As Sue’s pastor, I am privileged to know about the many ways in which this community of love showed up for Sue in the past two years. There were so many prayers, healing services planned, cards, meals, parties, welcome home signs, books of messages, visits, flowers, letters, gifts, about 1 million people gathering last night at Miles Funeral Home….so much love.
I believe it was Ram Das who said that we are all just walking each other home. Thank you for all the ways you helped to walk Sue home.
Welcome to First Church in Sterling, which is made sacred in this season of loss with the spirit of love and friendship that you bring as you gather to remember Sue Quinn.
Welcome to Sue’s beloved church home, where she taught Sunday School and served on the preschool board, and infused these hallowed walls with her love. She is now among the saints in light.
You come together as family, friends, neighbors—co-creators of a community that includes those present and also family and friends who could not be here today, but who are with us in spirit.
We come together that we may honor Sue in our hearts, and hold her dear in our memory. This task of remembering is particularly poignant for us because Sue, phenomenal woman—wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, kind friend, speech pathologist, consummate hostess, life of the party—created so many beautiful memories for her friends and especially for her family. And she died too young, with so much love left to give the world.
So today we must remember for her; on behalf of her; to honor her.
Ecclesiastes says that:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;…
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance;…
Today we must grieve Sue’s death. But this service must also be a celebration of Sue, and her remarkable life.
This is still the season of Easter in the Christian Church. Giles Frasier says: “The resurrection is not an argument, still less a philosophical argument. That’s why rational skepticism about the empty tomb just bounces off the surface….Resurrection is who we are – our word for how we go on in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s the Christian term for defiance…This Easter rising is not just some fancy intellectual idea, it’s a form of praxis.”
We need that defiance now, as we seek to go on in the face of the overwhelming, impossible, almost drowning grief.
We need an Easter rising today in defiance, and as a form of praxis. And so we raise Sue up in our story and song, in our prayer, in our tears, in our laughter. We raise her from the dead by remembering her as so very much alive. That is how we defy death; with life. That is how we practice resurrection; by pointing to the ways in which Sue’s love will be carried on in all of us—in our bodies, in our hearts, in our actions.
That is how we turn the shadow of grief into the shimmering light of hope.
Though our grief is strong and we must mourn, we will not let the shadow of death obscure the living person who touched us many times, in many ways, filling our lives with memories, meaning and love.
There’s a heartbreaking story in our Christian scriptures that takes place three days after Jesus died, on the road to Emmaus. Jesus’s friends walk aimlessly on that road to nowhere in particular, devastated with their grief. The resurrected Christ, it turns out, is walking with them, but in their overwhelming sadness they don’t recognize him. As he peppers them with questions, the disciples say some of the most painful words in scripture, “we had hoped that he was the one to save Israel.” “Had hoped,” past tense. In their impossible, overwhelming grief, their hope had been lost.
There were so many “had hoped” moments on this road for Sue, and for Sue’s family and for all of you. We had hoped that Sue would beat this cancer. We had hoped that she would live to see her children graduate from high school and college, get married, have babies. She had hoped to grow old with the love of her life who she called “Dickie.” Even when her family knew her death would come soon, they had hoped that Sue would have one more summer to spend on the Cape together.
I visited Sue several times in the last few months. Most recently, I sat and talked with her about hospice, which had been called in on the day I came.
She believed God showed up in people, so we reviewed her life and lifted up all of you, who she loved with genuine curiosity about who you are, great warmth and without judgment. Holy moly, that woman loved people with abandon.
We talked about what activities could still bring her joy, which wasn’t a lot since she was in pain, and she didn’t see much point in shopping or exercising.
We laughed together, saying that at least she didn’t have to wear sunscreen on the beach anymore. She still had a terrific sense of humor. We sang John Denver songs with Dick and Kim while the visiting nurse talked to Dick about hospice. Country Roads and Sunshine On My Shoulder.
Sue felt lucky, even as she was dying, to love the people she loved. She lived her life all the way to the end in deep gratitude for all of you.
Faith, hope and love abide these three, but the greatest of these is love.
We talked in those days about the difference between naïve optimism and hope. Sue was too realistic and smart to hope for a miracle. She was never in denial about what she was facing.
Similarly, Sue’s faith was not blind. It was the kind of deep faith that one acquires when one spends a lifetime listening more than talking, asking questions more than finding absolute answers. She never believed in a God who made her suffer for a reason, so in her honor, let us not invoke such a God.
But she didn’t lose hope. She hoped that she could find meaning and depth in her last days on earth. She hoped she could spend the days with her children and her beloved husband. She hoped that they would know how she felt about them, which was nothing less than extravagant love. She hoped that her siblings would be OK. She hoped that her adoring parents would be at peace, knowing that she was.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, sometimes when we are on the “had hoped” road, we understandably miss the way God shows up in the path. So I want you in the coming weeks and months and years, to recognize all the ways in which Sue shows up on this road from grief to healing with you. Think about what she would say in the moment when you need her most, remember the stories she told, lift her spirit up, play John Denver in the car, and then turn your face to the sun (but only when you’re ready.)
The disciples finally recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus as soon as he breaks bread and offers it to them. Let Sue be present with you at every meal, every time you sit down at the table with one another, see her face looking back at you.
The last time Sue sat in this, her beloved church--in that back pew--was Easter Sunday a few weeks ago. I had written my Easter sermon as a prayer for her: about finding the smallest glimmers of light even in the darkest of darkness.
I know that God made Sue to be a light in the darkness, for all of us who have gathered today. That light has not been extinguished. Her love lives on in all of you. Hope never dies because love doesn’t die.
Faith, hope and love abide these three, but the greatest of these is love.
So beloved friends, we must grieve this impossible grief: of a life that is over far too soon following a death that was painful, devastating and cruel, by a disease that steals the life of so many, indiscriminantly and with no mercy. And for those reasons, we must grieve well and long, because our tears are holy: a testament to how much Sue was truly and deeply loved; a testament to how unfair her suffering was, and that the world now has to go on without her in it.
And we miss her. Sue made every person feel like they were Beloved, which is God’s work. She was a living example of what it means to honor the light of God in each and every person she met. She was tough and brave. She was kind and good. She had an a thousand-watt smile, and a sense of humor that lasted right until the very end. Her marriage was a model for what good marriage should be. She left these beautiful, bright, loving children, who undoubtedly will make this world a better place, just like she did.
And so we must honor Sue by living as she lived—with passion and compassion, kindness and humor, with great adventure and great fun. We must listen well, make other people feel as though each and every one of them is our best friend, we must love our families and friends with tenderness and gratitude. We must affirm for Sue that her death does not have the final word. Her life does.
Sue Quinn: well done, good and faithful servant. Amen.
Dear God who is eternal and ever lasting Love:
In this lonely time of grief over the shocking and breath-stealing death of our friend, Sue
We look to you for peace and assurance that the world will still spin, and we will still go on, despite the hole that the death of our wife, mother, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, cousin, friend, leaves in our lives and in our hearts.
Comfort those who mourn today,
We pray especially for Sue’s beloved husband of 21 years, Dick, her daughter Cammie and son Brian and her parents Roland and Barbara, who cherished her. We pray also for her sister, Kim and her husband, Robert, and their children Benjamin, Matthew and Daniel, her brother, David and his wife, Deborah and their children, Nate and Amanda; her sister-in-law, Beth and her children, Kate and Caleigh, her sister-in-law, Jeannie and her husband Cliff and their children, Jay and Matthew. We pray also for her beloved golden doodle, Gracie, who rarely left her side, especially when she was sick.
We pray that Cammie and Brian and Dick feel her presence in every new accomplishment they make, every rite of passage, every triumph and trial, when the sun rises and when it sets.
This is the family that love made. God help them to know that we hold each other, and we hold each other up. When they feel like they can’t breathe, let us breathe for them. If they need help when it is time to roll away the stone of mourning, we will help them kick it away, and turn their faces toward the sun.
O God, who brought us to birth,
And in whose arms we die,
In our grief and sadness and shock,
Contain and comfort us;
Embrace us with your love,
Give us hope
And grace to let go into new life.
We pray all this for love’s sake.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.