We are here today in the open air,
in the midst of seeds and leaves,
of pollen and dust.
We are here in the midst of a world that
turns through time
and is continually reborn.
These words of presence and farewell were spoken at the interment of Rachel Ann Diem, a ceremony scripted by generosity, coronavirus, creativity, and the internet. It was attended by two people standing by the casket in that open air amidst seeds and leaves and two people, Rachel’s daughter and son-in-law, sitting together in their home five hundred miles away.
Rachel Diem died just days after her 95th birthday. Although Ruth Diem, her daughter, had moved her mother to a nursing home near her home near New Paltz, New York, so she could see her frequently, visits had become impossible during the pandemic, a separation that was very painful to Ruth. Now, it seemed, there would not even be an opportunity for a last goodbye, since Rachel’s body would return to her own home in Wadsworth, Ohio to be buried beside her husband and son.
This is a good place to remember
and say goodbye to Rachel.
And although she is here
in her body
and in our memories,
she is ready to leave us
to carry on her journey into death and life.
Then a friend of Ruth’s since childhood volunteered to go to the cemetery for the interment. That idea inspired Ruth’s husband, Jeffrey Slade, a graduate of Union Theological Seminary, to write a prayer and suggest they hold the funeral on FaceTime.
At the appointed time, they all tuned in. Rachel Diem’s casket stood in an outdoor pavilion. Six red roses lay atop it. The service, led by Jeffrey, was both brief and poignant. “We’re going to have a memorial service when we can,” Ruth said later. “This is an interim step. It was very moving. It was a moment for us to send my mother’s soul up with a prayer and consecrate her for burial. It felt like a way for me to participate in something that I thought I wouldn’t be able to have any part in.”
And we are glad to be here
to send her on her way.
In times of sorrow and vulnerability we are often able to open up to sources of inspiration, kindness, and profound meaning that might otherwise have eluded us.