Richard Clarke has shared some remarkable posts with The Daily Undertaker, from his adopted home in
What stands out for me in this account is the way that disparate traditions and religious texts are combined, along with ritual participation, stories and songs in an informal and intimate way.
This is the new American Funeral!
Today our families are a mix of not only blood and marriage relations, but of close friends, and others whose relationships are not defined by traditional terms.
We are scattered about the country and even the globe, and it takes time for us to gather. When we do, there is a blend of tradition, innovation and a spicy combination of outlooks and beliefs. We wrap this all up, sometimes in a funeral home, sometimes in a park, sometimes in a tavern or a living room, with a clergy member or without. Often a celebrant, a family member or a friend is chosen to lead the service. Music is meaningful, and drawn from old and new, secular and divine. The structure is loose and the dress code is widely varied.
We laugh and we cry, and we say, “This is about her, this is what she would want” and “This is what I want when I go”
And so, taking us from traditional Indian rites, to the most modern of American services, and finding common ground in both, is our friend Richard Clarke. Godspeed to your dear mother, Richard.
(This is an excerpt- for the full text and many more photos, visit Richard’s blog.)
My mother, Maxine Clarke, died on
My daughter, Megan, had been providing the caregiving for my mother during the last six years. Just a few minutes after Maxine passed, a friend of Megan’s, Mystique, had a dream. In this dream Maxine was being carried through a crowd. She was waving and throwing flowers. She said, “I’m out of here!” If ever there was a true dream, this was it.
We held the memorial service a few weeks later on July 24th, scheduled so that other family members would be able to make the long drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to
The memorial service was at Patrick’s
It is , and there is still fog here. The temperature is in the mid 50s F.
For the service, Megan set up an altar on a tree stump. There are photos of my mother and a sculpture done by one of her friends decorating the altar, as well as flowers, a candle, and ashes, the last remains from the cremation.
The group that gathers is mainly relatives. Richard is presiding, wearing white ‘temple clothes’ from
Richard waves incense and gives the
Then a few verses from the Bhagavad Gita are recited
Richard then talked about Maxine’s life, followed by comments from others. A few details from this talk:
Maxine was born in 1918, a fraternal twin with Wilma. They were that last two children of Georgia and Wilkerson (Bill) Adams. Both parents were born in the 1880s, and had been married before, with children, so Maxine and Wilma were the last of a long line of kids. Wilma was outgoing, Maxine was shy.
As a child Maxine had holy spiritual experiences, unusual in
At age 16, she was told by her mother that she had to get married. The family had suffered severe losses from the Depression and the
My brother, Tom, was born in this period. After a few years, Maxine and Russell Burroughs divorced. They had felt more like brother and sister than husband and wife.
Soon after this, Maxine met my father, Richard Clarke, at
I was born in an ambulance on the way to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm. The ambulance attendants were saying, “Lady, can’t you wait? You are messing up the ambulance and our boss will be mad. He’ll make us clean it up before we go home.” Somehow during all this, Maxine surrendered to God. Then suddenly the ambulance was filled with light. I was born in this light. Mother said that this was the first time she experienced this light of God. She arrived at the hospital with me on her belly, her face radiant with joy.
In the years that followed, Maxine divorced Richard, who seemed to have changed during the war, moved us to California (San Jose, then Los Gatos), supported us by writing, selling about one story a month to the ‘confession magazines’ (with titles like “I fell in love with a younger man”). She then got a government job as a Social Worker for
Her spiritual experiences continued. One
Maxine had a very good career as a Family Counselor, helping people and making friends who would stay as friends for the rest of her life. The spiritual experiences continued throughout her life. For me, these experiences opened the doors to my own spirituality.
Then Sandy, a friend of Megan’s who had gotten to know Maxine,
and her two kids sang an old spiritual song, “I’ll fly away.”
I’ll fly away.
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away.
I’ll fly away. (In the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, bye and bye,
I’ll fly away.
Richard read one more verse, this time from the Katha Upanishad:
This one has not come from anywhere nor has it become anyone.
Unborn, eternal, constant, primal,
This one is not killed when the body is killed.”
Therefore the wise grieve not for the living nor the dead.
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Then those present paid last respects by throwing flower petals onto the altar. After this, came the waving of the fire. We could not find camphor in
The altar is beautiful with the flower petals tossed upon it by those who love Maxine.
After the service, Megan carried the ashes down to the ocean. She was accompanied by James on the right, and Mystique, on the left. James is not wearing shoes. We are going to take him to visit
The green of Patrick’s Point is wonderful. The ocean appears. We climb down to it. James and Megan do the honors …And release Maxine’s ashes into the
Afterward, the trek back up the hill. I look back to where my mother’s ashes were released. The ocean is absorbing them now. One last look, from up the hill. As I walk back I am again taken by the vibrant green of the vegetation.
Finally I pass through this opening on the path. My heart is filled with gratitude for what my mother has given me, and joy for her passing. I hope this posting will provide some solace and closure for family members and friends who were not able to join us today.
Goodbye, Mother. In your own (dream words), “I’m out of here!”