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Asking the clergy: How can we continue to honor deceased family members?

Hai-Dee Lee

Hai-Dee Lee Credit: Herman Lee

Long after a loved one has passed away, it can be comforting to continue to celebrate his or her life. This week’s clergy discuss ways in which a beloved grandparent, parent or other family member can be honored.

Hai-Dee Lee

Buddhist representative from Long Island Multi-Faith Forum

For thousands of years in China, the Ching Ming memorial festival has been celebrated in early spring. This is an important day in Chinese Buddhist, Taoist and Confucius tradition. Special chanting services are held in Taoist and Buddhist temples, in memory of deceased family members and ancestors. My mother passed away in January, so I participate in this kind of special service in the Buddhist temple, in memory of her, and also in memory of my lineage.

During Ching Ming in the daytime, families bring fruit, flowers and incense to their family cemetery to pay their respects and give blessings to their deceased loved ones. At night, people light up candles inside paper lanterns, on which have been written the names of their ancestors and loved ones. The lanterns float like hot air balloons into the sky, carrying their blessing and love to heaven. It is such a beautiful and memorable scene to see thousands of lanterns flying like stars in the sky.

In Japan’s Obon festival, paper boats are inscribed with loved ones’ names, lit with a candle and set afloat on a river or ocean. On Long Island I go to the beach after dark, and we sail a candlelit paper boat into the ocean. It’s a very effective form of bereavement to honor loved ones and at the same time to ease sadness and grief. It also sets a good example for our children to cultivate and carry on this loving tradition for generations to come.

Rabbi Ben Herman

Jericho Jewish Center

In Judaism we honor the deceased every year on their Hebrew date of death (Yahrzeit). It is a day when we come to synagogue and say the Mourner’s Kaddish in his or her memory. In addition, four times a year we have a ceremony called Yizkor, which is specifically devoted to remembering the deceased’s impact on our life. We say memorial prayers and give charitable contributions. We also say “may his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life” as we believe that while the body passes from this world, the soul is eternal.

Personally, I would add that we honor the deceased by acting in accordance with how she or he lived life: putting foremost in our mind the lessons that the loved one taught us and the things she or he valued. We also show honor by continuing to do activities that we enjoyed with him or her as well as reflecting on our experiences together. My grandmother, may her memory be for a blessing, passed away (or as she would say, “became eternal”) last month, and I have been reading her poetry in relation to my weekly sermon. When faced with difficult decisions, I have been pondering how she would have responded, as I often went to her for advice. In so doing, I am keeping her memory alive.

The Rev. Thomas Boyd

Church of the Nazarene, Massapequa Park

After the funeral is over and we have said goodbye to our loved one, what can we do to honor their memory? First of all, as Christians, we know that their spirit went to be with God. In II Corinthians 5:8 we read that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. As Christians, this brings us comfort and hope. Now, as we carry on in their absence, how do we honor them? First of all we honor them by how we remember them. We let go of all of the negative issues of the past. Holding on to these will not do us any good and will not help us move forward in healthy ways. Depending on who the loved one was will affect how we move on.

Saying goodbye to our parents is more natural than saying goodbye to our children. At some point though, moving forward is necessary, if not for ourselves, then for the sake of those that we love. Whoever the loved one was, the best way we can honor them is by how we live our lives going forward. Our parents and our grandparents more than likely taught us to live honest, good lives, treating others with respect. By doing that, we honor their memory. By living out our lives with purpose and meaning we will continue to honor their memory. Making a difference in our world for the good is the greatest way we can honor those who have gone before us. We each carry with us the joy and the pain of life. Let’s choose to live out the joy and thus celebrate the lives of our loved ones.

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