What an blessed morning I have had! Early on my challenge was to prepare a memorial service for a physically and developmentally challenged woman who suffered a fatal heart attack last week. The majority of the mourners present were going to be her friends and room-mates from the several group homes she has lived in and the day program she participates in. I was faced with writing a message and prayers that would be true to the Gospel, to the celebration of her life and also accessible to those whose language skills in any language were minimal. I also had to prepare the bulletins in both English and Spanish so those who can read could participate in their own language. Thank God for my copy of the bilingual La Biblia de las Americas and BibleGateway.com. I was told to expect perhaps 40 people.
Maybe I should back up. Several years ago a non-profit group approached me about doing some work around our church. Their goal is to teach the developmentally challenged job skills and help them achieve self esteem by being productive. We thought this was a wonderful thing - a win/win ministry in which we got dusting, vacuuming and other indoor and outdoor tasks performed free of charge twice weekly, and the clients had an opportunity to develop job skills and self esteem. Our partnership over the last several years has grown so that now, when the administrators want to have a holiday party they can be fairly certain that we will make space available for them. Over the years I have gotten to know most of the job coaches, the administrators and a number of the clients fairly well. Tanya was one of those clients. When I learned last week that she had passed it seemed quite appropriate to offer to hold a memorial service at the church.
I was at the church at 9 am to set up the sanctuary for the 10 am service. Around 9:15 a dozen job coaches and clients from Tanya's day program had arrived bearing food and photo memory boards. Flowers, more food and more people started arriving, and it occurred to me I should probably have printed the 23rd Psalm and the Beatitudes in Tagalog as well as Spanish. By the time the service was to begin there were at least 80 people in the sanctuary.
There was a place in the service for statements of life. The administrators and job coaches and social workers and group home managers who had worked with Tanya spoke, many from prepared statements. All of them spoke of her innocence and love for everyone she ever met. All of them cried. And then the clients started to come up. Those with sufficient language skills said "She was my best friend. She was always nice to me." Some were only able to say "Tanya, I love you." One took a little while, standing at the pulpit with one hand in the air. Some in the congregation tried to help, shouting "Tanya es en cielo," but he persisted and was finally able to complete the sentence, "Tanya es con Dios."
Then it was my turn. Wiping the tears from my eyes I spoke of Tanya's child-like and constant offering of love, and her unfailing trust that everyone she met would be a friend. I reminded those present that Jesus said "Let the children come to me" and sang "Jesus Loves Me." The clients sang along with gusto. I encouraged everyone to try to be like Tanya, for we are all told we must be as little children if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven. And I dismissed the congregation with the charge to love each other the way Tanya and Jesus loved them.
I have never experienced anything like this before. Pray God that I will experience it again, and that I will remember to be like Tanya in the future.