By John Butters, The JOURNAL
Grieving souls gathered in Sunset Park Thursday, to honor and celebrate the lives of deceased loved ones who still have resonance in their memories.
The ceremony was organized by Paul Rathke, Bereavement Coordinator for Compassus of Washington, a provider of hospice services. The hour-long service included readings about the grieving process and music and an introduction of the ?Missing Warrior Table? that had been placed in the pavilion.
At the close of the service, Painted Lady butterflies were released in the park.
Rathke said that people frequently find a special set-aside date after a funeral to honor a loved one. ?This can be one of those dates when they pause and express their grief,? he said.
Thursday?s service began at 6:30 p.m. in the park?s pavilion. By 6:40, the picnic tables were filled and Rathke stepped up to the microphone. ?This is a sacred moment as we gather to honor those who have passed,? he said. ?Love doesn?t stop with death. It runs deeper than that.?
As the fading light filtered into the pavilion, Compassus staff members performed readings and Emily Jasper sang ?Amazing Grace.?
Addressing the audience, staff members read the names of people in their care who had died that year. Following that, Rathke asked if anyone in attendance would like to mention a name and tell something of their life.
At first hesitant, and then with growing confidence, people began to speak of their loved ones: The Roys, Donnas, Roberts and Carols who had enriched their lives.
They remembered the little things that brought them joy. They recalled a laugh that seemed to open the world. They remembered the kids all called her Mama April because she was a mom to everyone. They talked of dad?s woodworking, a mother?s cooking and a friend?s faithfulness.
Someone brought a wife?s ashes. Another remembered a father?s release from the pain of life.
United in grief, they pulled the little treasures from their hearts and laid them on the picnic tables for everyone to see.
Rathke closed the ceremony with some thoughts from ?You Gotta Keep Dancing,? by Tim Hansel.
?What now? How do we live in the light of our loss? Do we shrink from life and love so that we can?t be hurt again?? he asked.
Hansel said pain is unavoidable but misery is optional. He advised people to lean into the pain, confront it, accept it and make the most of life, Rathke said in closing.
He directed the crowd from the pavilion to a picnic table beneath a tree. He placed a box of butterflies on it and removed the lid.
Slowly, reluctantly and one by one, the butterflies spread their wings and lifted themselves into the light breeze of a summer evening.
No one wanted to hold them back. Everyone wanted to see them fly.