I’ve often thought that the term “celebration of life” was a bit of a spin job, designed to make us all feel better about someone’s death. After all, grieving and celebrating seem like natural antonyms of each other.
I stand corrected after attending my late friend, Suzanne’s, Celebration of Life this past Saturday. Suzanne died unexpectedly on December 18th from a massive stroke and I, like most of the large crowd in attendance at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Saturday, still couldn’t believe that such a bright spirit had simply vanished.
The mournful tones of a lone bagpiper washed over me as soon as I opened my car door and my face was wet with tears before I even made my way inside the church. There would be many more tears but mostly ones of abundant joy for having been in the circle of such an extraordinary human being.
Suzanne’s celebration of life had it all – gorgeous music performed by her beloved Bel Canto chorus, a tender and funny eulogy delivered by a dear friend, and an inspiring homily given by a minister who seemed to know her heart and her struggles.
I smiled throughout her eulogy as I learned so much about my friend that I never knew – including a hilarious story about her being surprised by an earnest pack of Webelos while skinny-dipping in a Texas pond one hot summer’s day. I could almost hear what the minister described as Suzanne’s “unfettered peels of laughter” chiming in with the rest of us as the story unfolded.
I learned that she was a “devoted encourager” often writing notes to young people, particularly those pursuing a career in the arts, and often enclosing a check with her kind words. I smiled as I remembered receiving such a note in support of Triad Health Project, the non-profit that I work for.
I really hope I saved that note.
I smiled again when I heard her described as “swift to love” and that she was known for her “constant practice of generosity.”
To know Suzanne was to also know her passionate love of music, particularly choral music and this music was the soul of her service on Saturday. So it was perfect when the Bel Canto company, her singers, many singing through tears, performed In Paradisum from Maurice Durufle’s Requiem, Op. 9 before Suzanne’s ashes were committed to the columbarium at Holy Trinity. This achingly beautiful piece translates from the Latin as “Into Paradise” and includes these lyrics:
“May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem. May choirs of angels welcome you and lead you to the bosom of Abraham.”
Choirs of angels – yes, nothing else would do for Suzanne Goddard’s arrival.
And may her celestial concert series commence. Brava, dear woman!