Yesterday evening, on June 24, Heidi Siemens-Rhodes' 38th birthday, just a little before 7:00, friends and fellow church members began gathering for a short song vigil and farewell to Heidi. Nine months ago we reeled at the news that Heidi, one of our co-pastors at Assembly Mennonite, had stage IV cancer and probably only months to live.
She has lived richly and eloquently, sharing her zest for life and her struggles with cancer and unsuccessful treatments. She, husband Mitch, mother Jan, and boys Theo, Adam and Ira, have generously, gracefully, and courageously shared their journey with the congregation and other friends, "daring to stare death in the face," as one friend admiringly put it.
As we gathered, we knew that this day of Heidi's birth was most likely also to be the day of her death, and her birth into a new life.
There were vases and jars for gathering the flowers people brought from their gardens, and a basket for cards.
We lit candles and passed around song sheets:
Let there be light
O Thou in whose presence
The Lord bless you and keep you
There were smiles and tears, and candle flames that danced wildly in the breeze.
People kept streaming in, on bike, on foot, and the small front yard filled and overflowed. Family members gathered on the front porch and watched from the upstairs window. Little ones ran to and fro.
And we sang Happy Birthday, and the three hymns, and stood together in silence, holding Heidi and Mitch and the boys in prayer. Someone began singing a slow, thoughtful Alleluia, alleluia, and we joined in softly.
There were hugs and tears, and people slowly dispersed. About the time most of the crowd was gone, Heidi began taking her last breaths. The family gathered around for that last fare-thee-well, and (from Mitch's message to the congregation and the CaringBridge community) they remained around her bed for some time, crying, laughing, reminiscing and offering words of blessing for Heidi’s new life with God.
Farewell, Heidi, as you rest in God's ocean of light and love. And God's peace to you, Mitch, Jan, Theo, Adam, Ira and to all who will mourn for Heidi, as we continue the journey here.
"Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"
I've taken on a prayer practice of looking for the moments of light in each day, whether actual or metaphorical, and then writing or posting photos of what I find.