Mary Adamski View from
the Pew

Mary Adamski

Many people stopped to pay their respects by placing flowers and beer at a memorial that appeared near Haleiwa, where five youths died in a car crash on March 18.

Grieving survivors
find many ways to
honor loved ones

The back window of a van spotted this week carries a memorial to a boy named Cody. The dates painted there reveal that he was only 4 years old when he died earlier this year. "No More Pain" was the epitaph, but you could just feel that it probably isn't true for the loving family that carries this memory around on the road.

Friends of mine have found some relief in their grieving process with a creative way to remember their son who was killed in a traffic accident. After the ashes were scattered, they missed the consolation of visiting a grave. With the blessing of their pastor, they are installing a bench in a shady spot on the church lawn. It will be a place of repose for many people, most of all, I hope, for the sorrowful mother.

They have a lot of company in the search for a meaningful way to mark someone's absence from their life. Next weekend, thousands of people will make their Memorial Day pilgrimage with flowers in hand to cemeteries or columbariums. Established as a time to honor war victims, it is now a universal commemoration of the dead.

The lantern-floating ceremony initiated by the Shinnyo-En Buddhist lay organization sparks the imagination of islanders, Buddhist or not. The sunset launching planned for May 26 at Ala Moana Park will be the fifth annual event here. The crowd has doubled each year. This year, Shinnyo-En will have a booth to collect prayer intentions to be set adrift in the little candlelit boats.

Unlike all of the above, the modern style of memorial that leaves me cold is the roadside shrine, marking a place of horror, where soul left body in a screech of brakes, a wrenching tear of metal, a scream of pain or fear.

It can be an urgent expression of grief on the first day, yes, but why return? Why not bring the flowers, photos, toys to a favorite place, a gathering of friends, where the life can be celebrated.

The Rev. Alan Mark, pastor of Kilohana United Methodist Church, is not as judgmental about the roadside totems.

"They will always remember the place. A roadside shrine may be a means for people to vent, to bring up feelings. They need an object to direct their grief.

"We need the tangibles in our lives," said Mark, "So something visible -- a place, an object, a symbol -- to remember someone helps."

The Aina Haina Methodist church has a Peace Garden of pines and bonsai plants, which was funded as a memorial by a family in the congregation. Since then, a man added a lantern in memory of his wife and another family installed a granite seat.

"It's a good meditation space, a place where people can say there is a presence here, a good time to pray and connect," said Mark. "Sacred means anything set aside.

"When people scatter ashes in the ocean, every time they go to the beach it offers an opportunity for the floodgates to open," he said.

But that grieving is "not a bad thing, it's a healing process," he said.

The Rev. Robert Fitzgerald, canon of the Episcopal diocese, said that as an alternative to the roadside shrine, "I have worked with families to plant a tree." Memorials within a church are historical and traditional, he said, but "I try to downplay the plaque. For me, I always think, 'What are we doing it for?' As an object of grief, in memory of someone, that seems to be a wonderful gift. It is important to say 'We are a community and we want you to remember.'

"But there are always folk who like a big brass plaque, and if we are tied to having to keep that memorial because of the name, it gets in the way of ministry," Fitzgerald said. "I have personally tried to discourage it. I have talked to folks to say that this isn't forever, and the church is a living, organic institution and someday that wall will have to come down."

The true memorial is the memory that people hold, said the Rev. Russell Takaezu, associate pastor of Calvary Chapel of Honolulu.

"We carry around with us these memorial tablets, tablets in our hearts as we remember them. Plaques and memorials fade and stones get kicked over. It's like old trophies that were important at the time. Eventually we take them off the shelf, and we still have great memories."

"Flowers at a memorial celebration are just a shadow of the beauty of the life of that person."

Religion Calendar

Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
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