Funerals and memorials remember a person who has died and provide a time and place for those who survive to grieve. A funeral involves the presence of the body and burial or the removal of the remains for cremation. A funeral usually occurs soon after death. A memorial service may occur weeks or even months after the death and involve more of the survivors in the service than at a funeral.
Most often a relative or friend contacts a minister when a person has died. Sometimes an individual, while still alive, wants to plan his or her own funeral or memorial service. In either case, I keep in mind that the service both honors the person who has died and serves those who survive. Therefore, the service must be true to the character and beliefs of the deceased individual while providing comfort to those who live. As my late colleague, the Rev. Dr. David Eaton, put it, “All people, those we love and those we know not of, are united and share the same destiny … Birth-Life-Death … Unknown-Known-Unknown.” Nonetheless, the memorial honors the uniqueness of the one who has passed and whom we have known.
A funeral may take place in a religious meeting house, funeral home or private home, and/or cemetery. The memorial service may take place in a religious meeting house, a funeral home, or other appropriate location.
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In 2014, I was saddened by the death of Ray Korona -- singer, song writer, activist, and attorney -- and was also honored to preside at his memorial service. Here is the eulogy I delivered.
Eulogy for Ray Korona
I thank Hannah Hahn for reading the passage from the ancient Hebrew scripture we know as Ecclesiastes. Because Pete Seeger recast this text as the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, it is probably the most familiar biblical text to many folksingers, and, indeed, to many others of my generation. This passage states the profound truth that death and life are inextricably entwined and one does not exist without the other. Some people read the text as a despairing existentialism. In another chapter, there are the words; “There is nothing new under the sun.” But in the words read today we hear a reminder of the many joys and challenges of life. I, for one, take it as a reminder to be sure to do what I need to do. There is time for all that life contains. Although I, like all of you, feel that I lost Ray too soon, I know that he lived life to the fullest. He made sure that he did what he had to do – as a lawyer, as a musician, as an activist, as a brother and uncle, as a lover of Ruthie, as a lover of life.
I consider it an honor that Ruth Indeck asked me to preside at the service for her partner and my friend Ray Korona. I first met Ruthie, and then Ray, at the Socialist Scholars Conference sometime in the mid-1990s. Ruthie was working at the URPE table and we started talking. She asked me if I knew Ray. I didn’t. She told me that he was performing at one of the plenary sessions of the Conference. Ruthie introduced Ray and me to each other. First at the Conference and, later, at the Peoples Voice Café, we became friends.
It seems that our paths needed to cross. We were on the same political wavelength – I think. We certainly had a history with many of the same issues. War and peace are obvious ones. But so are police misconduct, economic injustice, and education. This latter was made evident when a guest act at one of the annual Ray Korona Band concerts was a chorus from a school in Brooklyn. We were both active in support of Ray’s fellow attorney, Lynne Stewart, in her struggle for her personal freedom and the integrity of the practice of criminal defense, no matter who was charged or what he or she was charged with.
I early learned that Ray was a night person. He and Ruthie would be heading out to dinner with other friends after a late session at Peoples Voice, the Socialist Scholars Conference or, later, the Left Forum, and ask me to come along. These were Saturday nights and, having to preach the following morning, I was unable to head out for an evening that would last until 2 or 3 AM or later.
Because Ray was such a night owl, I was surprised when, perhaps ten years ago, he appeared at 10 AM at a service I was leading in Englewood, New Jersey. A couple of other times, he was at the Community Church of New York when I was preaching at an 11 AM service. In addition to Ray’s being a night owl, I knew that church was not part of his routine. I was honored by his presence.
When in 2008, the Workman’s Circle decided to sell its building and the Peoples Voice Café had to find a new venue, I worked with Ray and people at the Community Church to make possible a move to the current venue for the Cafe. This continues to be a good partnership for both Café and the Church, two organizations with peace and justice at the heart of their missions.
When I first learned of Ray’s illness, I was, of course, concerned. In my experience of nearly four decades of ministry, I have been through a lot of illnesses with parishioners (in addition to those in my family). I have learned that there is no telling in advance how any one individual will respond to a cancer. It was clear from the start that Ray’s illness was serious. But it was also clear that Ray would do what he needed to do to get better.
It was a hopeful moment when the four of us – Ray, Ruthie, Jody Leight (my wife), and I – went out for dinner together this past July 20th. Although we spoke on the phone several times afterward, that was the last time I saw Ray face to face.
To everything there is a season…a time to be born and a time to die. We do not get to pick the timing of the seasons, but we can choose how to live in them – even the seasons of loss. Ray Korona made the most of each season. May each of us go and do likewise.