The Officiants at Church of Ancient Ways

Memorial Readings

It can be hard to know what to say when honoring those whom have passed. Non-religious words tend to be hardest to find. Memorials are unique for every individual and family and so below is a small collection of readings that include traditional religious elements, secular wording, and spiritual tones.

  • A Song Of Living

    Amelia Josephine Barr

    Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
    I have sent up my gladness on wings, to be lost in the blue of the sky.
    I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast.
    My cheek like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed.
    Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
    I have kissed young Love on the lips, I have heard his song to the end,
    I have struck my hand like a seal in the loyal hand of a friend.
    I have known the peace of heaven, the comfort of work done well.
    I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of hell.
    Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
    I give a share of my soul to the world, when and where my course is run.
    I know that another shall finish the task I must leave undone.
    I know that no flower, nor flint was in vain on the path I trod.
    As one looks on a face through a window, through life I have looked on God,
    Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

  • I Am There

    by Iris Hesselden

    “Look for me when the tide is high
    And the gulls are wheeling overhead
    When the autumn wind sweeps the cloudy sky
    And one by one the leaves are shed
    Look for me when the trees are bare
    And the stars are bright in the frosty sky
    When the morning mist hangs on the air
    And shorter darker days pass by.
    I am there, where the river flows
    And salmon leap to a silver moon
    Where the insects hum and the tall grass grows
    And sunlight warms the afternoon
    I am there in the busy street
    I take you hand in the city square
    In the market place where the people meet
    In your quiet room – “ I am there
    I am the love you cannot see
    And all I ask is – “ look for me.”

  • Do Not Stand at My Grave

    by Anon, 1st century China

    “Do not stand at my grave and weep;
    I am not there. I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow.
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
    I am the gentle autumn rain.
    When you awaken in the morning’s hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and weep;
    I am not there. I do not sleep.”

  • From The Jewish Reform Prayer Book

    “In the rising of the sun
    and in its going down
    We remember her
    In the blowing of the wind
    and in the chill of winter
    We remember her
    In the opening of buds
    and in the warmth of summer
    we remember her
    In the rustling of leaves
    and in the beauty of the autumn
    We remember her
    In the beginning of the year
    and when it ends
    We remember her.”

  • From Victor Hugo

    “I am standing upon that foreshore.
    A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
    and starts for the blue ocean.
    She is an object of beauty and strength
    and I stand and watch her until at length
    she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea
    and the sky come down to mingle with each other.
    Then someone at my side says
    ‘there, She’s gone’
    Gone where
    Gone from my sight, that’s all.
    She is just as large in mast and spar and hull
    as ever she was when she left my side;
    just as able to bear her load of living freight
    to the place of her destination.
    The diminished size is in me, not in her.
    ‘There, she’s gone’
    But there are other eyes watching her coming
    and other voices ready to take up the glad shout.
    ‘Here she comes’
    That is dying.”

  • Henry Scott Holland

    “Death is nothing at all
    I have only slipped away into the next room,
    I am I and you are you.
    Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
    Call me by my old familiar name.
    Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
    Put no differences into your tone.
    Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
    Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
    Play, smile, think of me.
    Let my name be ever the household name that it always was.
    Let it be spoken without effort,
    without the ghost of a shadow on it.
    Life means all that is ever meant.
    It is the same as it always was.
    There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
    What is this death but a negligible accident?
    Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
    I am waiting for you for an interval somewhere very near
    just around the corner All is well.”

  • i carry you in my heart

    by ee cummings

    “I carry your heart with me; I carry it in my heart
    I am never without it
    Anywhere I go, you go my dear
    And whatever is done by only me, is your doing, my darling
    I fear no fate, for you are my fate, my sweet
    I want no world, for; beautiful you are my world, my true
    Here is the deepest secret no one knows
    Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
    And the sky of the sky of a tree called life
    Which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide
    It is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
    I carry your heart I carry it in my heart…”

  • Rules For My Funeral

    by Susan Stutzky

    “At my funeral there will be plenty of wastebaskets.
    For people will cry and noses will run.
    And hands full of gooey tissues are disgusting.
    At my funeral, laughter should reign,
    And chuckles comfort.
    There’s humor in my flaws,
    So tell amusing tales with gusto.
    People may wear jeans to my funeral. I intend to.
    With my favorite flannel shirt and thick woolen socks. Forget the bra.
    Traditional in life,
    Let me be different in death.
    No hypocrites may come to my funeral.
    Make no room for the self-righteous and judgmental.
    I’d rather have strangers or no one at all.
    So come if you loved me.

  • Hated me?

    Welcome. Make sure I’m gone.
    At my funeral, platitudes and panaceas are banned. I am dead.
    There is no silver lining.
    Except for those I leave money to.
    Surround me with purple and yellow flowers.
    Greens in exotic baskets.
    But just a few spectacular pieces.
    Then feed the hungry or cure a disease.
    In my name, of course.
    Play joyous music at my funeral.
    Songs with rising crescendos or haunting melodies.
    Refrains that stick in your head repeating endlessly.
    “Ding Dong, the witch is dead…” No, not that one.
    Please don’t say, “She looks so natural.”
    No one says it to me now. Be honest.
    Apologize for times you done me wrong.
    I forgive you. Forgive me.
    Now go and live better than before.
    At my funeral, there will be no preaching.
    Pomposity is forbidden; no performances please.
    Save it for the Sunday service.
    In life, God was my friend, my sustainer.
    He was there when all you weren’t. Or couldn’t be.
    We were so intimate, we spoke in the shower.
    I had great insights nude and soapy.
    So speak of my faith.
    And that I’m dancing with Him now.
    And leave it at that.”

  • Kahlil Gibran

    “Life and death are one,
    even as the sea and river are one
    In the depth of your hopes and desires
    lies your silent knowledge of the beyond,
    And like seeds dreaming beneath the
    snow your heart dreams of spring
    Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden
    the gate to eternity.
    For what is it to die but to stand
    naked in the wind and melt into the sun
    And what is it to cease breathing
    but to free the breath from its restless tides,
    that it may rise and expand
    and seek (God) unencumbered
    Only when you drink from the river of
    silence shall you indeed sing,
    And when you have reached the mountain
    top, then you shall begin to climb,
    And when the earth shall claim your
    limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

  • What Will Matter

    © 2003 Michael Josephson at CharacterCounts
    Reprinted with permission.

    “Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
    There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
    All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
    Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
    It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
    Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear.
    So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire.
    The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
    It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived, at the end.
    It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
    Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.
    So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
    What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave.
    What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
    What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
    What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.
    What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
    What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
    What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.
    What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.
    Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
    It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
    Choose to live a life that matters.”

  • The Dragonfly

    From: “Waterbugs and Dragonflies” by Doris Stickney

    Once, in a little pond, in the muddy water under the lily pads,
    there lived a little water beetle in a community of water beetles.
    They lived a simple and comfortable life in the pond
    with few disturbances and interruptions.
    Once in a while, sadness would come to the community
    when one of their fellow beetles would climb the stem of a lily pad
    and would never be seen again. They knew when this happened
    their friend was dead, gone forever.
    Then, one day,
    one little water beetle felt an irresistible urge to climb up that stem.
    However, he was determined that he would not leave forever.
    He would come back and tell his friends what he had found at the top.
    When he reached the top and climbed out of the water
    onto the surface of the lily pad, he was so tired, and the sun felt so warm,
    that he decided he must take a nap.
    As he slept, his body changed and when he woke up,
    he had turned into a beautiful blue-tailed dragonfly
    with broad wings and a slender body designed for flying.
    So, fly he did! And, as he soared he saw the beauty of a whole new world
    and a far superior way of life to what he had never known existed.
    Then he remembered his beetle friends
    and how they were thinking by now he was dead.
    He wanted to go back to tell them, and explain to them
    that he was now more alive than he had ever been before.
    His life had been fulfilled rather than ended.
    But, his new body would not go down into the water.
    He could not get back to tell his friends the good news.
    Then he understood that their time would come,
    when they, too, would know what he now knew.
    So, he raised his wings and flew off
    into his joyous new life!

  • From Silver Birch

    “Death is not a tragedy for those who die;
    it is only to those who are left behind.
    Should you be sad because your loved one is freed of pain,
    has escaped from darkness into light?
    Should you be sad because your loved one
    now unfolds the talents with which she has been endowed.
    Should you be sad because your loved one
    is now free to enjoy the pursuits that are natural to him?
    Grieving is natural and you are to allow yourself
    to go through the process, to get through the shock, the anger,
    the depression and then the acceptance that passing
    is onto another plane of life.
    Death cannot part you from the one you love
    for love will always claim its own.
    You can be sure the one you love is closer than he has been before.

  • To Live in Hearts We Leave Behind Is Not To Die

    Author Unkown

    Remember me on quiet days,
    While rain drops whisper on your pane.
    But in your memories have no grief.
    Let just the joy we knew remain.
    Remember me when evening stars
    Smile down on you with quiet eyes.
    Remember me if once you awake
    To catch a glimpse of red sunrise.
    Remember me when spring walks by.
    Think once of me when you are glad.
    When you are happy, so am I.
    And when your thoughts do turn to me,
    Know that I would not have you cry.
    But live for me and laugh for me,
    And while you live,
    I shall not die.”

  • From “Life Prayers”

    by Elias Amidon

    “Friend, you lie quiet,
    watching the dawn light color your heart,
    dreaming of healing for your hurt body
    laying there unanswerable to your will.
    You breathe deep and your breath has two sides:
    inside and outside. You are on both, being breathed.
    The future approaches. You will heal or
    you will go back to being God.
    Which will you do?
    Oh by all that is beautiful –
    May it be that you live!
    May your body heal happy and whole!
    May energy fill and delight you!
    May we join the dance your presence gives!
    May you live!
    And if you die?
    Oh dear self, by all that is beautiful,
    Know you are Safe! Everything is All Right
    Forever and Ever and Ever!
    The most wonderful, exquisite, familiar
    Truth is what is True, and welcomes you.
    It will be very easy.
    You lie quiet now, praying.
    A great healing is coming
    and you want to be ready.
    The colors of your heart blend
    with the light of the morning.
    You are blessed.”

  • From Rabindranath Tagore

    “Peace my heart…
    Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
    Let it not be a death but completeness.
    Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
    Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
    Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
    Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
    I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way.”

  • The Traveler

    James Dillet Freeman

    She has put on invisibility.
    Dear Lord, I cannot see – –
    But this I know, although the road ascends
    And passes from my sight,
    That there will be no night;
    That You will take her gently by the hand
    And lead her on
    Along the road of life that never ends,
    And she will find it is not death but dawn.
    I do not doubt that You are there as here,
    And You will hold her dear.
    Our life did not begin with birth,
    It is not of the earth;
    And this that we call death, it is no more
    Than the opening and closing of a door –
    And in your house how many rooms must be
    Beyond this one where we rest momentarily.
    Dear Lord, I thank You for the faith that frees,
    The love that knows it cannot lose its own;
    The love that, looking through the shadows, sees
    That You and she and I are ever one!”

  • Ecclesiastes

    For everything there is a season,
    and a time for every matter under heaven:
    A time to be born and a time to die;
    A time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
    A time to break down, and a time to build up;
    A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
    A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
    A time to seek, and a time to lose;
    A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
    A time for war, and a time for peace.

  • Psalm 23

    Almost 3000 years ago, The Psalmist wrote a few lines of poetry that have endured through the ages. It is perhaps the best loved and most often repeated poem in the Western World. It is used most often at a time like this for our comfort and stability.

    “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
    He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
    He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;
    For thou art with me;
    Thy rod and they staff, they comfort me.
    Thou preparest a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
    Thou anointest my head with oil;
    My cup overflows.
    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life;
    and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

  • Life Must Go On

    Navaho Prayer

    Grieve for me, for I would grieve for you.
    Then brush away the sorrow and the tears
    Life is not over, but begins anew,
    with courage you must greet the coming years.
    To live forever in the past is wrong;
    can only cause you misery and pain.
    Dwell not on memories overlong,
    with others you must share and care again.
    Reach out and comfort those who comfort you;
    recall the years, but only for a while.
    Nurse not your loneliness; but live again.
    Forget not. Remember with a smile.

  • Dirge Without Music

    By Edna St. Vincent Millay

    I am not resigned to the shutting away
    of loving hearts in the hard ground.
    So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
    Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
    With lilies and with laurel they go but I am not resigned.
    Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
    Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
    A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
    A formula, a phrase remains, but the best is lost.
    The answers quick and keen,
    the honest look, the laughter, the love,
    They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses.
    Elegant and curled
    Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know.
    But I do not approve.
    More precious was the light in your eyes
    than all the roses in the world.
    Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
    Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
    Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
    I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

  • We are such stuff as dreams are made on

    William Shakespeare, The Tempest, III, iv

    Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits and
    Are melted into air, into thin air;
    And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
    And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded in a sleep.

  • Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night

    by Dylan Thomas

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  • Mourner’s Kaddish

    May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed.
    May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon.
    Now say: Amen.
    May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.
    Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One
    Blessed is He beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world.
    Now say: Amen
    May there be abundant peace from Heaven and life upon us and upon all Israel.
    Now say: Amen
    He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace, upon us and upon all Israel.
    Now say: Amen

  • Beannacht (“Blessing”)

    From Echoes of Memory by John O’Donohue

    On the day when
    the weight deadens
    on your shoulders
    and you stumble,
    may the clay dance
    to balance you.
    And when your eyes
    freeze behind
    the grey window
    and the ghost of loss
    gets in to you,
    may a flock of colours,
    indigo, red, green,
    and azure blue
    come to awaken in you
    a meadow of delight.
    When the canvas frays
    in the currach of thought
    and a stain of ocean
    blackens beneath you,
    may there come across the waters
    a path of yellow moonlight
    to bring you safely home.
    May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
    may the clarity of light be yours,
    may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
    may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
    And so may a slow
    wind work these words
    of love around you,
    an invisible cloak
    to mind your life.

  • On Joy and Sorrow

    by Kahlil Gibran

    Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
    And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
    And how else can it be?
    The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
    Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
    And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
    When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
    When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
    Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
    But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
    Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
    Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
    Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

  • A Playful Poem to Death

    by Gina Puorro

    Death asked me to join him for dinner
    so I slipped into my favorite black dress
    that I had been saving for a special occasion
    and let him walk me to our candlelit tryst.
    He ordered a ribeye, extra rare
    I ordered two desserts and red wine
    and then I sipped
    and wondered
    why he looked so familiar
    and smelled like earth and memory.
    He felt like a place both faraway
    and deep within my body
    A place that whispers to me
    on the crisp autumn breeze
    along the liminal edges of dusk and dawn
    somewhere between dancing
    and stillness.
    He looked at me
    with the endless night sky in his eyes
    and asked
    ‘Did you live your life, my love?’
    As I swirled my wine in its glass
    I wondered If I understood the thread I wove into the greater fabric
    If I loved in a way that was deep and freeing
    If I let pain and grief carve me into something more grateful
    If I made enough space to be in awe that flowers exist
    and take the time to watch the honeybees
    drink their sweet nectar
    I wondered what the riddles of regret and longing
    had taught me
    and if I realized just how
    beautiful and insignificant and monstrous and small we are
    for the brief moment that we are here
    before we all melt back down
    into ancestors of the land.
    Death watched me lick buttercream from my fingers
    As he leaned in close and said
    ‘My darling, it’s time.’
    So I slipped my hand into his
    as he slowly walked me home.
    I took a deep breath as he leaned in close
    for the long kiss goodnight
    and I felt a soft laugh leave my lips
    as his mouth met mine
    because I never could resist a man
    with the lust for my soul in his eyes
    and a kiss that makes my heart stop.

    Author’s note: A playful love poem to Death, because I want to remember to relate to it as a part of life, and in ways that exist outside of violence and brutality.