Rituals help us come to closure when we’ve lost someone. Often there’s the ritual spark: “we should plant a tree in his memory” or “let’s scatter her ashes in this place.” Then most of us begin to flounder as we look for meaningful ways to make our idea take shape; after all, this is not something we do every day.
As someone said to me recently, “We’ve got the place, date and time. I’m afraid we are going to be standing there, holding the urn, saying: ‘now what do we do?’”
The gap between “this needs to be really special” and “this is how everyone else does it” can be massive, and it tends to deepen, given our connection to the person we’ve lost. If it’s strong, then we really want to honour that person, to make the ceremony all about them (rather than us). We want a ceremony they would be honoured to attend, if they were still with us.
That was the case with the South End Community Association (SECA). Their local mentor Gino Sedola passed away in October 2008, but his memory is still very much alive in Nanaimo’s South End. A Memorial Tree planting made perfect sense. He was a stellar man, and it needed to be a stellar event…a ceremony just like Gino: comfortable, authentic, creative, joyful, and full of good stories.
Rain was expected, so the rituals needed to be designed accordingly. And given the weather, there was no idea of the numbers that would attend.
On a grey Sunday morning, about 50 people gathered. They said hello to Gino in their own way. They heard about a Gino Sedola that few people knew, transported back in time to a vibrant neighbourhood where “Folks said hello. Families connected. Kids played. Gardens grew. There was food, wine and song. And a real sense of community.”
The tree was planted intentionally in steps, with stories shared by a family member, a local dignitary, the SECA chair, & a neighbour. Everyone attending got the chance to participate in some way. In a delightful turn, the local poet laureate/ street musician pulled out his flute and played a few interludes.
Once we finished planting, I offered this: “Here stands Gino’s tree. It will look down Irwin Street, which holds both the roots of his past and his hopes for the future. It will stand in his place and watch over the neighbourhood he loved.”
While there was lots of warmth and humour in the ceremony, the funniest part, as usual, was unplanned. At the close, just as we were offering a blessing to thank Gino, someone nearby started a muffler-less truck, revving it mercilessly to warm up the engine. The last line? “When we hear the heart of the South End beating – we remember Gino.” I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Gino would have loved it.