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Celebrating the Life of Barbara Purcell

Updated: Mar 3

Eulogy by Bill Purcell

Homily by the Rev. Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain

Feb. 24, 2024

Good afternoon, friends and family of our beloved Barbara Purcell. We’re so grateful to welcome you here at St. Aidan’s today.

The liturgy that we share this afternoon is drawn from the deep history and tradition of the Episcopal Church. The words of our readings and our prayers have been read at celebrations of life and funeral services for generations, and they have an intentional purpose – which is – put very simply – to help us understand life and faith and to process death. It is significant that we engage in this work of understanding and processing as a community – as a people bonded together in grief and love as we mourn the loss of Barbara. As a community of care for one another.

Our scripture readings today began with one that might seem familiar to some of us – it’s Paul’s advice to the Romans from long long ago. Paul wrote - “For I am convinced, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is the big picture view of what life and faith are all about really. Paul is reminding us that no matter what happens to us – no matter what – God will always be with us. If there’s only one thing we could all stand to remember, this would be it.

We’ve experienced a great deal of loss in the St. Aidan’s community over the last year, and I’ve relied deeply on this writing from Paul. I was, in fact, comforted when I found out that it would be one of the readings for Barbara’s service. I also thought to myself – how appropriate this reading is for honoring Barbara - because she lived this conviction from Paul. Barbara faced life challenges but she didn’t lose her connection with God. As one of her children wrote to Cameron and me, “Did mom have hardships? Yes, but she was never a wounded person. She had a silent strength held together by family, community, work and faith.” Because Barbara was such an avid gardener, I can’t resist mentioning a small garden proverb here too - which is “a good garden may have some weeds.” Barbara knew this, and she lived it.

To move on to our gospel reading for today – this reading shares with us what Jesus is so good at doing – which is taking the big picture concepts (like the one I just shared from Paul) and bringing the concept right down to earth. In his story of the good shepherd, Jesus models for us what caring for one another and loving God looks like – in real life. “I am the good shepherd” Jesus says. “I know my own and my own know me. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” And then Jesus goes further – noting that even the sheep who do not belong to his fold are those he will watch over, because there is one flock, one shepherd.

I find myself thinking about Barbara again as I reflect on this passage. I think about the young widow Barbara – I didn’t know her then, but many of you here today did – a woman caring for her four children on her own. And, in more recent years, there was caring that I had the privilege of witnessing personally. I’m referring to Barbara’s children caring for her, watching over her, with such intention and love and patient grace. I am certain that neither of these times of caring were easy. Jesus warns us about that, doesn’t he, with the metaphor of the wolves threatening the sheep. There are perils and moments of doubt and fear in every life. But moments of deep caring and love are there too –we see them in the lives of Barbara and her family, and we see them in ours. And friends - that kind of love and care - it never dies.

Finally, in our poem from Jan Richardson that Betty read, we are reminded of the twists and turns in the journey of life – of the wildernesses we face, the despairs, the fears. Jan Richardson speaks of “the strange graces that come to our aid…..bearing comfort and strength, help and rest. She reminds us that we are, all of us, beloved. She reminds us of the blessings around us. Which brings me back full circle to our first reading from St. Paul – and his reminder that nothing can separate us from the love of God --- not the troubles of life and not even death.

But/and - we are – all of us – human. We miss the person who has died. We miss Barbara. I feel like I can speak for just a part of Barbara’s life – the part here at St. Aidan’s – when I say that we miss Barbara’s smiling face at church in person or on zoom, we miss her delight in tending the church garden, we miss her commitment to so many St. Aidan’s ministries, we miss seeing her on walks with her neighbors in Noe Valley, we miss her updates to all of us at church about how her children and grandchildren were doing. Barbara shared her love for you with all of us at St. Aidan’s – often. She was so very proud of all of you.

And so here’s the thing – at this moment in our life journeys, in our grief and as we miss Barbara, we are – at the same time - called to give thanks for Barbara’s life and to be grateful that she is blessed and loved by God. She is safely in God’s loving presence. We are reminded to give thanks for what we have learned from Barbara and for what we will remember, always, about her and about our time with her.

Rachel Naomi Remen wrote, in her book My Grandfather’s Blessings, these words:

Blessing life is about filling yourself up so that your blessings overflow onto others. Perhaps the wisdom of life lies in engaging the life you have been given as fully and courageously as possible and not letting go until you find the unknown blessing that is in everything.

Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal, to remember love rather than pain. It is a sorting process. One by one you let go of the things that are gone and you mourn for them. One by one you take hold of the things that have become part of who you are and build again.

May we, together, today, remember the presence and love of God among us. May we overflow with care and love for one another. May we hold in our hearts the blessings of this life, and particularly may we cherish the beloved life of Barbara, whose memory and spirit and example and smile will be with us always.

May it be so. Amen

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