Alia died on Wednesday morning, shortly before nine, surrounded by her family and many friends from Daybreak who loved her dearly. We gathered that morning at Dayspring for what we had planned as a prayer service for Alia. It became a time to begin to live our grief.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” These words are from the Beatitudes of the New Testament, a foundational text for L’Arche. They are words we might do well to take to heart in our community today. The Beatitudes are all paradoxical and countercultural. Mourning does not feel comfortable. It is painful, yet only when we dare to experience our grief can we reclaim a sense of peace and balance. We are mourning now for Alia, and our grief for her may reawaken other losses in our lives. The week has held so much for us as a community. In the wake of Alia’s death, I am aware that for many of us, it does not seem quite real. We need time and space for the reality of the loss to take hold. We need time to mourn.
Alia died on Wednesday morning, shortly before nine, surrounded by her family and many friends from Daybreak who loved her dearly. We gathered that morning at Dayspring for what we had planned as a prayer service for Alia. It became a time to begin to live our grief. Mary Bee and Liska were able to share with us some precious moments from Alia’s final hours. Kathy Kelly recounted for us how Alia had been one of the Spirit Movers who welcomed Pope John Paul II to World Youth Day in 2002. Stephanie shared about how Alia opened our 25th Anniversary Gala “One Heart at a Time” at the Winter Garden Theatre. John Bloss and Kara said how much they would miss Alia, and how sad they were. It was good to be together that morning, but we knew that we could not linger. Alia was to be buried that afternoon.
Many of us travelled to the mosque where we observed the Islamic tradition of the “Prayers for the Dead.” Tammy had been invited to join the group of women who prepared Alia’s body for burial – a great privilege, one rarely extended to a non-Muslim. Alia was beautifully wrapped in perfumed sheets and placed in a very simple pine coffin, draped with a brilliant green cloth. There was a brief time when the coffin cover was pulled back so we could see Alia for one last time. One by one, we processed past and peered in. She smelled like a sweet forest and she looked exactly like herself, her long eyelashes more extravagant than ever. Alia’s toothy smile was relaxed and open, as though she were ready to break into her deep, hearty laughter.
Yet it was all very fast. By three o’clock, Alia’s body was in the ground. At the burial, Mr. Qureshi spoke lovingly of Alia and how great a teacher she had been to him. He also told how grateful he is for our community. We have assured him of our gratitude for Alia, and for her family. Mr. Qureshi spoke personally to Tracy to say how much he appreciated her partnership with Alia over these many years, since even before Daybreak when they lived together in the same pediatric nursing home. For years they shared a room at the Corner House. In 1988, together with Heather and Hsi-Fu, they had helped to found the Corner House. Alia lived her vocation to love with great freedom. It is not hard to imagine her in Paradise. We are the ones left behind. And it is we who must dare to mourn. Early in the new year, we will gather for a memorial service for Alia. For now, we will do our best to be attentive, and to comfort one another.
-Carl MacMillan, Community Leader