| The morning after Lisa died, I followed her two scrawny fur-balls into my backyard. The small chihuahua and terrier-mix had meant too much to her. I could not bring myself to let animal control take them into custody on my watch. So, they had come home with me for a bit.
I sat on the back stoop as Ms. Belle and Bella snuffed around in the grass. These two were not the first of Lisa’s puppies. She had battled the outdoors for seven years with another pup in tow. Sandra Dee, the nine pound Chi-weenie, often rode around in Lisa’s shoulder bag helping her make friends when she needed them, and fending off foe when someone got too close.
It took Lisa a long time to come out of the woods. In recent years, she admitted that she probably never would have done it for herself. But she promised Sandra she’d get her a forever home.
Sandra and Lisa spent many years in a stable home. After the pup died a year ago, Lisa missed her terribly. But she found such purpose in continuing to care for Belle and Bella. It seemed appropriate that I care for them in her absence.
As my memories of Lisa flooded back to me that morning, a bright red cardinal perched on my children’s playhouse. It sat for an extraordinary and unusual amount of time.
Perhaps Lisa is checking up on me, I chuckled. “Don’t worry,” I told the bird. “I’ll find the pups a forever home.” It sat for a moment longer, and then it flew away.
For many years, our community has gathered on Dec. 21–the first day of winter and longest night of the year–to remember our current and formerly unhoused neighbors who have passed away.
When we first began to observe the nationally recognized Homeless Person’s Memorial Day, there were many more lives that came to an end as people lived outdoors or in shelters. By grace, mercy and a lot of hard work, more people have made it into housing for the remaining years of their life. But our work has never stopped when people move indoors; If anything, that’s when the most meaningful relationships begin.
Whether they die in the hospital, their own home or among the caring arms of the Residential Recovery Home, the Micah community continues to learn how to help our neighbors live the best life possible. Too often, that journey does include walking them to the grave; and when there are no friends or family to claim them, it means laying them to rest, as well. While the average American lives well into their 70s, most people who experience homelessness barely survive until 50–the lifespan of someone who lived in the 1800s.
Increasingly, the Micah community has held funerals for those who have passed away. We have coordinated their burial. And our Homeless Memorial Day event has become more about those whose lives were effected by homelessness than deaths that occurred while living unsheltered.
As such, our churches now seek to remember our neighbors for the connection they did have with our community, rather than a separate group of people acknowledged for their lack of belonging. Micah’s annual remembrance of neighbors who passed away during the year will, therefore, move to November 1–All Saint’s Day. In Christian tradition, All Saints Day affirms the spiritual bond between the living and those who have passed away. It is the time of year that we give thanks to God for the lives and deaths of the “saints” who lived among us. Deceased members of our churches are often remembered this time of year in similar traditions. It is our intent to lift up our current and formerly unhoused neighbors in a the same way.
As you may recall, the Micah churches gathered in June to look back on where we have been, remember the lives that have inspired us and dream forward toward the vision for Jeremiah Community–a planned community of small homes, and new evolution in our understanding of loving God and loving neighbor. It is time again to revisit the stories that remind us that there is so much work left to do. The opportunity to participate in these neighbors’ lives is truly the source of everything we know about how to care for them.
Please join us Tuesday, November 1 at 6pm in Hurkamp Park for the Micah Community All Saint’s Day. A “camp” vigil will begin at 5pm, giving attendees time to visit tents and see the pictures of each of our neighbors who passed away this year. As part of our observance we will read the names and turn the lights on in honor of those we have lost.