(Earlier this year I wrote about Dad’s passing, and how life during pandemic made it so hard to “tell the bees.” Now we mourn my mom, who died earlier this month. These are the words of remembrance I spoke at her funeral, shared here with the encouragement of my hive, especially my sisters and my brother. I love you all.)
It’s time to tell the bees … again.
I don’t remember where I first heard the legend of “telling the bees,” but I was reminded of this beautiful tradition when I read The Beekeeper’s Promise last summer.
Telling the bees is the practice of sitting quietly and notifying the hive when a momentous event occurs in the family, typically when the master or mistress of the family dies.
Families do this, the legend goes, out of respect for the bees’ position as a link between the physical and spiritual worlds, and their importance to the health of the farm.
If we don’t tell the bees, the delicate link between the bees and their human host is disrupted, and the bees may abandon the hive.
Now it’s our turn to tell the bees …
It’s time to sit quietly and tell the bees of our sadness at Mom’s death.
It’s time to let the bees help us mourn the loss … of a mother … a grandmother … a great-grandmother, an aunt, a dear friend.
It’s time for us to speak openly of the gaping hole at the center of our hive. It’s why we come together like this, in a safe, sacred space to shed our tears.
Yet there’s another part to this practice of telling the bees. We also tell the hive of our joy … when a baby is born or when a couple gets married … when a new home is built or a fresh field is plowed.
We tell the hive when our hearts are full of the awe and wonder and joy of simply being alive.
So let’s speak that part of Jan’s life today. Let’s tell the bees about a life grounded in faith and rooted in love.
Jan’s often unspoken mission was clear: our job is to leave this place a little better than we found it.
She lived this mission. Coaching Little League softball, teaching religious education and leading Brownie and Girl Scout troops, she gave her time and smile and encouragement to countless kids.
Through her work at Pompey Outreach, she gave families in need hope, support and love.
She and Dad provided counsel and support to so many couples through Engaged Encounter and Marriage Encounter.
She showed her love in her magical talent for whipping up a party at every family gathering, special event, holiday and Sunday supper.
To her husband she provided a life of unwavering support and dedication throughout their 60+ years of marriage.
To all of us, she provided a rock solid foundation of faith … faith in a greater good, in something so much larger than ourselves, and in the greater potential available in each of us.
Her life was a series of reminders to help us realize our real purpose here. We learned to move through this world with hearts wide open and ready to give.
We learned to leave firewood for the next camper.
We learned to plant flower gardens where our neighbors could see them, and where the bees could come and work.
We learned to volunteer in our community, to share our talents and our light, to simply pay attention to the people around us. To realize when they might need a hand … or a hug … or an extra dollop of Cool Whip.
And we learned to create family memories through our holiday rituals and a well-loaded table. We learned how to turn the most every-day day into something special with a well-timed dose of sprinkles. (In this family, sprinkles mean love and that’s a fact.)
Jan leaves behind this incredible legacy, in a strong, loving extended family that learned by her example how to love unconditionally and support each other with our whole hearts.
I see that legacy in my siblings, so clearly now, especially during these past few difficult years.
I see Mom’s legacy in Marianne, who chose a career in which her talents and contributions are magnified by the teams she has assembled to help some of the most vulnerable. Like Mom, Marianne’s impact is a lasting one, in the legislation she’s helped create and advocated for … in the organizations she has strengthened … and in the community she’s motivated. I also see her in the way she and Karan grow food in the city, to eat and to share, and the way their very presence creates true community wherever they go.
I see Mom in Patty, in the nearly magical way her home expands to accommodate anyone who wants to be there, and the table fills with food at just the right times. I saw Mom in her the other night, when she turned a box of graham crackers and a couple of bananas into the perfect bedtime mini-feast for a crowded house. I see it in her work with students, helping them realize their greater potential and find a new level of confidence. And I see it in her life with Bill, growing a family with an unshakable faith in God’s goodness.
I see Mom’s legacy in Frank, as he’s morphed his career into a true mission to leave the planet better for the generations to come. Not in a lofty, theoretical way, but in real time, through his ability to leverage the connections he makes with creative synergy. And I see it in the family he’s created with Rachel, in the way they’ve both instilled a love of being outside and a respect for the natural world in their boys. And I see it in a faith that becomes manifest as he walks through his days.
And I see Mom in myself. I hear her speaking to me when I’m working in my garden, tending the flowers while the bees and the butterflies go about their chores. I see it in my work as a ghostwriter, helping others tell their stories. And I see Mom in myself as the seasons change and John and I haul out the bins to decorate for the seasons. … The seasons of renewal, the times of growth, the gratitude of the harvest time, and the rituals that herald the wonder and joy that see us through the darker part of the year.
Lately though, I see Grandma’s legacy most clearly in her grandchildren …
in Chelsea and Kade in the way they recognize their unique talents and embrace the hard work needed to amplify them …
in Miriam and David, in Natalie and Jeffrey as they buzz around their own hives doing what needs doing with ease and laughter, always ready with a hug or the right words or an impromptu yo-yo lesson …
I see it in Luke and Colin as they embrace a life lived closer to nature, staying in harmony with this earth as they celebrate the pure, grand adventure of just being alive …
I see it in Valerie and Jessie, both in the careers they’ve chosen, providing advocacy and support to young and old, and in the good-hearted men, Ryan and Will, they’ve chosen to spend their lives with.
And now we have the gift of discovering Grandma’s legacy in her great granddaughter and namesake Eleanor Jean. How Mom’s legacy will show up in this next generation is a gift tucked under the tree, just waiting to open … as we see glimpses of Mom and Dad and so many others flit across her sweet face.
We see Mom in all the faces here today … her friends and extended family, the people she loved in so many different ways, people she has touched in the community, on the golf course, in her church community. If she was to plan a party, I’m pretty sure you all would be on the VIP list.
Our queen bee might have flown this earthly hive, but her presence and her legacy of love is stronger than ever.
We will remember her in every apple pie, every flower garden, every jar of sprinkles, and every campfire. It’s that legacy of love that we will remember and celebrate.
So let’s all go together and tell the bees.
So yes, we’ll tell them of our loss. Speak to them of our sadness.
And then we’ll tell them of our joy … of our unbounded gratitude that we have been so graced to have her in our lives.
Postscript: As we gathered to bury Mom at the graveside on a gorgeous fall day, one lone bee flew in and slowly circled the casket, buzzed each one of us, visited the priest and paused near the Bible in his hands, then flew away. The bees know.