Remembering Breen Marien - August 28, 1925 - September 30, 2008

At a memorial service held Oct. 10, 2008, Rev. Diane Rollert delivered these opening words, from Unitarian poet and minister Robert Terry Weston.

"In mystery our whole life is lived, nor may any one see behind the veil of physical existence.
Yet in the little knowledge we do taste, there is a suggestion of a mystery still more sublime and wonderful than life.

To look out into the stars in the deep of night is to feel the vastness of space as beyond our ken, to feel infinitely humbled; yet how much greater than the stars, and more wonderful than space and night, is the miracle of human life!

Here in this tiny corner of the universe we know a mystery more profound, a glory more sublime, than all we know or guess about the stars, for here within the mystery of flesh is worked the miracle of mind and love.

This is the greatest wonder of them all, beside which our little knowledge is a paltry thing, dry dust beneath the living flesh of a truth so great we dare not even guess at it.”

So it is that gather this morning to celebrate the life of Breen Marien, a man who lived 83 remarkable years, whose life was marked by success through the miracle of mind and love.

This morning we rejoice simply, as Breen requested, with music and plain words.
Together, we take this time to lift up his memory with love and gratitude.

Chalice lighting and candle of memory: Jennifer Marien

We light this flame of community in memory of a life lived with resilience.
For, as in the words of Angus Cameron, late minister of this church who Breen so admired,
“a life that is well and bravely lived, in spite of difficulties, is a work of art.”

May this flame be a glowing reminder of Breen’s life and the warmth he shared with this community.
We light, also, a candle of memory for those who could not be with us today, for family and friends who will be with us in spirit in this hour.

Hymn: Amazing Grace

Reading: Text by Canon Henry Scott Holland, 1847-1918)
(Chosen by Breen’s children)
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I, and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the same easy way you always used.
Put no difference into your tone, wear no false air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be forever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was; there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well.

Reflection: Rev. Diane Rollert
In May, not long after Breen moved to Place Kensington, he had Joan send me a copy of a sermon that Angus Cameron had delivered to this congregation in 1954.

Joan wrote, “Breen hopes that you will keep [this tack] for the time when his own life is celebrated at the Unitarian Church. [It] incorporates his exact feelings towards death and memorial services.”

These are the words that Breen wanted to be sure I read:  “Death is real. It can be beautiful.
It can be wonderful. It can’t be pretty. And when attempts are made to rob death of its reality by artificiality, ostentation and display...something deep down inside every honest person protests.”

“Death is not a time of bragging eulogies...
The religious service at death is a community service.
The members of the religious community suffer a common loss when one dies. Part of everyone who is left has died too, therefore let our religious service say as simply and as beautifully as it can, that the body is buried in peace but the spirit lives.”

Breen’s accomplishments are vast. There is much to brag about.
Veteran, brilliant surgeon, professor, squash, tennis and golf champion, avid skier.

It’s a high bar, daunting for anyone to reach. But the true measure of his life is the legacy he leaves as a kind and generous father, grandfather, husband, and friend and the many lives he touched as a true gentleman and as a caring doctor.

He loved to compete, but he also knew humility. He was teacher, a storyteller, and a lover of jokes to the very end. For all the brilliance of his career, for his joie de vivre, the fast cars, the happy days of fatherhood when his children were young, and for all the joy he found through his marriage to Joan, through their travels, through the sharing of music and the theatre, through the births and accomplishments of his grandchildren, the last chapter of Breen’s life was not easy.

His body failed even as his mind remained sharp. He had known too many tests and treatments. He was tired and frustrated. 

I think of him in those last months of his life, still managing to find moments of happiness amidst his pain and discomfort. There were the one-on-ones with his four grandsons Benjamin, Louis, William and Robert, who gained the gift of precious time with their grandfather when his illness brought him closer to their home.

Those were moments Breen cherished, just as he cherished hearing news of his grandchildren Charlotte and Oscar out west.  

He had Joan’s attentive care, and time to check in with Charlie, Stephen and Robin. And the last ten days of his life were spent visiting with Jennifer, who had come from British Columbia.

His children wonder if that final chance to share books, stories, and sweet goodbyes with his beloved daughter is what kept him going for those final days. As soon as Jennifer’s plane was making its descent into Vancouver, he let go and he was gone. 

When the end came it was gentle in a way that any good doctor would wish for his patients. Breen returned to his room from treatment, and had his final glass of wine with his lunch. And then, when no one was looking, he slipped away quietly. He died and his body was released. His goodbyes were done, and his time had come.

I imagine that he let go exactly as he lived, with dignity and elegance, in control in the very last moment. I have no doubt that even as Breen’s body is gone and buried in peace, his spirit lives on, its legacy greater than any obituary, CV or eulogy could ever express.

Music: The Resting Place on the Hill (Aaron Copeland)

Reading: From Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier

Remembrances: Eleanor Beattie, Dr. Michael Churchill-Smith

Music: Sunday Afternoon (Aaron Copeland)

Remembrances: Charles Marien, Jennifer Marien

Music: Marzurka Opus 64 (Chopin)

Meditation: Rev. Diane Rollert
Let us give thanks for Breen as he was so many years ago, his body still strong, moving, reaching, striving and living with joy and let us give thanks for Breen as he was only a few weeks ago still able to appreciate the love of family and friends.

Let us give thanks for all the lives he touched -- knowing that he saved lives, and he changed lives in ways we can never fully appreciate. Let us give thanks for all those who cared for him in the autumn of his life, just as he once cared for others.

And let us hold in our hearts Breen’s family, in this time of grief, knowing that there is so much they will miss, his kind appreciation, his cheering them on, his wisdom, his gentle teasing, his talking sports, the phone calls, his sharing of deep feelings, his tenderness, and his ability to be a sounding board, his protectiveness, his stories, his generous spirit, the touch of his hand and the sound of his voice.

The pattern of their lives together, now gone forever.

No matter how prepared we feel, there is never enough time to prepare for death, it always comes to quickly and unexxpectedly. There is never enough time for all the goodbyes we’d like to say.

So, where there is pain and regret, may there be healing. Where there are words that have gone unspoken, may there be a letting go and forgiveness.

Oh Gentle Healing Spirit, may the memory of Breen burn as brightly as a flame in the hearts and minds of all who knew him, connecting each to the other with a deep abiding love.

Music: Ode to a Soldier (Stephen Marien)

Closing words: Rev. Diane Rollert, from Kahlil Gibran
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
May Breen’s spirit, his elegance, his joie de vivre, his kindness, and his generosity dance on
in those who knew him and loved him.
He would have wanted no less.