Remembering Jean Mary Cumming: June 15, 1913 - March 24, 2009

Jean Mary Cumming

A memorial service for Jean Mary Cumming, who died March 24, 2009 at the age of 95, was held March 27, 2009 and presided over by Rev. Diane Rollert.

Welcome to this space which is made sacred again and again by your presence.

Here we gather to share the milestones of our community, the beginnings and the endings.
Here we cherish life, celebrate love, and mourn our losses.  

Today I welcome you into a place of memory and compassion as we gather to say goodbye to Jean Mary Cumming.


In this hour we will honour Jean's life with remembrances and poetry, but most of all we honour her life all with music.

Music was Jean's life's blood to the very end. So we begin with a musical prelude with violin - because the violin was the instrument of Jean's heart and her greatest joy.

Every Sunday, Jean sat here and listened and watched as we began our services with the lighting of our chalice, the flame of our community. I invite her grandson Scott and his wife Ilinca to light the chalice this afternoon in Jean's memory, followed by a musical response from Jean's daughter Heather.

Divine spark from sacred dark,
Symbol of our holy intent,
Illuminate this hour.
May the warmth of your light dance in our hearts.

I Danced in the Morning - sung by Heather.

Opening Words: From Richard Gilbert

We live within limits.
We compose a life out of the medium of finite time.
We sing the melody of meaning into cathedraled space, working out a distinctive tune.
We walk in harmony with all that is, in cosmos and community,
Seeking to attune ourselves with the music of the spheres,
Knowing our existence is a but a single note
In a vast universal symphony.

In this hour, let us remember Jean as she was in her days of strength and as she was just a few days ago.
Let us make room for laughter and for tears, for the hard memories and for the easy memories.
We can only hope that her spirit is soaring now, forever in that vast universal symphony.
For if she were with us in body today, she would surely dance as we listen to music and sing.

Hymn 208 - "Every Time I Feel the Spirit"
Reading - Gypsy Violin (Anonymous) - Grandson Scott Speirs

We take this moment in our service in memory of Jean to also remember those losses that deeply touched Jean and her family. Let us especially remember: Jean's son Peter Cumming, her sister Joy Symons, her brother Stewart Symons, and her husband Stan Cumming.

Let us join together in a litany of memory, to honour those who have gone before us.
Please join me by responding to each phrase I say with the words "We remember them."

In the rising of the sun and in its going down...
We remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and the chill of winter...
We remember them.
In the opening of buds and the rebirth of spring...
We remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer...
We remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn...
We remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends...
We remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength...
We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart...
We remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share...
We remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

The World So Full (by Jean's father, Frank Symons): granddaughter Lara Speirs

Remembrance
With the sounds of Bach, Brahms, Schubert and Prokofiev, with the sweet and plaintive tones of the violin, we will remember Jean. 

Like many of us here, I only knew Jean late in her life, as her memory had faded. Yet what a beautiful presence she was, always.  Her warmth, and her kindness shined through. 

She was always smiling, always impeccably dressed, beautiful, even at the age of 95. She would sit right there, almost every week, her eyes closed, smiling with joy through every piece of music and every song, swaying, and humming, in ecstasy.

Watching Jean as she reveled in music was one of my greatest joys each Sunday.

Last year I learned that Jean had been a violinist. It must have been on a Sunday when we had a guest violinist. It was an especially joyful Sunday for Jean. I hadn't heard all of the details and so I imagined that the violin was something she had learned as a child or a young woman.

I had no idea until yesterday that the violin was an instrument she began to play at the age of 67. What a difficult instrument to take up later in life.

As Carol says, it took a lot of courage, confidence and determination.  Perhaps this is the widest window we have into Jean's soul.  

As I spoke with Jean's daughters Carol and Heather, and her granddaughter Lara yesterday, I found myself wondering if Jean had chosen the violin or if it had chosen her.

It was a miraculous union between woman and musical instrument - a gift that opened up a whole new community and life for Jean. Music was a passion that continued to sustain her, even in her last hours. 

Thanks to Jean's father, music, was in her blood, just as this church was an important part of her life. Her father, Frank Symons, was a man originally from England who had come to Canada to seek his independence and fortune.

One day he was walking past the Church of the Messiah when he was drawn into the sanctuary by the sounds of the organ playing the Bach Toccata in D minor.  Music brought him in, and he stayed and became a Unitarian for life.

According to our office records, Jean became a member of this church in 1929, perhaps at the age of 16.
It was the beginning of a relationship that Jean would have with this church for nearly 80 years of her life.  

Her daughters say that Jean inherited her father's moxie. He was a man of his times, exacting and demanding, and as bright as Jean was, he never did let her go on to university.  Those were the days of the depression, and after an education at Trafalgar School, down the street from the Church of the Messiah, she married Stan Cumming at the age of 21.

Then life was devoted to the challenges of motherhood, caring for three children, daughters Carol and Heather, and son Peter who suffered from epilepsy and died at the age of 11.  

Later on, Stan and Jean would start a hotel in St. Lucia. Although no longer in the family, today the hotel is a world-famous spa. Time spent in St. Lucia six months each year was a significant part of Jean's life.
It became an important way that she shared time with her grandchildren, dancing each night after dinner.
Looking photos of the Spa Anse Chastenet, I can see why the beauty of this remote place drew Stan and Jean there.

In the end their means were less than great. Still they always believed in giving to the good works and just causes that mattered to them, including this church.

Jean's life was not easy. Yet in her last years she was truly happy. She knew warmth. She knew gratitude. She was easy to love, and she found joy and comfort with her grandchildren.

She knew belonging and warmth here in this community. She knew the attentive care of her doctors, and the staff at Place Kennsington.

She knew the joy of music. She leaves behind a legacy for her daughters, her grandchildren and great grandchildren of a love of music, dancing and art, and generosity to important causes balanced with frugality in everyday life.

For her grandchildren, Jean modeled what it was to be totally without arrogance, to be humble, to listen without judgement.

Jean, I will miss you.The front row of this sanctuary will seem a bit barren on Sundays from now on.
As Sandra plays the piano, I will remember you, your eyes closed, your face filled with passion for the music, as close to heaven as any human could ever be. 

Meditation:
Spirit of Life, how well you know the unfinished business of the saying goodbye and letting go that always come too soon.
A mother loves her children and yet she loses her memory to the ravages of illness and time.
How much is left unsaid, undone, and yet how much there is to honour and celebrate.
In this time of letting go may there be warmth in the memories, and in the harmonies that remain.
May there be a place for both forgiveness and gratitude, for healings and new beginnings.
We give thanks for Jean, for the life and spirit that were hers.
We give thanks for the gifts of her kindness her humility, her love and for the bits of memory that continued to be strong no matter what.
We give thanks for Jean's presence in our lives for her long life, her deep connection to our history and the legacy she leaves behind.
May her spirit dance freely and in peace.
Amen.

Closing Hymn 21: For the Beauty of the Earth

Closing Words: Hopi Prayer (grandson Greg Speirs)
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning rush,
I am the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Amen.

I invite Christine and Siena Speirs to come forward to extinguish our chalice.
Even as our service has come to a close and we extinguish our flame of community, may the warmth and vibrancy of this light shine on in our hearts as we cherish our memories of Jean.

Closing Music
This very last piece of music is a recording from the 1970s of the organ in the Church of the Messiah. Each June, at the last Sunday service, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor would be played in the old church.

It may have been this very piece of music that drew Jean's father, Frank Symons, into the church for the very first time. It was surely a piece of music that Jean loved.

It is a long piece, and we warmly invite those who prefer to leave during this postlude, to leave quietly and to join Jean's family in the Phoenix Hall next door, to share refreshments and conversation. Those who would like, may stay and listen, and join the others in Phoenix Hall after the music is finished.