This is a guest post by Amanda Metskas. She is the Executive Director of Camp Quest.
Death is hard.
A few weeks ago, I accompanied my friend Neil Wehneman, the Secular Student Alliance’s Development Director, to the memorial service for his niece Harper.
Harper was nine years old. She was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer a year and a half ago. She fought hard and found reserves of bravery and joy that inspired the people in her life. I wish I had gotten to meet this amazing young woman, and I wish she had gotten to grow up.
Although I didn’t know Harper personally, being there for Neil was important to me. To Neil’s knowledge, he is the only member of his family who publicly self-identifies as secular. He expected that prayers, angels, Jesus, and Heaven would be a part of conversations and remembrances, and he didn’t want to take those things away from anyone else. At the same time, Neil wanted to know that he would have at least one person with whom he could fully process his thoughts, and I’m glad I could be there for him.
The rallying cry for the last year-and-a-half has been Hope for Harper. However, as Neil’s brother Brian so eloquently put it in his remembrance of his daughter:
Harper always chose joy, and so, inspired by her, I do so also. Me and my family choose joy. We ask that you also choose joy. The hole in our hearts is real, and cannot be diminished — we have lost a light in our lives that cannot and will not be replaced. But we choose joy because we know that Harper would choose it too.
Choose to embrace the time you are given. Love those around you without hesitation. Forgive and live life without regret.
Take from Harper what she freely gave to anyone she met — Hope and Joy.
Today we share once more from the lessons Harper taught us during the precious time she spent with us — and ask you take with you a bracelet that does not say Hope for Harper — for she needs it not — but instead says “Hope FROM Harper” and “Choose Joy”.
Regardless of our worldview, we all process death in slightly different ways. Brian focused upon specific memories from Harper’s life, his own Christian beliefs, and an urging for us to Choose Joy. Neil wrote his own remembrance, pulling from his Humanist worldview and Greta Christina‘s recent book on death and dying. Another speaker at the memorial service spoke of comets, family, and how Harper found beauty and joy all around her.
Our society is becoming increasingly pluralistic. There are times to discuss and debate competing worldviews, and there are times to focus on our shared humanity. Organizations like Interfaith Youth Core and Sunday Assembly seek to be radically inclusive, creating spaces where we can live life together and enjoy our common ground, while maintaining our own personal worldview (whatever it may be) without exclusion.
How do you choose joy in the face of an event such as Harper’s passing? For Brian, Neil, and many others, choosing joy involves alleviating the burdens others face. Brian and his wife Melissa chose several charities related to pediatric cancer for people to give to in honor of Harper’s life. All of them have purposes we can all rally around as common ground: finding a cure and improving the well-being of children with cancer and their families.
Foundation Beyond Belief has vetted these charities and graciously offered to facilitate donations to them through a special page in Harper’s honor. Neil has generously offered to personally match the first $1,000 in donations to that page. I encourage you to give, and to give joyfully.
Death is hard. Choose joy.