The manner of my father’s dying has been a great and ongoing blessing to those who miss him, particularly to me.
In the course of his long life, particularly towards the end, through extensive reading, wonderful church-based study groups and his own private meditation, he had jettisoned the dogma he had learned in his younger days. He faced his death with joy and a sense of adventure.
“Let God surprise me,” summed it up nicely, and that quote made it into his obituary.
A quotable quote indeed; it closes an article about end-of-life choices by Patricia Clarke in a recent edition of the United Church Observer.
On the first anniversary of my father’s death, I find myself occupied with the launch of a new website. How fitting, because he would have loved this project.
Barefoot Acupuncturists offers acupuncture to the poor in the slums of Mumbai, and is creating a model that could be applied in other places. Its founder, Walter Fischer, a Belgian acupuncturist, sees acupuncture as an effective, versatile and economical medicine. In his Mumbai clinic, it is particularly in demand for relieving physical pain enforced by poverty, especially on women who bear the load of heavy domestic work.
Flemming travelled with me in Nicaragua for 3 weeks in 1987. It was a highlight of both our lives. I came to understand his deep humility in his willingness to experience life as it is lived by the poorest of people. For that was the grounding of his political philosophy: that the lot of “the people” – the majority of the population with no particular standing in society, who strive to feed their families and provide what comfort can be obtained – should be improved.
He would have been so pleased that I could be involved in promoting Barefoot Acupuncturists, an organization that seeks to improve the access of the very poor to health care, and in so doing, in Walter’s words, “make the world a slightly better place”.
The Barefoot Acupuncturists website tells a lot more about their story in English, French and Chinese (Spanish coming soon). Both the website and the blog feature Walter’s beautiful photography. The blog, in French only, is worth looking at for the pictures alone.
Dear Heather & Family
My condolences to you and your family on the passing of your father.
Flemming was a tremendous spirit admired and appreciated by all who knew him. His passing is a great loss for all. A grateful province is thankful for his contribution. May you find comfort and peace at this difficult time.
About 40 people attended Flemming’s burial ceremony at Abercrombie Cemetery in Pictou County on October 18, 2009: immediate family, old friends, cousins and more distant relatives, retired ministers etc.
At Flemming’s suggestion, we buried his ashes between his parents, and we will have his name inscribed on the back of their tombstone. It’s very fitting for them to be buried together, as the three of them came to Canada together Denmark in 1929, not knowing if and when they’d ever be able to go back and visit (they did, but only 30 years later), and made their way here in the “new world” as a family unit.
We – his children, grandson, his nephew Danny and his son, grandnephew Brad Parker, and spouses – dug the grave ourselves, between his parents’ ashes. Even the kids (Malcolm and Guillermo) put their backs into it. We felt the digging was important, as we were striving to ground and make as real as possible our experience of a loved one’s death, rather than leaving the work to others. For most of us, it was our first experience of the death of an immediate family member.
Rev. Ivan Gregan delivered a full, rich Christian service of committal. Notable moments included a prayer of confession when we were asked to silently confess anything that lay between us and Flemming, and assurance of forgiveness.
We sang, a capella, “Hold me, hold me, never let me go, hold me like the leaves at the ends of the branches. And when I die, let me fly, let me fly, let me fly like the leaves when they’re falling.”
We passed the cross-shaped urn holding his ashes (they’re bone fragments, really) around the circle. This was a very moving experience for each person in their own way, to feel his weight, to carry him a moment in death, to say something quietly, to feel a moment of personal closeness. When the urn returned to my brother Mike, it felt to me that the circle had been closed – a sense of completion and unity.
My cousin Danny, who is native Columbian, and his son Guillermo, whose mother was Mi’kmaq, put a crown of sweetgrass and a dreamcatcher on the urn.
Then my brother laid it in the ground. We could see the edge of our grandmother’s urn there; Flemming’s urn lies right beside her and a little deeper.
Then as Danny and Guillermo offered sacred tobacco to the grave, Danny looked up and remarked on the young eagle that had been circling overhead for a while. Danny told me later that a young eagle signifies means that Flemming was young again.
My Dad was like a second father and a mentor to Danny.
We filled in the hole ourselves, and little girls danced on the sods to tamp them down. Children dancing on his grave – you can imagine him laughing.
Then we retired to the home of Flemming’s cousin Hasse and Susan Lindblad for a lovely reception, with a chance to meet old friends and extended family.
Two days later, because of a mix-up with car keys, I was back in New Glasgow and had a chance to visit my great-aunt Emilie (“Mille”) Lindblad, who is 92 and was unable to leave the nursing home. She is totally “with it” mentally, however, and we were both glad for the visit.
THE FAMILY OF THE REV. FLEMMING HOLM
Dear Heather, Pamela, Michael, Carol, June and all the extended Holm Family:
It was with I profound sense of sadness, mixed with a note of celebration, that we received the news of Flemming Holm’s recent passing.
We appreciated the heads-up which arrived by email and somewhat prepared Sadie and me for the news that came on Thanksgiving Sunday.
I’m writing on behalf of the Pine Hill Alumni Association, of which he was a valued member, to express our condolences on the passing of a beloved father and family member.
Flemming will be greatly missed, not only by former parishioners and clients whom he served so well, but by his many colleagues in ministry.
He was a faithful and effective worker in church and community at many levels of life. He contributed freely of his leadership abilities, wise counsel and incisive commentaries on life, always with a great passion for justice and compassion for the marginalized.
Our association was honoured to number Flemming among our Alumni of the Year. I have happy recollections of the summer day at Berwick when he became our Alumnus of the Year for 2003. I also remember, Heather, the way you spoke movingly of the warm personal delight which this honour gave to your father and the whole family. I am so happy Flemming and I had an opportunity to have a phone conversation this past summer regarding the planning of our next alumni reunion in 2010 in Liverpool. There are many other memorable experiences shared over a number of years, such as the week we spent in Gardiner Mines, Cape Breton. We were facilitating a multicultural education lab with leaders of many diverse backgrounds from across the island. He had an amazing capacity to keep his cool when the rockets were exploding.
Going back through another generation and another institution, the support which the Holm family provided (and the contribution made) to the Atlantic Christian Training Centre, Tatamagouche, will never be forgotten by the centre. As one who attends a monthly meeting at Tatamagouche, I know that the pine tree which stands in front of Stewart Hall will always be a lasting memorial to Viggo and Magda. It is appropriate that, at the end of his days, Flemming should rest at Abercrombie between the two who brought him into the world and were the early formative influences on his life.
I was happy that events conspired to lead me to an assignment in Cape Breton last Sunday, which meant the timing was perfect on my return journey to place me at Abercrombie at 3.00 pm. You and the family, assisted by Ivan and a number of friends, gave your father a fitting send-off. I’m certain Flemming approved of, and rejoiced in, all that took place, including the passing of Michael’s labour-of-love and its precious enclosure. My colleagues and I were proud to call him a brother and friend. May God’s loving Spirit be with you and your family always.
Sincerely, Bob Latimer, PHAA secty
PS – Thanks for sending the audio account of the service of celebration of Flemming Holm’s life. The reflections of family members, clergy and people like Hugh McKervill put quite a dent in my box of kleenex.
I first met your Dad sometime in the late ’80s when I became a member of Halifax Presbytery and joined the Church in Society Committee. We would meet at his house in Dartmouth to discuss relevant social issues and plan for action and activities in which we as part of the United Church could play a role.
He was always so prepared for whatever the issue might be, and prepared also for action, sometimes against all odds, as with the Maersk Dubai situation.
His biblical knowledge and understanding was amazing, and it was such a delight to have him share this in our Study Group at Trinity.
I was so delighted when one Sunday, a few years ago, I saw Flemming coming into Trinity. I had lost track of him for a few years; we greeted each other as “old time” friends.
He will be greatly missed.
To listen to individual segments of Flemming Holm’s funeral service, held on October 17, 2009, in Trinity United Church, Mahone Bay, go to the In Memorium page.
To listen to Flemming Holm’s entire funeral service at once:
(Note that this version has the introductions and blank spaces edited out.)
Welcome, Gathering Words, Rev. Ruth Brown
Hymn VU # 232 Joyful, Joyful
Reflections: Heather Holm (Read text).
Gift of Music: We Rise Again, Reid Campbell and Pamela Holm
Reflections and Reading: I Corinthians 13, Hugh McKervill
Hymn VU#699 Live Into Hope
“Prospice” by Robert Browning, read by George Robertson
Reflections: Pamela Holm (Read text)
Gift of Music: He Shall Feed His Flock from Handel’s Messiah: Pam Holm, alto, Bev Shaw, violin, Josephine Skinner, organ
Greetings from Maritime Conference: Rev. Ivan Gregan
Greetings from South Shore Presbytery: Rev. Neil McEwen
Messages from Away: Charles Maginley (Read text)
Luke 4: 16-21: Steve Sepulchre
Isaiah 40: Gail Tricebock
Reflections: Ruth Brown: Ode to Flemming (Read text)
Hymn VU# 808 On Eagle’s Wings, with solo by Reid Campbell
Prayers of Thanksgiving
The Prayer of Jesus: “A Paraphrase” VU page 916
Hymn VU#691 Ancient Walls
Sending Forth: Blessing and Benediction
Hymn VU#625 I feel the Winds of God Today
Postlude: “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J. S. Bach, Bev Shaw, violin, Josephine Skinner, organ
This is just a selection of messages we have received by E-mail. These messages were read by Charles Maginely at the funeral.
From Flemming’s niece Karen:
I have been thinking about Uncle Flemming all week and the fond memories I have of an Uncle that I will always hold close in my heart.
Like the time Kathy accidentally steped on Bradley’s kitten and the poor little kitty died. Well, Brad was so upset that his mommy “murdered” his kitten that when Uncle Flemming found out he drove to Kathy’s and picked up Brad and the kitty and took them home and had a funeral in his back yard. Although Uncle Flemming tried to explain to little Bradley that it wasn’t murder Brad felt much better knowing that the little kitty was in a safe place now.
I remember I could call him when I was sad and needed to talk. I always felt better after our chit-chats.
The time he drove me to Mount Alison to spend the weekend with Pam…we managed to solve many of the world problems during our drive there and back.
When I wanted him to officiate over my wedding, he jumped through hoops to borrow a church and what did I do? I complained and whined because I wanted him to wear a gown. He went through the trouble of finding a minister that was approximately the same size as him so he could borrow one. I am pretty sure I am the only niece in the entire world that had an uncle that did this for her. He found a gown to wear and I not sure I ever told him how grateful I was or how proud I am that he is my uncle.
These are only a few ways that he had an impact on my life….I loved him very much and will miss him.
From Steve’s brother Larry Sepulchre, in Belgium:
Gandhi said that his life was his message. Your fathers message is strong,
clear and extremely generous.
From the Staff of Tim Hortons, Mahone Bay
Please accept our most heartfelt sympathies for your loss… our thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.
From Anna Steadman, on behalf of St. John’s & St. Paul’s Pastoral Charge where Flemming filled in part time after his retirement:
I offer condolences on Flemming’s passing. He was with us in the mid – late 90′s – an exceptional man of God. He was a gift to this Charge and to all who were blessed to meet him. I will never forget the phone call, I received from him one evening when he wanted to discus a letter he was sending to our Session about Homosexuality and Marriage. This phone call went on for over an hour as we discussed his thoughts and feelings. He was a talented, gifted man who will not be forgotten. I was happy to see you are going to keep posting his writings.
From Jean Clayton
I was privileged to work with Flemming Holm at both the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
He was a singular gentleman of dry wit who appreciated many of life’s ironies.
I enjoyed interesting discussions with him and was always surprised at the depth of his knowledge on a wide variety of topics. I found him to be a natural teacher and valued his encouragement and support.
His love and pride in his Danish heritage was equaled by his love and pride in his family. My condolences to each family member at this time of great loss.
A dedicated advocate of social justice; he will be greatly missed.
Rest in peace, Flemming – you were one of the good guys.
From Rev. Peter Smith, St. James United Church, Antigonish
We were privileged as a congregation to have Rev. Flemming Holm serve as minister with us from 1967-1973 and many here still fondly remember his presence in Antigonish. Our prayers join with yours as you come before God and celebrate his life. I personally had the opportunity to speak with him in the spring and hear some of his memories and thoughts on this area and was able to pass along condolences on his behalf to a family in the congregation. May this time of remembrance be an opportunity for you as family to celebrate the life you were blessed to know and may God grant Rev. Flemming Holm the peace and the wonder which is prepared for all who work and strive for God’s justice on earth.
From his cousin, Flemming Lindblad, who visited just a few weeks ago:
I am so thankful to have seen and spent time with Flemming when I did. He has always been one of my heroes and he was a real influence in my teenage years.
From Dorothy & Kenley MacNeill.
[This was sent before they heard the news that Flemming had passed away.]
Our sympathy goes out to all of the family, but even more, we trust, there will be a celebration of this man as you gather together sharing your sorrow and joy. What a great man!! We wish we had seen more of him over the years, but many Nova Scotia roads make ‘dropping in’ rather difficult.
We knew Flemming in several places, and we both remember when his parents worked at Tatamagouche Centre!! He was always interested in the Centre and Kenley at least has seen him there on occasion. It seems appropriate that any memorial from us should go to the Centre. Knowing Flemming though, we may have to wait, unless as he no doubt wishes – “It won’t be long now.”.
From George MacLean, a friend of Flemming and June and best man at their wedding:
Thanksgiving Day – and what more can we do but give thanks, Flemming, for your life and influence and courage and good humour! We found in you a steadfast friend all through the piece. Time and again you have opened realms of fresh thought and outlook and shared daring and steadiness as we ventured them.
How well I remember the coffeepot in your room at Pine Hill and how its aroma stirred both mind and heart!
We follow you with love on this journey. Thank you for being among
From Becky Leano, who worked with him at the Canadian Human Rights Commission and remained a close friend.
Your Dad was quite special and he was a blessing to all he met. I learned a lot from him; he made us all laugh and his wit, friendship, his great memory and love for poetry, wise sayings and historical events, and his jokes always enlivened any situation.
Flemming lived out his faith! I always enjoyed reading his opinions sent to the local paper. He was a champion for the weak and disenfranchised folks. I will miss him a lot. As well, I will miss his delightful Christmas letters! He did not suffer long and he is now at peace.
From his cousin’s daughter, Birgit Hope, who visited from Denmark and England last spring:
I am so sorry to hear about your loss which must be difficult despite Flemming being ready to go and I wanted you to know that we are thinking of you all. My Mother too has asked me to let you know they she and my Father will be thinking of you and your family from Denmark.
I always felt that I knew a little about your Father through his very descriptive letters sent to Denmark and the family history that he wrote but I am so thankful that I did meet him last year when we came to visit. I only wish we had had more time – I know that he would have loved some time to talk in Danish.
From Randy Crozsman, minister at the United Church of St. Paul & St. Stephen in Kentville:
I write this with both sadness and with joy. It has been such a gift to
me to have had the time we did ! That death has come as welcome rest for
Flemming, evokes a wonderful warmth in my soul. I hope that God, St. Peter
et al are ready for some terrific stories !
My sadness is selfishness, his loss from this world, is my loss too.
I hold you, Malcolm, and family in heart, mind, and prayer !!
From Jim Morton, now an NDP MLA
He has been a source of inspiration to me and I think of him often. I recall his comments on John Wesley as a example of how a fresh idea, well-delivered, can change the world.
From David Cameron, a friend of Heather who met Flemming briefly, but then discovered his blog:
so…now after his physical embodiment is gone to ash
I get to see who he is and what he thinks about so much
the turns of phrase and strategies employed in
search of social justice and transmission of
its basic concepts to and through a stunted media
rumbling quietly into the darkness
coming towards him
about compassion and logic and mercy
rational thought writ well and humble
charity beginning but not ending at home.
flemming, may I get to know thee well.
From his friend Cathy Etter:
We are changed now
Not because he left us
But because he touched us
From Gordon Earle
Flemming was truly an outstanding person and will be deeply missed by all who knew him. His undying attention to things such as the church; poverty; human suffering; developing nations; human rights; international affairs; local, provincial, and federal politics; and a host of other topics truly exemplified him as a person striving to help build a better world.
From Maurine Vine
We first met through the NDP when he lived in Dartmouth. In those days NDPers were pretty rare everywhere in NS. We were persistent, committed and worked hard. You can ask him whether he knew we would eventually become the government. I don’t know that I believed it. I suspect we both supported the NDP because it was the right thing to do.
From Rev. Cliff Moase
He was a couple of years ahead of me at Pine Hill, and I think it wasn’t until we were together at the first Canadian Lab in Group Development (at A.C.T.C., 1957, if my memory serves me) that I came to know him. We shared much during those couple of weeks, and continued to share in the years that followed.
My prayer is the one that comes from the Service Book:
“O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then of Your tender mercy grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
So may it be for your Dad. May God be graciously near to all of you in the family circle which he treasured so much.
Ode to Flemming
Dear Friend, Colleague, Teacher
Bestefar Prophet, and give us to laughter
Singer of the songs of our faith, scripture chapter and verse
Keeper of the details of history
illuminating what yet may be possible for us and our world
Story teller of endless stories…..
as the spirit moves….you got to move too
as the spirit opens….you got to look through
bring the church to the people…down by the sea
for such a time as this
you joined us for the journey
made of us your spiritual home
And I give thanks
It is fitting
you made your way
before frost and cold settled in
when sun and moon were bright
and leaves aflame
like the fire in your heart
for the least and the last,
“the little ones,” Jesus had said….
Now, we envision you
in the parlour and minister’s study,
in the church office and sanctuary
Round the community table and over at Tim’s
how your presence grew among us
“Seek the kingdom that will not wait for heaven,”
Lift every voice
“Do whatever you can, write it down, mail it off
Don’t stop believing
Not Caesar’s but God’s
household economics,” you said
For today, is God’s day of jubilation
and all the oppressed are set free
and we at last see differently
ourselves and each other
”well maybe we have a ways to go yet,” you said
not without grace……
For all our works are not enough
“But by grace,” you said.
It was what our friend Paul had said too!
With him on this at last we agree
“But by grace”
Day by day, Step by step
“In my lifetime I have known grace upon grace,” you said
As on eagles’ wings….
A strength and a hope
A compassion and a wisdom
a life-giving sense of humour
an astounding capacity to re-member
a lightness of being
Beyond your own
Yet not apart from us
Is This Life
in which we live and move and have being
on earth and wherever else we may go…..
We are not alone,
called to be the church
we are gift to each other
Grateful to share this good journey with
All creatures great and small
But by grace
In Holy mystery, who is wholly love
we “carry on, carry on.”