In Memoriam: Elizabeth Tarbox

OCTOBER 31, 1999

During the past few weeks as I thought about the impending death of our former ministerial intern, Elizabeth Tarbox, I remembered an Easter meditation that Elizabeth wrote during her internship at First Parish Norwell more than a decade ago. We published it in a booklet of her meditations and prayers entitled "A Leaning Out: Meditations Of A Trilobite Poet." She was utterly taken by surprise when we presented the book to her. She had no idea we were doing it and she was visibly moved and pleased. She had thought about doing it herself and presenting it to the church in Norwell. But instead we published it and presented it to Elizabeth as an act of love and pride in her emerging ministry. Many of the meditations were later published in the two UUA collections, but the one I had in mind has never been republished. It seems so fitting to the way Elizabeth Tarbox tried to live her life and how she faced death that I would like to share it with you. Here is what she wrote:

As you can see, the above reading is vintage Elizabeth. I couldn't help thinking of it again as I seek to come to terms with the reality of her death—to "recognize, embrace, visit and love her" in the midst of her death and dying (as so many of you and others have tried to do), and to "never again forget her"—to remember, as she herself wrote, that resurrection is for the living" and that it is our continuing challenge to "choose life" as she would have us. Though her death does not come in the spring it is nevertheless her Good Friday and Easter, and the community of love that gathers in her memory stands together with her in the night and dances together with her in the dawn.

I had my last visit with Elizabeth Tarbox a couple of days before her death. She was heavily sedated and not fully conscious. I held her hand for a time and then spoke softly in her ear. She seemed to stir when I spoke. I said: "My dear friend, when next we meet it will be in the Spirit in God’s own time. Thank you for all you that you are and have given. I love you and will never forget you. God bless you and keep you." I kissed her gently on the forehead and bid her good bye. Carl Sandburg put it this way:
Gather the stars if you wish it so.
Gather the songs and keep them.
Gather the faces of women and men.
Gather for keeping years and years.
And then. . .
Loosen your hands, let go and say good-by.