Alan W. Banaszak: July 8, 1986 - February 22, 2017
Susan and Alan Banaszak
Two weeks ago I officiated a funeral for Alan Banaszak. I didn't know Alan, but I do know his sister, Susan Banaszak; she asked me to officiate the service. Alan died from a heroin overdose. I was honored to be asked to offer a word of grace into such a terrible loss. Alan's mother, Alana Banaszak, gave me permission to speak honestly about Alan's addiction. I have posted this service to my blog with permission from Alana and Susan.Order of Service for Alan Banaszak
Words of Welcome
Friends, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life and the memory of Alan Banaszak. In the Presbyterian tradition, we call this a service of witness to the resurrection. It is a witness to the love of God in the world, even in the midst of pain. It is a reminder that we are all part of God’s beloved family. Alan was no different; he was a son, a brother, an uncle, a boyfriend, and a beloved friend to many. We are here to thank God for Alan’s life and for all the ways that we were touched by him. While we mourn the loss of his life here on Earth, we know that he has joined with the choir of saints eternal. Please hear these words from scripture and be comforted.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
1 John 3:1-3
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Prayer for Comfort
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Let us pray.
Eternal God, we acknowledge the uncertainty of our life on earth. We are given a mere handful of days, and our span of life seems nothing in your sight. All flesh is as grass; and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades; but your word will stand forever. In this is our hope, for you are our God. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, you are with us. O Lord, let us know our end and the number of our days, so that we may learn how fleeting life is. Turn your ear to our cry, and hear our prayer. Do not be silent at our tears, for we live as strangers before you, wandering pilgrims as all our ancestors were. But you are the same and your years shall have no end.
Memories of Alan
Alan Banaszak with nephew Jack Catena
Our first reading, from Ecclesiastes, reminds us why we’re here today: we are here to mourn the passing of Alan Banaszak; we are also here to celebrate his life and his presence in our lives. Yesterday, as I sat with Alana and Susan and a few other family members, they told me, over and over, how much Alan loved his family, all of his siblings, cousins, and how important Marisa’s kids were to him.
Susan told me that when they cleaned out Alan’s apartment, they found a framed picture of Alan and Walt. Behind that picture frame were seven more pictures of the family. There was a lovely picture of Alana and Walt, sitting on the wooden swing, holding their babies, Alan and Annie. There were two pictures of Jack, among others. I was touched by this story about the pictures behind the picture frame. It showed how much Alan valued his family, but it also exposed a deeper truth about his life—the truth is, there was always another story behind the story that Alan chose to display.
That story was addiction. Let me be clear, Alan’s life was not defined by his addiction. But it was a part of his life, and if we fail to acknowledge that part, then we give too much power to the addiction. If we keep it a secret, if we tuck it into a neat little box and stick it over there where no one can see it, then that secret has the power to overtake the story of Alan’s life. So to put the addiction in perspective we have to acknowledge it and we have to remember that it’s a disease. It’s not a moral failing or a sin, but it does interrupt healthy, loving relationships, in ways that other diseases do not.
Cancer patients get to suffer in public. When a cancer patient loses weight, it’s on display for everyone to see. Many people know how to rally around a cancer patient. People send cards and text messages, people bring food to the house, everyone wants to know how that person is doing. And when someone survives cancer, everyone turns into some sort of hero—the patient who survives the illness and the treatment, as well as everyone who supported the patient. It’s a team effort.
Most of us don’t know how to support an addict—or the family of an addict. We don’t know what kind of casserole to bring; we don’t know what to say. With cancer, the patient does most of the suffering, but with addiction, family and friends suffer emotional pain, fear, and guilt. There’s no self-doubt with cancer. I have an aunt who died from cancer. Not once did my mother second guess herself; she never had to ask if she did enough to help her sister. If you love an addict, then you never stop asking questions, and the answers are never good enough. Perhaps we’re looking in the wrong place.
The Scripture from 1 John reminds us that we are all God’s beloved children. In this passage, and many other places in the Bible, our relationship with God is described as a family relationship. We don’t really know what comes next after we pass from this world, but we do hope and believe that something does come next, and we do know that those who have moved on are in the arms of their loving father. And in that moment when the children are God are received into God’s arms forever, they are finally able to see God fully–to understand this indescribable love that the scripture can only start to describe by the picture of a father with his children.
I find this passage to be comforting because it doesn’t expect us to have all the answers—not yet, anyhow. It allows this to be a journey. This piece of Scripture gives us room for grief and it provides space for mourning. Now someone might tell you, “Alan’s in a better place.” You know what? I hate those words! It’s a load of crap! Yes, it’s good that Alan isn’t suffering anymore. He has been released from the prison of addiction and that’s a blessing. But he’s not here with us anymore; we are not in a better place. We have to live with the pain and the loss.
When I hear these words from John, I feel that I’m allowed to feel all of the sadness that comes along with losing a loved one. This hurts. It’s supposed to hurt. That means the love is real. That means that you all loved Alan and he loved you! Don’t let anyone take that away from you!
I hope that you, too, can hear these words from John, as well as the words from Ecclesiastes, and know that there is space for your grief. There is a time for every purpose, and this is the time to grieve your loss. It is also time to celebrate Alan’s life. You can say, “I’m glad that Alan isn’t in pain anymore,” and at the very same time, you can cry out, “I miss you!” It’s okay to feel both things at the same time and you don’t have to stop feeling these feelings or crying these tears. This is the price of being part of a loving family. I also hope that, as you think about Alan and reflect on these Scriptures, you’ll also live in the hope that comes along with being a part of God’s family. In this hope, there is the promise to each and every one of us that one day, when we pass from this world, we will be caught in the embrace of the loving arms of God the Father. So as we cry these tears of grief, let us also share in the joy of Alan’s life and the joy of God’s love. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you promised many rooms within your house. Give us faith to see, beyond touch and sight, some sure sign of your kingdom, and, where vision fails, to trust your love which never fails. Lift heavy sorrow and give us good hope in Jesus, so we may bravely walk our earthly way, and look forward to glad reunion in the life to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Into your hands, O merciful God, we commend your servant Alan. Acknowledge, we humbly pray, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.
Now, friends, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, remain with you always. Amen.