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  • Writer's pictureElisa Juarez

Heritage & History

July 30, 2023

In the afterglow of our trip to New Hampshire, I am in awe of how the Universe surprised and supported our family. The details of my father’s memorial and burial came together seamlessly by the grace of God and Grammie’s church.

My mother and her sisters grew up in the Chester Congregational Church where my grandmother was an active member. This historic church sits at the intersection of two main roads in the center of town. It was originally built as a traditional New England colonial meeting house in 1773. According to Wikipedia, it “underwent significant alteration in 1840, giving it its present Greek Revival appearance.” This small-town church has a long history and a huge heart.

As my siblings and I were planning the memorial, we wondered where family and friends could gather after the burial for lunch and fellowship. Since we were expecting over 20 people, a restaurant was not the answer. My sister, Cathy, suggested we contact the church and ask if we could rent the vestry, a separate building used for meetings and gatherings. We thought it might be a long shot since it’s been so many years, but she reached out to the minister by email and got a quick reply. She immediately welcomed us, remembering our visit in 2016 when we buried our mother’s ashes. She gave my sister a contact person who would make the arrangements - an old friend of our mom’s family, Gen Rowell.

Gen and a few other church ladies offered to set up the vestry and the food which we ordered from a local deli. Additionally, one volunteered to make lemon bars and Gen would bring fresh fruit. It was amazing. The Rand family is well-known in Chester as they have been there for generations. My grandparents both grew up there and then raised their own family in the house that still stands, now remodeled. History and heritage run deep in these parts, and I could feel it in my bones.

The North Chester Cemetery is tucked into a wooded area along a gravel road with a simple wooden sign in front. The only place to park is along the side of the road. In the shady area of the cemetery sits the Rand family plot, marked by a granite headstone bearing the family name. In front of this headstone are individual granite blocks with the first names of each of my grandparents, my mother, and my dad. There was the hole, ready to receive Dad’s ashes. Sigh. This is it.

The caretaker stood off in the distance while we gathered, sang, read scripture and poetry, and prayed. When we were finished, he was there to cover the box we had tucked into the ground, safe and secure, next to Mom. The three of us kids knelt down, placed our hands on the box, and said, “Thank you, Dad.”

As we gathered afterward in the church vestry, my mom’s sister, Laurel, now almost 88 years old, said, “I have a lot of memories in this place.” She is losing much of her memory, but she remembers this space. It is her heritage and ours, and it was holding us that day.

Family, friendship, and faith came together in this celebration of my dad’s life. Each person there carried a piece of that story, and many shared how it had shaped their own. The legacy of love lives on and bolsters the next generation. I am grateful that this church opened its arms and held our family at this point in our history. It was the perfect ending to our parents’ journey, and one we will always cherish.

Grace & Gratitude,


Elisa J. Juarez

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