A Community Requiem for Florida’s Lost Bears

An altar to remember, by Norine Cardea, Jennifer Clinnard and Linda Hall.

An altar to remember, by Norine Cardea, Jennifer Clinnard and Linda Hall.

Today, I offer you a guest post from Rev. Candace McKibben, my beloved friend and partner in all things ritual.  The photos are by the always amazing David Moynahan. There’s more to come on bears, and restoring them to their deserved sacred status, but we feel satisfied with this start.

This column appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat, Saturday, November 28, page 1C.


Candace McKibben, community healer

Candace McKibben, community healer

The Sacredness of Life
November 26, 2015
Rev. Candace McKibben

About a month ago now, I was asked to participate in a remembrance service for the Florida black bears killed in the recent hunt.  No one was sure just how it should look and feel, but that something needed to happen to mark the loss seemed right and important.  It took a while to form, but when we met on a recent Friday evening to prepare the space and our hearts for the Requiem for Black Bears to be held the next day, it was clear that healing was happening.  Sue Cerulean, who loves the Florida Panhandle and all of its rich life, was deeply impacted by the loss of bear lives and the threat to the orphaned cubs.  She likened her feelings about the hunt and her incapacity to do anything about stopping it to the helplessness she felt when her son was critically ill.  Knowing the intensity of that maternal pain for my friend, Sue, deepened my understanding of the gravity of the bear hunt and my desire to say yes to her invitation to be a part of a remembrance ceremony.

Art helps us See and Feel Truth. Norine Cardea, with mask by Linda Hall

Art helps us See and Feel Truth. Norine Cardea, with mask by Linda Hall


On Friday evening, Norine Cardea was standing high on a ladder, adjusting the bamboo that arched over the altar creating a woodsy cathedral.  Working with Jennifer Clinard, their eye for beauty and meaning was stunning.

The magnificent quilted bear resting on the black altar, his teeth and claws giving realism to his otherwise iconic body and bejeweled head, was powerful.





Linda Hall, great community artist, bearing our pain.

Linda Hall, great community artist, bearing our pain.


Linda Hall, who created the altar bear and several others, along with creative masks of woodland creatures used in the opening processional, seemed gratified that her art was being used to bring healing and hope.  Luka Sharron was hard at work in the background setting microphones and speakers in just the right places to create sound that would provide clarity as well as an ethereal feeling.   The Ursine Chorale, a group of loving, talented singers from the Tallahassee Area Threshold Choir, gathered to practice.  Among them was Donna Klein whose love and creativity helped produce the requiem.  A church member from the lovely United Church in Tallahassee where we had rented space for the requiem stopped by the church on another matter.  I invited her to come into the sanctuary to see the altar and my heart was moved by her generous response.  She fell to her knees, bowed her head, and wept.  “There is too much killing,” was all she could say.

On the morning of the requiem, those creating the service gathered early to be certain that every detail had been cared for.  Artist and musician, Patrick McKinney, tuned his guitar and worked with Luka on the sound.   He helped the volunteers who participated in the woodland creature processional understand how best to create the desired mood as they brought the quilted bear down the aisle.

We will never forget.

We will never forget you

It was a prelude like none I’ve ever been privileged to witness.  Velma Frye, healer and musician, rehearsed her exquisite offering of “Canticle for Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”  Exquisite photographer, David Moynahan, made helpful suggestions about how best to reposition some of the elements of the altar to take advantage of the light.  Everyone was giving their best selves and gifts to create the finest offering of love to the bears.

The words spoken during the ceremony were of respect for the bears and understanding that all of life is sacred and holy.  The bears lost, the cubs, the wounded bears, the hunters, the commissioners, those who feel powerless about the hunt, those who favor the hunt – all of life is sacred and holy.

Crystal Wakoa...on opening our hearts to pain

Crystal Wakoa…on opening our hearts to pain


Crystal Wakoa from her Buddhist perspective eloquently encouraged us to hold all of life in our hearts and pray for healing, happiness, and peace.   We considered the words of Jewish and Christian scripture that compel us to be good stewards of creation.






Honoring the Bear. Photo by Daivd Moyahan
Honoring the Bear. Photo by Daivd Moyahan



We came to the altar and selected a flower from people’s yards to place as a symbol of life and beauty in gratitude on the quilted bear.  We each took a blueberry, a part of the bear’s diet, to remind us of our connectedness with the bear and to nourish our souls.



Margaret Richey attended to her own healing and ours, by collecting and offering these bear paw shells.
Margaret Richey attended to her own healing and ours, by collecting and offering these bear paw shells.



We then selected a bear claw shell, that Margaret Richey had loving gathered on St. Joe beach, as a talisman of our commitment to hold all of life sacred.   Specifically not designed to be political, the ceremony was a safe place to grieve the loss of the bears and the diminishment of our own spirits, to honor the importance of holding life sacred, and to renew our souls.  It was a tremendous outpouring of love and on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful to be a part of such a sensitive, caring community.


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A Community Requiem for Florida’s Lost Bears — 17 Comments

  1. I’d have loved to be with you all. A creative and unique effort for the Bears by so many of my friends. I’ll be back from LA soon. I feel so grateful to live in a loving community.

  2. Beautiful ceremony and tribute! I, too, felt helpless, but this did help a bit in giving us an opportunity to show and share our respect for these magnificent creatures. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for standing for the bears and cubs. Throughout Native American cultures the bear is honored and considered a medicine guide. Whatever the bear eats, and survives, is believed to be safe for humans, according to their mythology.

    When we break the web of life, we all suffer. Pray for the motherless cubs to survive this winter. Support life.

  4. It is heartwarming to read that others participate in ritual honoring the bear. Every year on this last day of November I give thanks for the end of a tortuous 3 month hunt (4 if you count hounding practice which allows for everything but the final kill). Tomorrow I will take the two photos of bears I love down from the table where they have been standing for three months… and tonight I put food out for the deer for the first time this year. Today marks the last day of slaughter. Please see my blog for essays, photos etc on the black bears I love: http://sarawrightnature.wordpress.com

  5. Thank you all for the creation of this healing and sacred ritual. The love and reverence for life has touched many hearts (mine, for sure) and will continue to extend far and wide.

  6. Thank you all for creating, participating in, and sharing this healing ceremony. My tears flow as I read this lovely, beautiful articulation. I feel the grief of the totally unnecessary killing and suffering of the Bears with you. My heart aches for all of us. “When will they ever learn?”, all over again. I pray for our healing.

  7. I am so, so sorry I was not able to attend this once-in-a-lifetime community ritual, clearly so beautiful, creative, spiritual, healing, uplifting, and yet sad. My deep gratitude for all who played a role in feeding our souls in this way, and a special thanks to Candace and David for this moving description in words and photos of what I missed. I’m overwhelmed.

  8. Oh, how I wish we’d known about this event in advance; I would have been there with my three children. What a beautiful, meaningful tribute. Thank you so much for doing this.

  9. Thank you for the bear memorial.

    It is only with the respect and compassion for all life that our own species will survive our journey of evolution.

  10. Jen, I’ve added you to my mailing list for future events. So sorry you missed it, and the children, especially….