On Sunday afternoon, smiles, laughter and momentary sunshine surrounded those who gathered to honor and celebrate the life of University of Portland student Owen Klinger, who died in late October of 2019.
A small group of Klinger’s family, friends, neighbors and others came to see the blessing of a stone bench and Coral Bark Japanese Maple tree. The tree and bench were put next to Christie Hall where Klinger lived during his time at UP.
“I see this as a celebration of life,” Christie Hall Director Ian Robins said. “One of the main goals for the new space is for it to be a place for reflection and intentional time with yourself or with a loved one to remember, not just Owen of course, but remembering all those we’ve lost.”
The stone bench was provided by UP, and is leftover from the ones put in front of Beauchamp, according to Robins. The Tree itself was paid for by Physical Plant, Robins said.
This event created a completely different atmosphere than the funeral Mass held on Oct. 30, 2019, to honor Klinger. Somber faces and heartache were replaced with the laughter and joy that filled the small space where the group gathered.
“It was a warm event,” Klinger’s roommate Justin Tong said. “It’s not the same as the last time we got together to remember Owen — there were a lot more tears the last time. This time it feels a lot more hopeful and a lot brighter.”
Fr. Pat Hannon presided over the event. Hannon led a prayer for Klinger and blessed both the bench and the tree. Afterward, everyone was invited to take turns with a shovel and help plant the tree.
“I’m seeing this as a moment of hope,” Hannon said. “You look at that tree and you don’t see a single leaf on it, but in another couple months, that thing is going to be blossoming. That to me speaks really powerfully about our faith and our belief in a love that’s stronger than death.”
The Japanese Maple was chosen because of Klinger’s ties to Japan and his interest in the culture and language of the country, according to Fr. John Donato. It is the only one of its kind on campus.
“Owen had been to Japan a couple of times and studied Japanese, and so it was a nice way to honor that part of his memory,” Dustin Klinger, Owen’s dad said.
After the memorial, all those who attended were invited to the Christie lobby for snacks and refreshments. Stories of Owen’s life and time in Christie filled the lobby with warmth and remembrance as the skies fell back to the gray storm from earlier in the day.
“We’re remembering all the great things that these people and Owen brought to our lives,” Robins said. “This gathering afterwards and how we’re all hanging out because of today’s event is a really cool thing to come from it.”
Austin De Dios is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.