Profoundness of Sunbeam Funerals

Profoundness of Sunbeam Funerals

Mission Director of Island Outreach and Chaplain Douglas Cornman.

In 2016, when I was first introduced to the Sunbeam, Island Outreach Director and Chaplain Douglas Cornman, the only crew member aboard, gave me a tour of the boat. I remember walking from the wheelhouse onto the top deck. Douglas explained to me that the two white cylindrical hard-shell cases affixed to the roof held life rafts. If the cases ever hit the water, Douglas said, they open, and the rafts inflate, automatically.
Also affixed to the deck, near the cases, were stainless steel tie downs. Those, Douglas said, secured coffins when the
Sunbeam traveled to or from funerals.
Funerals? Yes, funerals are an unsung service provided by the
Sunbeam crew for islanders. Here, for the first time, Douglas Cornman, the Sunbeam crew member who officiates funerals, talks about what he says is “one of the most profound aspects of my work.”


NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – I have officiated over 11 funerals on the Sunbeam or on island since I started with the Mission in 2014. Now, these are only the funerals for which I’ve officiated the service. The boat has participated in other funerals since I joined the crew.
Who is eligible for a Sunbeam funeral? Islanders are eligible. There are no hard rules around this. The funerals I’ve officiated, or the Sunbeam has participated in, in some capacity have been for islanders from islands frequently visited by the Sunbeam.
The majority of funerals I’ve officiated have been on Matinicus where the Sunbeam plays a significant role in the life of the island. Matinicus doesn’t have a minister living on the island. It’s also a challenging island to get to because of it’s distance from the main land. I’m the island’s chaplain which is why most of my work officiating funerals is on this island.
In 2014-15, when I was still an interim Mission employee, Mission President Rev. Scott Planting asked me to do a fairly comprehensive assessment with islanders regarding what kind of Sunbeam crew member was needed to succeed Rob Benson, who had moved to the Bar Harbor Congregational Church as their minister.
I learned islanders want to know who’s going to marry them, and who’s going to bury them.
So I’m asked to officiate funerals for families where the Sunbeam or her crew, including the chaplain, has played a significant role in the families’ life. The islands that ask me or the Sunbeam to be involved typically do not have a year ‘round clergy presence.
The islands we serve all have active cemeteries, really sacred spaces on islands. No one desecrates an island cemetery.
There are people on Matinicus who, every summer, go to the cemetery and clean the grave markers so the lichen doesn’t cover up the names and destroy the markers. People really respect these places. They’re extremely important.
With a burial on land there’s a permanence because, whether it’s a full body burial, or a cremation; an urn with cremated remains, you know the essence of that person is permanently placed there. And a marker will always remind people that the person is there.
I’ve only dispersed ashes during burials at sea, never a body. I watch the ashes disperse. I watch them touch the water and the waves just carry them out into the sea where even the remains of the ashes, the shape they create, disappears, and once again becomes clear water. It’s as if the spirit of the person is truly released into the water, rejoining the universe. Because you just watch the ashes fade into the water and become part of the sea.
The Sunbeam crew gets involved in all kinds of ways. The boat can get involved in helping people grieve and transition when a family member has passed.
I think we all need to grieve in our own ways. But grieving doesn’t necessarily equate to sadness. People assume they should feel sad when a loved one dies. But I don’t know that sadness is the emotion that’s always felt.
Grief, if grief is an emotion, I think grief is the emotion that’s felt. I’ve been a part of funerals where there has just been so much laughter and joy. And that’s the emotion that is expressed through the grieving process.
Something that surprised me. I officiate over weddings and funerals. When I started this work, I thought I would find weddings to be more profound than funerals, but it’s the other way around.
I find officiating a funeral or a celebration of life really to be one of the most profound aspects of my work. I really get to know families. I listen to their stories, their grief, their memories. Then we come together. The time we take is really powerful. There’s something really special about walking alongside a family honoring the death of a loved one.
Even if I don’t intimately know the person who’s died, I find myself joining in the family’s grief. I think it’s the depth of emotion that families share with me that’s really profound. It’s a gift and I feel fortunate to receive it.

Learn more about the Sunbeam crew’s work.

Apples for Frenchboro’s Teacher

Apples for Frenchboro’s Teacher

NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – This photo from Jillian, taken in the Sunbeam salon, is “a picture of Laura Venger, teacher at the K-8 Frenchboro School on Frenchboro island. She is delighted to receive a bag of apples from Island Outreach Director Douglas Cornman for a school project.”

As an aside, it’s nice to see the Mission’s Summer 2021 issue of The Bulletin in the wall wooden magazine rack. You can download or read it online here.

Thank you Thursday for BettyAnn and Ben Haskell

Thank you Thursday for BettyAnn and Ben Haskell

It’s Thank you Thursday. Today’s shout out of Mission love goes to BettyAnn and Ben Haskell of Brewer, ME for preserving a lovely piece of Mission island history and gifting it back the Mission.

Ben Haskell’s father, Reverend Stanley Haskell, was a Sunbeam Boat Minister (1974-1985).

“When dad retired,” said Ben Haskell, “the women of the various island churches presented” father and mother, Ethel, “with an amazing goose down quilt, exquisitely handmade, with each panel telling a story of the local church, the Sunbeam visits, and the coast of Maine.”

“For over 15 years the quilt hung on a wall of my parents’ home,” Mr. Haskell said when first presenting the quilt BettyAnn Haskell had restored to original condition, after the Reverend’s passing. Ben Haskell described the quilt as “this incredible piece of island craftsmanship and message of love from the churches to my father.”

After a bit of time in storage, as the Mission moved from Bar Harbor to the new Colket Center in Northeast Harbor, it was a great moment this summer when Island Outreach Director & Chaplain Douglas Cornman – Rev. Stanley Haskell’s successor – was able to bring the quilt to the Sunbeam where it now brings a smile to the faces of many islanders – a great topic of conversation and a warm symbol of shared history, island to island.

This is what community looks like.

Everyone Loves Bernie and Billy

Everyone Loves Bernie and Billy

Billy and Bernie. (Photo by Jillian.)

ISLE AU HAUT, ME – Thank you to Jillian for this joyful profile of two longstanding Mission friends.

“It is absolutely wonderful to have Bernie and Billy back aboard the Sunbeam. They are Isle au Haut’s matriarch and patriarch of the Barter family, with four generations spending time on the island these days.

“Billy grew up on Isle au Haut. He and Bernie married young and have been sweet on each other ever since. Billy tells great stories. He can barely get out a joke punch line before laughing himself.

“Bernie has always been a fashionista. She loves prints, velvet, colorful jewelry and big boots. She also loves volleyball and town parades.

“Last week, Sunbeam Engineer Storey helped Bernie tune her new pink guitar during our visit to Isle au Haut. Bernie wants to learn to play.

“Billy still lobsters some with his son and has gotten into baking, making fine pies. I ate one of his squash cookies with chocolate chips. Yum.

“I love Bernie and Billy. Everyone does!”

Sunbeam Salon Alive with Guests, Food, Laughter

Sunbeam Salon Alive with Guests, Food, Laughter

NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME — Sunbeam Steward Jillian sent her photo of Sunbeam visitors and crew playing “our favorite boat game, Uno Stacko. Uno Stacko is essentially a marriage of the balance game Jenga and the card game Uno. Playing on a boat adds an extra element of breath holding as towers grow precariously.

“Thanks to Diane Barter for giving us hours of fun. Before moving, years ago, Diane, left her game collection with the Sunbeam when she moved years ago.

“Also, after eating strawberry rhubarb pie, artist Steve Costanza regaled us with card tricks in the Sunbeam salon,” said Jillian.

Learn more about the Sunbeam’s work.

‘Sustaining Islands’ – ‘The Island Reader’ 15th  Annual Edition Available Now

‘Sustaining Islands’ – ‘The Island Reader’ 15th Annual Edition Available Now

Front cover of The Island Reader 2021 with a photograph from by book by Islesford’s Pat Mocarsky.

Celebrating poetry, prose, photography, and art, 2021 marks 15 years Maine islanders have shared their creativity and creative voice through the pages of The Island Reader. Sustaining Islands, this year’s theme, highlights islanders’ excellence as stewards of island resources and place.

We invite you to join us on island as you stroll through the pages of the 15th Anniversary The Island Reader. Enjoy!!!

The Island Reader is available free of charge. Please consider a donation when ordering your copy. Your gift will directly help the Mission Outreach program.

The Island Reader is available as a hard copy or in PDF format. Read or download your copy here.

Accessibility Toolbar