It was only a week ago.
Last Tuesday, my last night in Ohio, I was sitting around the table after dinner, chatting with my daughter-in-law, Jenna. She’s been a nurse practitioner in family practice for a few years and had lost two of her patients recently. She hadn’t seen it coming; their medical concerns were under control and they had been doing well. The experience had shaken her.
It was a good conversation, as those from the heart usually are.
Singing as I do in a hospice choir, I had many stories to share about the unexpectedness, the fickleness of death. The one I chose was the story of the parents of one of the basses in our choir, Continua. His ailing mother had been moved into the local nursing home about a year ago. I had been there that day at a sing, and recall seeing his step-father carrying her suitcase in. He looked quite healthy. We certainly all expected she would die first.
Yet, it was the step-father who had died, quite unexpectedly, and only a few weeks ago.
I drew the story out a bit longer than I did here, but my point was clear: we never know when death will arrive. This led to our acknowledgment of how important it is for each of us to live each day to the fullest, savoring those who cross our path.
WE ALL KNOW THAT, yet how easy it is to forget. To take our life for granted. To take our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors for granted. Our readers.
Until one day, we can’t any more.
Yes, death does drop in so unexpectedly.
The next morning, I began my drive home to Vermont. Sometime during that drive, Alan Parker, the bass whose parents were at the center of my “don’t take life for granted” story, suffered a massive stroke. I followed the texts throughout my ride, as the others coordinated a sing for him that afternoon. He died the following evening. He was four years younger than I am.
His obituary includes this photo of him with his impish smile, hiding, I always thought, some secret mischief only he knew about.
Alan was the pastor at the United Church in Craftsbury, Vermont and was, without a doubt, the most irreverent Reverend I’d ever met, and I say that with great affection.
Continua, now only twenty voices, is an eclectic mix of religious traditions and beliefs, each one respected. During our weekly rehearsals, Alan took pride in surprising us with his language, his jokes, and his stories. I think our wide-eyed smiles gave him a special sense of joy.
And joy is the emotion I associate most with him. Joy in seeing each one of us each Monday night, joy in having us to his home for our annual business meeting, joy in offering me a ride home when I needed one. Joy in offering me the extra leeks in his garden.
He could find joy in most anything. There are very few memories I have of him that do not include him smiling deeply, joyfully, and impulsively.
“The best path to an honest, sustaining spiritual life,” he wrote in his bio, “is to fall into holy love with your neighbor, say a prayer of thanks to God for the chance to do so, and keep listening carefully to God’s still-speaking voice.”
While I want to honor Alan with this post, I also want to turn our attention to that subject that hovers over us all, sometimes overtly, most times not:
If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and
come back as a new character, … would you slow down? Or speed up?
I love this quote from Chuck Palahniuk, the postmodern novelist. I love how it makes me stop and, as a result, think of my life from a different angle. I’m pleased to announce, I’d definitely slow down.
I’m not prone to wonder what awaits me when I die, if anything. It’s the ultimate jump, and, as usual, I’ll figure it out on the way down.
The tragedy of death, for me, has always been about those left behind: the painful gap that is left, the naked loss that nothing seems to be able to fill, the abrupt shift in daily routine.
Memories ease the transition, certainly. But, eventually, no one on this earth will recall our name, our work, our legacy. That, for me, is the ultimate death.
For now, I will gladly keep Alan Parker alive as I remember him, celebrate his life, and share stories of him that I hold dear.
And remember how lucky I am that I had him in my life, even if briefly.
I also feel fortunate to have you, the readers of this weekly blog, and particularly to those who comment.
Marian Beaman, who was for a time my only Commenter and because of that became the impetus for a particular voice of mine to emerge. Frank Moore, who commented regularly in those early days, and who is still out there, but tending to his own challenges. Kathy Pooler, Merril Smith, and Ian Mathie, thank you all. I cherish the connections we have made.
Thank you too, to those who read my posts but, for reasons of your own, email me your thoughts. I’m always glad to hear from you, however you choose to connect.
And thank you for the others who subscribe, who read my posts from time to time, or who just happen upon one in a sudden fit of serendipity. I’m glad you found me.
Life is richer because of the connections we allow ourselves to make.
At Alan’s memorial service this past Monday, Continua sang “Let the Life I’ve Lived.” The lyrics include these words
Let the life I’ve lived, speak for me. …
Let the work I’ve done, speak for me. …
Let the friends I’ve made, speak for me. …
Let the songs I’ve sung, speak for me. …
Let the love I’ve shared, speak for me. …
When I come to the end of this road
And I lay down my weary load
Let the …, speak for me.
May it be so for us all.
Until next week ….