Dearest Rachel –
So often in life, things turn on a matter of timing. We are in the middle of the Olympics at the moment – not that anyone’s watching, as it seems to have been determined that neither China nor those that kowtow to it are worthy of support – where the difference between being atop the podium, or even being on it at all, can come down to fractions of a second.
The same thing can be applied to the end of life; sometimes, one’s departure can be overshadowed by events around one, even, in some cases, by someone else’s death upstaging one’s own. It is said that Sergei Prokofiev’s death was the real reason members of the Soviet Philharmonic were weeping as they performed for Stalin’s funeral, for example. Groucho Marx’ death was completely overlooked in the midst of the media circus that ensued upon the (alleged, if you’re one to doubt) demise of Elvis. And of course, there was November 22, 1963, which robbed the world of C. S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley all at once (and upstaged – and ultimately delayed – the premiere of Doctor Who, as you well remember. Priorities, yeah?)
To be sure, this isn’t quite as momentous a timing issue as some of those examples, but it occurs to me that it’s less than ideal for a memorial service to take place on the day of the big game (whose name shall not be spoken, due to the fact that the NFL has been somewhat touchy about copyrights and trademarks and its intellectual property of late. I’ve heard that they’ve been loosening up on this recently, but I don’t want to take any chances). People make plans for these sorts of events well in advance, and I wonder how many will adjust those plans at what amounts to the last minute to pay respects.
I would imagine that by now you know what – and who – I’m talking about, although whether you’ve had any chance to greet Kathy for any length of time now that she and Bud have been reunited (after just two days shy of fourteen years, no less), I’m not about to venture a guess. There’s a lot of catching up they’ll have to do, and the fact that it’s been but a week since then, well… although, what do I know about how (or even if) time flows for you where you are?
So I’ve let the gang know that I won’t be available for gaming (what, did you think I was going to watch the game? Sorry, honey, as of last year I lost interest in even the commercials. I’ll stick to hanging out on Steam and Skype like we used to do most other Sundays since the lockdowns began), and I’m working on drafting this letter to you in that nebulous free time between the Sunday service and the visitation. Daniel and I are on opposite ends of the house, as he’s listening to yet another sermon about how the political landscape is about to be changed by God, and as I don’t feel like getting into that argument again, I just move out of earshot until it’s over. Besides, that’s where my office setup is in the house these days.
Eventually, I realize the house is even quieter than usual, and head downstairs. His online services are apparently over, so we discuss options for where to grab lunch on the way. He actually offers a suggestion I wouldn’t have expected from him: why not wait until after? Well, if you’re willing to wait, son, I guess I’m fine with that. It does sort of prolong that awkward time in which it would be too soon to leave, but not long enough to engage ourselves in some other activity, but that’s life sometimes, I suppose; you don’t always know what to do with the time you’re given.
As per usual, however, we pass the time with another video or two, which brings us just about to when I would expect to leave the house in order to have sufficient time there to visit with the family that has come in to town. What I didn’t count on was that there might be a train to deal with. Clearly, it’s been too long since I’ve spent much time at the Des Plaines campus apart from Awana on Monday – they don’t call it ‘Des Trained’ for nothing. It’s not so much the fact that we’re stuck waiting for a freight train to pass – it’s that the freight train isn’t passing. In fact, it’s stopped. We sit, waiting, for something like fifteen or twenty minutes before I finally decide to head south to Algonquin. When we get there, the gates (which were up), come back down. Are you kidding me? Thankfully, it’s only an engine and two cars, and they move fast.
As we cross the tracks, I look to my left, and see the train that was blocking Dempster – and it’s still not moving. I made the right call, if a little belatedly.
Another problem with returning to the old campus: I don’t remember everyone here anymore. All of Kathy’s children are here, and I can’t remember her daughter’s name. I hear my sister Jenn a couple people behind me, and I’m tempted to let her cut in line in front of Daniel and me, just so she can greet the family by name, and spare me the embarrassment.
Or, I can just ask her for Beth’s name. Problem solved, but now everyone around me knows I’d forgotten. Then again, it seems everybody’s cool with that. Am I expected to be so forgetful?
In any event, we offer our condolences as best we can, and in some cases, they are returned in kind. After all, while Jenn and I may have grown up with these kids, the last time we saw each other was long before your accident. Still, it’s weird to be receiving condolences at someone else’s funeral, especially at a remove of over a year.
I don’t know what goes through Daniel’s head as we pass by the casket. I confess to hoping that, once we make it to heaven, that we don’t look like we do at our end. Which is not to say that Kathy looked particularly bad (although age and cancer have both taken their toll); the medical examiner’s report about you, including one last photo before consigning you to the crematory, was somewhat disturbing in its own right. We just don’t look our best at the moment of death. For what it’s worth, she looked like Judy Garland as a little girl, before she began to bob her hair; I wonder if she might not look like that now. Considering that you would want to be that age for eternity, you two could well be childhood playmates up there now.
My speculation about the conflict with the big game seems to have been incorrect; while the sanctuary isn’t full, the crowd is seems to be bigger than the one that attended your funeral. I imagine that the lack of restrictions makes a difference. That few of us have a dog (or cat, or sheep) in the fight may also contribute to this; if it’s not ‘our’ team playing, what difference does it really make, after all?
After greeting several other guests from long-ago church days (many of whom are as unfamiliar to Daniel as complete strangers), we find a spot near the back and settle in. Just before we sit down, Mike – Philomene’s widower – greets us. I ask him about the newest sessions of Grief Share, which have restarted with a new group (and a returning participant or two). He asks how things are going with Awana, and when we fill him in on the fact that the Sparks and Boys/Girls club share the same game floor in the gymnasium, he inquires about our new circle tarp. Our what? Fortunately, our Awana commander is nearby to explain that, some time in December, we received a tarp with a game circle on it, which could be spread over the new wooden floor in the downstairs fellowship hall for the kids to use. How Mike knew about this before I did, I’ll never know – maybe it’s my natural obliviousness. At any rate, it hasn’t been used because, at 20 to 30 feet squared and somewhere between 100 and 200 pounds, it would take at least four guys to lay out and unroll like Wrigley Field groundskeepers. We may try to use it at some point, however.
But there’s no time for further discussion; things at the front are starting.
Beth does the eulogy, describing Kathy’s life in much the same way you had to do for each of your parents. I don’t know which of you did it better – you got through your descriptions without ever breaking down, while it’s an effort for her to get through. As proud as I was of you for maintaining your composure both times, you could feel Beth’s heartache as she described life with her mother that wasn’t part of your efforts. And as much as she was struggling to keep her voice steady, it was clear that she needed to tell her mom’s story, as she would have been the only one to relate the stories she has. She receives applause upon making it through and returning to her seat.
It’s at this point that, while I’ve been concerned about not being able to show emotion about the situation until now, that I start to feel the sense of loss myself – despite the fact that these days, I only saw Kathy on those weeks we attended Awana sessions. The photo montage, which include pictures of her and Bud, build upon that, and by the time we get to her favorite hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” I’m at the point where I can barely get words out, I’m that distraught. Admittedly, I wish I could’ve shown those tears to Brian, Kevin and Beth.
Along with the usual celebration of life involved in these sort of event, Cousin Brian (in his role as pastor) wonders who will be able to step up and fill her place in serving both her church and family that she taught so well to love the Lord Jesus like she did. It’s quite the challenge to us all; especially as these events seem to be more frequent all the time. At least one other member of the old gang had commented to me earlier about how there are more funerals among us all the time; it’s one of the many alleged features of growing older, I suppose.
But I suppose our loss is heaven’s gain. I just hope you realize – and appreciate – that. Now, if only I could teach Daniel to assume his new role in the community – whatever it might be.
Since we were in the back, we are among the first to be dismissed. And since we are not nearly as socially adept as you were, we don’t speak to too many people on our way out. Dennis does buttonhole me, asking if I’d had his condolences relayed to me by Dad the other day. I confess that I honestly can’t remember, but I thank him once again for his thoughts and prayers. It turns out – and he’d not told this to me before – he’d just buried his mom the day of your accident, and got a text about it before he could recover from that loss. So, he’ll remember that date as well as I do, and will always be able to remember Daniel and me on the day from that day forward.
Like I said before, timing is everything.
Greet Kathy for us, when you get the chance. We’ll join you both eventually, I expect.