for my friend, Duane

Last Friday, August 8th, a dear friend and close colleague of mine died of esophageal cancer.  He was just a few years older than me. This afternoon, many of his students, co-workers, and friends from the GFS community gathered, in the manner of Friends, to sit with our loss, grieve together and share. These are some thoughts that I was moved to share.

When I first began teaching at GFS Duane taught private guitar lessons. As time passed, we both took on more classes, and our paths crossed more frequently.  Eventually we spent a considerable amount of time teaching and planning and making music together. Duane liked to come rummage around in the storage closet in my classroom. It’s an abyss treasure trove of assorted music manuscripts and books, donated to GFS long ago. He would always come out having found something amazing. No one else had the time or passion to dig around in there. One day he came out with two green hard-bound collections: Beethoven’s nine symphonies for 4-hands piano. He was so excited. We sat down immediately and after trying a bit of no. 5 and no. 3, decided on the Pastoral, no. 6. We had so much fun playing it together.  At that point, my piano chops were better than Duane’s – but not for long. Duane could do anything. New instrument? No problem. New language? How about 3 of them…simultaneously. Duane didn’t just ‘kind of’ learn to play the piano. Duane pursued the piano with extraordinary diligence, and in a few short years he was accompanying the 7th and 8th grade choruses with me.

I had big plans for Duane. When my own kids would inevitably ask to study drums and guitar in a few years, I was going to say: “Well, I know just the guy.” Duane was not just any guy, he was the best guy.

We live each day with the underlying assumption that the people in our lives will always be there. Without consciously thinking about it, we have plans and dreams that include them and we expect that they will be some of the people who pour into our children’s lives and enrich our own. Now, those expectations hang in mid-air, plans with no possibility of realization. While we are left with many happy memories and wonderful stories about a full and vibrant life, we are also left with grief: reconciling the way you thought things would be with the way things are.  That will be an increasingly difficult reality to face as September approaches.



reflecting back

Tuesday morning I followed a link from a friend’s facebook page to a blog about a little 6 year old girl who just died from an inoperable brain tumor. It doesn’t take long to follow a trails of links and find that there are so many young people and children who are losing battles with cancer…it’s both heartbreaking and strangely familiar to read people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences. It’s a good reminder that my situation is not unique. It is to my family, but not in the grand scheme of things. Being a widowed, single parent to two small children is a lonely endeavor, but I’m certainly not the only one in the world doing it.

When your world is turned upside down by tragedy it’s harder to know anything for sure. “God is in control” was so much easier to say/hear when things were generally going my way, or when the outcome wasn’t a matter or life or death. When I hear people say it now, I immediately think, “In control of what? Who lives and who dies?” I don’t know about that. I feel comfortable living with questions. I do miss certitude, though, and I wonder if it will ever return.

As I read over someone else’s thoughts about the death of their loved one, I wanted to re-read my own thoughts about when Jared died. I didn’t even have a chance to make it back that far though. I found this and was glad to be reminded. I think I’m going to need to incorporate this song text into the ritual of remembering. We sang it when we planted the tree for Jared at camp Friedenswald the summer after his death. Here is the text for you along with part of my reflection at the time.

Give thanks for life, the measure of our days;
mortal, we pass though beauty that decays,
yet sing to God our hope, our love our praise:

Give thanks for those who made their life a light
caught from the Christ flame, bursting through the night
who touched the truth, who burned for what is right:

And for our own, our living and our dead,
thanks for the love by which our life is fed,
a love not changed by time or death or dread:

Give thanks for hope, that like the wheat, the grain
lying in darkness does its life retain
in resurrection to grow green again:

I have often thought of the scripture about the grain of wheat in reference to Jared’s life and death. It’s John 12:24 – “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” It was spoken during Passover and very immediately it was in reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection. But I think it also speaks into our lives in many ways today. If there is any comfort to be had (beyond the questions about life and death and earthly suffering that we will never fully understand in the present life) it’s that I know that Jared is at peace now, that his suffering is over, and that his life is continuing to bear fruit even after his death. His “kernel” is certainly producing many seeds now. I continue to be so thankful for those of you who are connected to me by this blog. I continue to be amazed at how far our story has reached. (7/21/2008)

Caleb and I worked together with clay on Tuesday (snow day). We made this tree and I thought it was fitting for this post. Caleb went back and forth about whether to put leaves on it or not. They were on and off and then back on again. I think we’re both ready for it to be spring again.