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.



We Sing Our Lamentation

This Sunday is Singing City’s Fall Concert. It is called Together We Sing – Expressions of Life Through American Music. It is my first time singing a concert with Singing City without Jared singing too. This week, we had rehearsal in the First Baptist sanctuary, where we will perform. From my place on the risers, I looked up at the balcony. Instantly, I remembered the first time that Jared and I came to see Singing City perform. It was in the Spring of 2003. It was before we were married. His parents were visiting. We came to hear the Rachmaninoff Vespers, David Weaver had invited us. It was glorious. I still remember where we sat. And I remember seeing a sheet in the program that invited people to audition. So that week, I did. Jared did not. In the fall, I went to the first rehearsal. Jared had not yet auditioned and did not have any intention of doing so. I heard about the summer 2004 tour to Ireland. I went home that night and told Jared about Ireland. He auditioned that week 🙂 We never looked back. Even after we had Caleb, our wonderful friend Kim would watch him on Tuesday nights for us so that we could still both go and sing together.
All those memories from just one glance at a balcony…it caught me off guard a little.

Each segment of Sunday’s concert is being introduced by a choir member. I was asked to write up an introduction to the segment entitled “We Sing Our Lamentation,” introducing Samuel Barber’s world famous Agnus Dei (his own choral arrangement of his piece Adagio for Strings). Here’s what I wrote. (This is the full-length version. For time’s sake, the version that I read at Sunday’s concert is much abbreviated, but the essence is still there.)

Ever since April of 1945, when Adagio for Strings was performed during the radio announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, the work was established as an anthem of national mourning. The Adagio was also performed at the funerals of John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein and at many memorial events in the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The piece has also served as a haunting accompaniment for numerous films.


Barber was initially inspired by a passage from the poetry of Greek poet Virgil (Georgic III).
Here is the passage translated into English by Robert Pinsky:


As when far off in the middle of the ocean

A breast-shaped curve of wave begins to whiten

And rise above the surface, then rolling on

Gathers and gathers until it reaches land

Huge as a mountain and crashes among the rocks

With a prodigious roar, and what was deep

Comes churning up from the bottom in mighty swirls

Of sunken sand and living things and water . . .

So in the springtime every race of people

And all the creatures on earth or in the water,

Wild animals and flocks and all the birds

In all their painted colors, all rush to charge

Into the fire that burns them: love moves them all.


In his music, Barber captures the dual nature of the wave. It is powerful and dangerous, awe-inspiring and breathtaking.
We Sing Our Lamentation. As with the wave, the music washes over us, churning us from within. Life is beautiful. Yet grief and pain, anguish and beauty live together. We long for relief, renewal, inspiration.


The text of the Agnus Dei ends with a request for peace. Dona Nobis Pacem, Grant us peace.


We embrace peace.

We are moved by love.

We are not overwhelmed.

Please come to this wonderful concert if you are local. It is an array of great American choral music of all kinds. Sunday November 20th, 4pm, First Baptist Church, Corner of 17th and Sansom St.

Light the Night 2011 – Walk day

Two posts in one week! I’m on a roll. We had a nice team turnout, joined nearly 6,000 supporters (red balloons), survivors (white balloons), and people like us walking in remembrance of a loved one lost to leukemia (gold balloons). There was even dancing in the street, as evidenced by the video of my pastor and his daughter that has already made its way on facebook, but somehow I missed that part 🙂

When I went to the balloon tent to pick up balloons for my family there was a bit wait for gold and red balloons. They run out of those very quickly and were furiously trying to get more ready. There was a great big pile of white balloons all ready to go but they aren’t in as high demand. Leukemia is a deadly disease and there are certainly more people walking in remembrance than there are survivors. I’m so grateful that we were able to meet our fundraising goal. As it stands now, Team Jared Hess 2011 has raised $3,125.00 that will go toward lifesaving research and patient services.

As a team organizer you have to think logically about, well, organizing things: fundraising, meeting up with people, fundraising, making (and bringing) the banner, fundraising some more, etc. There were a few bittersweet moments at the walk though, just taking it all in, and remembering that the reason we’re there at all is because Jared is no longer with us. I was reminded of a quote in a book that I had to go look up just now, “The presence of that absence is everywhere.” -Edna St. Vincent Millay-

And yet tonight, there we were, with thousands of people, unconnected in our day to day lives but linked this one night by a similar circumstance, by friendship and family, by hope, courage and perseverance in the face of a deadly enemy. That presence was also everywhere. It embodies what it’s been like to lose my husband to cancer. Remembering and moving forward, surviving and Living, both hanging in the balance, always.

Here’s a link to the Light the Night Photo album I made on facebook. It’s a public link so you don’t have to have a FB account to view it. Just click on the link and enjoy.

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.

Candles and bananas

I came up with a good title so I thought I shouldn’t let this opportunity to post slip past me.

I began the week with a vague notion that I wanted to do something to remember Jared with the boys.  And then things got crazy. Both boys have had a mild stomach bug, enough to make my life/work schedule totally HECTIC but they haven’t actually been feeling too badly. I am hoping that it has all passed now.  Hopefully, tomorrow can be our first completely normal school day of the week.

So, finally, tonight I went to the Supremo grocery down the street and bought a tall candle in a glass jar. Last year we lit one to commemorate the anniversary of Jared’s death. I was looking back and I can’t believe I didn’t blog about that.  We quasi-followed a Jewish tradition called Yarzheit. You light a candle on the eve of the day and then you let it burn for 24 hours (or until it goes out, ours took a little longer). I wanted to do it again this year but with the craziness of this week, tonight was the first night I had time to think of it, let alone go out and buy one! So at 7pm, we got our coats and shoes on and trekked out into the very windy night and bought our candle.  Caleb was very aware of the strong wind and asked me several times if the trees in the yard were going to blow away.  They boys were very excited about buying candles. In fact, we bought two because they each needed to have one…so I’ll be ready for next year. We also bought bananas. Caleb picked those out.  He pretty much made a bee-line for them as soon as he realized we were in the produce section of a grocery store.

We made some hot chocolate (at Caleb’s request…his hands were cold, he said) and lit the candle.  It took some convincing for the boys not to blow it out right away.  Then we got out a picture album from when Caleb was little and looked at pictures of family: of Jared and grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles.  It was a brief memorial but I feel glad that we made the effort.

I actually nearly blogged last week.  Caleb had the most amazing memory and I was just in awe.  He was sitting on the main staircase looking through the railings into the living room.  I think I was about to put his shoes on.  He turned and looked at me and said, “Mommy, remember when Daddy was still alive and I got my foot stuck in my bed?”  It took me a few minutes to reach back in my mind but what I remembered was just astounding to me.  I think this actually happened before Jared got sick.  When Caleb still slept in a crib.  He bent his leg in a funny way through the crib rails and couldn’t get it out and both Jared and I were there when it happened and we helped him get it out.  He was probably right around 2 years old.  I think looking through the stair railing jogged the memory.  It makes me wonder what other memories he has…

I’m going to call it a night.  But before I go, here’s the English text of the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer to be recited at the lighting of the candle (and at other times if you’re an observant Jew =)

Magnified and sanctified be God’s great name in the world which He created according to His will. May he establish His kingdom during our lifetime and during the lifetime of Israel. Let us say, Amen.

May God’s great name be blessed forever and ever.

Blessed, glorified, honored and extolled, adored and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, though God is beyond all praises and songs of adoration which can be uttered. Let us say, Amen.

May there be peace and life for all of us and for all Israel. Let us say, Amen.

Let He who makes peace in the heavens, grant peace to all of us and to all God’s children. Let us say, Amen.