Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tears and Joy

Dad's hospice had its annual memorial service this afternoon, and I went with my friend Sherry, who's also one of my priests. Gary didn't want to go, and several friends I asked couldn't; I really didn't want to go by myself, so I was immensely grateful that Sherry was available and willing.

The only thing I disliked about the service was the music, which ran to the sappy and sentimental. It would have sent Dad screaming out of the room, and I might have responded in the same way in other circumstances, but of course I stayed put this time. I'd started crying almost the minute I walked into the room, and I was just grateful to be in a room of people who understood that and weren't going to criticize me for dwelling or wallowing or not being over it or any of the other messages folks tend to give when they're uncomfortable with someone else's grief.

First the two medical directors of the hospice, one of whom was Dad's doctor, gave opening remarks, talking about what hospice means to them and linking that to their own spiritual traditions (Jewish in one case, LDS in the other). Both of them said that as physicians, they've always hated having to tell patients, "There's nothing else we can do for you." In hospice, there's always something else to do: making people comfortable, alleviating pain, facilitating the healing of relationships. One of the doctors talked about how hospice had taught her that there's always something else to hope for: if not for a cure from illness, then for enough time to witness the birth of a grandchild, for enough comfort to enjoy the flowers friends have brought, for the gift of not having to die alone.

After the opening remarks, we saw photographs families had sent in of their dead loved ones (while they were still alive, obviously). The pictures were displayed one at a time, alphabetically by last name, on a large screen, over a really sappy song (which at least mentioned sailing; Dad would have approved of that part!). The AV person had gotten the display timed just right, so it ended when the song did. Each photograph had about ten seconds of screen time, and zoomed inward during that time, so the person in the picture seemed to be getting closer. It was a surprisingly moving effect. I'd sent in the picture of Dad at the top of this post; it's the one I took the evening we picked him up in Sacramento, on October 18, 2009, the last night of his life that he wasn't on oxygen. It looked really good on that big screen.

When the hospice invited us to the event, they sent pieces of parchment on which we could write notes to our loved ones. After we looked at the photographs, we were invited to come forward and place our notes in the pockets of a hospice quilt hanging at the front of the room. It was a beautiful quilt; I gather there's one quilt per year. The hospice director told us that each person's name will be embroidered on the front of the pocket holding that note, and then we can come visit the quilt in the hospice headquarters whenever we want to. What a great tradition! I loved it. I have some of Dad's old shirts, and I'm tempted to try to make a quilt from them -- especially after seeing the display of Gee's Bend Quilts at the Nevada Art Museum this weekend -- but I sew so badly that I'd be afraid of forever ruining the fabric. Maybe I'll try to find someone who can make one for me, though.

There was another sappy song and a benediction, and then the service was over, followed by a reception. I spoke briefly to the hospice chaplain, and also to Dad's doctor, who remembered both Dad and me (even though Dad was only in hospice for two days) and very kindly told me about some conversations he'd had with Dad. He asked how things were going at the university, and together we deplored the governor's determination to gut education and services to the most vulnerable in the state -- children, the elderly and the mentally ill -- rather than raising taxes.

I'd offered to buy Sherry coffee after the service, so we stopped in at one of my favorite cafes, where we managed to snag two of the best chairs. She hasn't been at church much lately, and I've missed a lot too, so we caught up with each other and shared opinions about various parish goings-on.

While we sat there, I heard a piece of music that made the top of my head came off. I went up to the counter to ask the barrista what was playing. "Nickel Creek," he said, and as soon as I got home I started browsing's MP3 downloads and downloaded five of the group's instrumentals. The one that had filled me with such joy is called Robin and Marian, and I have it on continuous repeat on my music player. (You can listen to it if you go to the link and press the forward arrow.) This is the kind of music that made me want to learn to play fiddle, although I'll probably never be good enough to play this song! Dad would have loved the tune, I think, so it felt fitting that I heard it for the first time today.

One of my favorite psalms is 126, because of the lines, "May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves." That's kind of what today felt like.


  1. Anonymous8:52 PM

    What a great story, and I'm so glad to hear it. Did you know Psalm 126 is the Shabbat addition to grace after meals in Judaism?


  2. I hadn't known that, no. Cool! It's part of Sukkot too, isn't it? I visited a friend's sukkah once and she had that Psalm tacked inside. It certainly seems fitting for a harvest festival!

  3. Blessings, Sister. I'm glad this worked so well for you.

    As for the "sappy:" after all these years I'm torn. On the one hand, I've had "Be sensible, not sentimental" drilled into me almost as a rubric in its own right. At the same time, I'm quite aware how these do touch the sensibilities of so many. I've come to terms over the years with "Footprints in the Sand," precisely because, as maudlin as it sometimes seems to me, it speaks of grace to many.

    Blessings again, dear, as you remember.

  4. Thanks, Marshall! I don't require "sensible," but "tasteful" would work fine! I think that in music, there's an inverse ratio between schmaltz and genuine emotion. Other people disagree, obviously . . . .

  5. Anonymous12:34 PM

    If you liked that Nickel Creek song, then I think you'd love Frigg, the Norwegian band. I saw them live in Rockland, Maine a couple of years ago, and they totally blew me away.

    Here's some samples from the album I own, Oasis. (You really have to see them live, though.)


    Jeff P.

  6. What a lovely way to remember your Father, Susan, and to share remembrance with others. The music is lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering that I listen to them from time to time on the radio.

    Peace! Hope! & Joy!


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