John’s memorial service was thoughtful and deeply personal, as these things often are. As his daughter, nephews, brothers, friends, and work colleagues from over the years spoke about him, I found my self thinking about cancer — the cause of John’s death. Coming to terms with one’s own mortality is a supremely solitary task. No one can do it for you. At the same time, that coming to terms with imminent death takes place within the embrace of people who love you and are affected by your illness and the choices you make around it. End stage cancer is both solitary, and not.
I remembered, too, the opening line of Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled. “Life is difficult”.
My late husband Jerry’s death was very different: he was fine until a large piece of plaque tore loose from an artery. Within seconds he was unconscious, and within minutes, he was dead. There was no coming to terms, for him or for me. The line between life and death was abrupt and jagged and sharply drawn.
That’s John, in the picture on the right. He was 60, a year older than Jerry when he died. Behind John is Kansas wheat, which he grew on the balcony of their condo here in honor of his early roots. In that lovely wooden box are John’s ashes. I didn’t grow up with cremation — Catholics didn’t in the 1950’s and for some years beyond. I think cremation makes eminently good sense, especially for burial in another state, but it still feels odd to me to think of the man I saw only a few weeks ago being nothing but the remains in that box. Even though it’s a nice box.
The events following a death are often hard for me, as I’ve had a good bit of trauma around the deaths of an infant sister, my father, and then Jerry. Memorial services are soothing for many, a chance to tell stories and laugh and cry together. They are often something I grit my teeth to get through. But this one was in an open, airy Episcopal church, with chairs in a circle, lots of music and light. I did better here, much better than in a dark stone church with incense and row after row of dark wood pews and a forbidding old man in vestments mumbling on the altar.
John was a good and dear person, and I needed to be there. I was. Rest in peace, my friend.