Two weeks ago I told you about the sudden death of an old friend. Jim died April 27 at age 85. I didn’t tell you about the death of another old friend who died March 4 under hospice care. Jack was 88. Now that I’ve gone this far, I might as well tell you that another friend died unexpectedly last Saturday night. Gene was 75.
88. 85. 75.
Death is trending downward, and I don’t like it. I’m 75.
I now have more dead friends than living friends. I’m guessing many of you are in the same boat. Death sucks. Verily, verily, we don’t always get what we want.
Remember the 1983 movie The Big Chill?
A group of pals from the University of Michigan gather for an unhappy reunion in Beaufort, South Carolina. Their dear friend Alex was dead by suicide. Alex was thirty-something.
The pals gloomily sat, scattered on the pews waiting to exit the church behind the casket, when strains of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” drifted from the organ.
Tear-stained faces smiled. Chests sighed. Heads nodded.
They got it: No one gets what they want all the time.
It takes time to learn that. It takes grace and grit to take what you get and make the best of it. Like the death of a friend.
A song saved the day for those Wolverine boomers. It was the right song. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” would not have done it.
I went to church last Saturday for a Celebration of Life.
Georgiann played “Fanfare for the Common Man” on the piano. Perfect. Gene was common, as in “salt of the earth.”
The congregation stood and sang: Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see.
Mary Anne and Than sang:
Oh, children, let’s go down,
let’s go down, come on down.
Oh, children, let’s go down,
down to the river to pray.
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
Lead me home
The pastor blessed us, one and all.
And then we hugged Gene’s four sons.
When you stand with brothers and sisters in their hour of need, you get what you need.
See Paula’s “Eternal Sentry” on the home page. Posted May 7, 2023
Ahh – that movie is on my top 10 list. I would want that song at my celebration. Death is only hard for those of us who have not experienced it. Yet.
Great movie with great songs. For the longest time, I was asking for a 30-person strong choir singing “Power in the Blood” with a nod to my Southern Baptist upbringing and “If 6 was 9” by Jimi Hendrix just because I could.
Death can be a great teacher, especially if we do not deny its reality. After all, we are of a nature to grow old, get sick and die. It can teach us appreciation for living, for humility, for wonder and for Gracious Mystery. “You can’t always get what you want.” Our wants do not have the final say. As a Tibetan proverb puts it, “We never know which will come first: our next breath or our next life.” Something to ponder.
This is the tough part of getting old. I get a lot of comfort from nature and Mary Oliver’s poems. Lots of ways to look at death.
The Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery is at the end of Hunk Hill Road in Scarbro, West Virginia. As part of a graduate geography course, we visited the Whipple Company Store, remnants of the Catholic church, and the cemetery in Fayette County. I had heard the term “hunk” and “hunkies” growing up. It was a “local” (often derogatory) term for Hungarians, Poles, Italians, and Slavic immigrants who flooded the West Virginia coalfields to work in the mines. In the cemetery, I came across a headstone that to this day bedevils my beliefs about death.
Blazie J. Tokar died on November 23, 1943. The cause of death was heart disease. There were no known next of kin. Five days later, Father Frances conducted burial services in the Catholic cemetery on Hunk Hill.
His headstone was etched with a simple cross and a floral flair in the upper corners. It read: Blazie J. Tokar, 1883 – 1943, Gone on.
And I was left to ponder as to where he went. Gone on to heaven or hell. Gone on to walk Hunk Hill Road at night to the mines. Gone on atomically speaking to stardust. For now, when news of death comes, my first thought is that they have gone on and that may be enough, as I reflect on their living.
If I knew the way, I would take you home.
That song helped save me when I wished I could die along with my beloved. Music speaks to and for us. Music heals our broken and bruised places. And when we experience music in community, something transformative occurs.
Like Mike, the Big Chill is on my top 10 movie list. That story of friendship and enduring love is powerful, but it wouldn’t be nearly so powerful without the soundtrack. Think I’ll watch it tonight.
We were young once
We are old now
Both are a gift
Not everyone gets the second one
When you were young I always thought you looked like Tom Berenger
It may be tough growing old, however, as a young friend said to me one time I was complaining about getting old, “We should feel blessed to grow old.” She shared that she had breast cancer in her twenties, thinking life would be over soon, had a mastectomy. Then she married, had two daughters, a loving husband, & now in her mid forties feels quite blessed. She really taught me a great lesson about life & growing older. 🌈💖🤗
Many of your blogs have been “my favorite “ but this one……. really spoke to me personally. I’ve lost many close friends and relatives in the past two years (you knew, of course). This week’s blog helped straighten my head. No significant words of wisdom from me – just, Thank you, dear friend.
Thank you for sharing your hard days as well as your happiness and joy. Thanks for your appreciation for the music of our lives. Thanks for reminding us for some things that are inevitable, there’s peace in acceptance. You bless my life every Sunday morning.
The anonymous corpse in “The Bill Chill” was Kevin Kosner.
I was sad to hear that Gene passed away, and heard that his celebration of life was very very beautiful.
My contribution to this discussion is Al Green and Lyle Lovett. Ain’t it Finny how Time Slips Away. Enjoy. Its on my list.
Many of your words in the past have touched my heart. This writing not only touched my heart but brought tears to my eyes. The music was so right for Gene and us his friends.
Beautiful and soul-ful.
I love that you are never too far from a little levity. Which reminds me of my favorite tombstone. It graces a burial plot in a cemetery beside a little white church along the Ohio River. It has an etching of an old-fashioned phone and says “Jesus called and Hannah answered.”
Death is all around. You may remember another movie, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. My year so far has been the sequel “Four Funerals and a Wedding”.
Here’s some trivia for the movie buff: “The Big Chill” was inspired by what low-budget indie film?
Answer: “Return of the Secaucus Seven”, Director: John Sayles
From Wikipedia: The picture was thought to have inspired The Big Chill (1983), which is a more widely known film with a similar storyline. However, writer-director Lawrence Kasdan has denied having seen Return of the Secaucus 7 before working on The Big Chill. In 1997, the film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for its historic merits.
From last week’s post: “I saw that not only could the new king hold a scepter in one hand and a rod in the other at the same time; but he could also hold his bladder for a really long time. He’s 74. I’m 75. I know the pressure.”
Reminds me that once I saw an interview of Prince Charles, many, many, many years ago. When asked, “What advice would you have for a possible future monarch of Great Britain?”
His reply, “Never pass up the opportunity to use the loo [rest room]”.
Now I get it.
Always thoughtful and right on the mark. Thanks Terrapin Neck neighbor!
Sigh – I have a macabre story … but please smile for us … My parents were aging, mom had a stroke and didn’t want to fight back. My dad didn’t want to live without her and they did NOT want to move into a nursing home. He couldn’t take care of her. I tried to help but he sent me home that weekend and asked I return to work on Monday, which I did. They were each other’s one and only. They made a lover’s pact and died together. I got the call just as I got in from work. We had a service for them, everyone who knew them KNEW they were meant for each other and were ALWAYS together. There was no guilt and we would NOT tolerate it being a sin for my dad. We had a church “funeral” memorial and at their burial, as we stood there, my brother had “them” play “I did it my way” … mmmhmm, married 52 years …
As I recall the record of the movie soundtrack did not include that song by The Rolling Stones. I always wondered why as for me that was the message of the movie.
My beloved husband, Joe Mayer died 3 years ago. But before that he lost so many of his friends of many years. Now it is my turn. I just lost a good friend of 51 years. And no it does not get easier but as the poem says “For every time there is a season. Thanks for this and for your friendship with Joe.
Thank you. Gene’s service was sad and uplifting, as it reminded us about our mortality and about what we leave to others to remember.