helping out

I decided to postpone my planned post for today to respond to the Just Jot It January prompt of the day – “self.”

As my parents have aged and encountered more health problems, I have taken on more of their household tasks myself. Because they have lived for a number of years in a continuing care senior community, some of the cleaning and cooking is taken care of, but I have been helping with laundry, shopping, banking, etc.

Today, I represented my parents at the funeral of one of the other residents, who had lived there almost as long as my parents. She was also a stalwart of our church. She had been able to be very active until the last few months, when she had a stroke and other complications.

I was able to speak to a couple of the other residents after the service. They were upset, as one would expect. One of them told me that she had told my father he needed to live at least another ten years, which given that he is turning 94 in March, is a bit of a tall order. Still, there is one woman who is in independent living who is 110, so who knows?
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/08/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-8th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

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father, farmer, and builder

This week, my daughters and I sang in the choir for the funeral of our friend Nancy’s dad. Nancy is a long-time church musician and liturgist, so many current and former choir members and friends arrived to support her by participating in the liturgy. We had 43 singers and 3 instrumentalists. The music was a beautiful and meaningful part of our prayers for Joe and being surrounded by so many musician-friends helped Nancy to play the funeral mass.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to play for a loved one’s funeral or memorial. Because you have to concentrate on doing your job musically, some of the mourning that one would typically do at a funeral is deferred. My hope is that the memory of the music we shared will be a comfort to Nancy when she reflects on the funeral in the coming days.

The reflections offered centered around Joe’s roles in the community as a father of five children, a farmer in his younger years, and then a long-time builder of homes in our area. Each of these roles has many scriptural and faith references which were woven throughout the liturgy.

It was my privilege to write the universal prayer for the funeral. I served on the liturgy committee with Nancy for many years in our former parish and learned so much from her; I was honored that she asked me to write the petitionary prayer that closes the liturgy of the word.

Nancy and I have been supporting each other through an extended period of multi-generational family caretaking. Strangely, some of our most stressful periods have coincided. Fifteen years ago, I was staying at the hospital with one of my daughters when Joe had a serious stroke following heart surgery. I missed Nancy’s mom’s funeral when my mom had a heart attack while my dad was in the hospital for surgery. Now, Joe’s final illness and death happened while my mom is in a hospice residence.

I am truly thankful for Nancy’s support, friendship, and gracious example. I pray for solace and peace for Nancy and her family. Rest in peace, Joe.

flowers from Joe's funeral luncheon
Joe’s favorite color was blue, so there were blue hydrangeas and white roses on the tables at the funeral luncheon.

 

 

final gathering

Yesterday, we reached another milestone in our process of saying good-bye to Grandma, gathering together with extended family for a graveside committal service back in Grandma’s hometown in Massachusetts, where her ashes would be laid to rest beside Grandpa’s in a plot that had been a wedding gift to them in 1953.

Grandma had been a member of the First Congregational Church since she was a girl and had retained her membership from afar over the last 6+ years she lived in a senior community near us. She had not wanted to have a wake and funeral, preferring instead the simplicity of a graveside service of her cremains. This gave us the ability to set a date well in advance, allowing travel plans to be made for the more far-flung relatives, including a cousin from Washington State.

This also afforded the opportunity to gather all four grandchildren, working around college and graduate school commencements. It was especially important to arrange flights for our elder daughter E and her spouse L, who were able to stop on the East Coast while flying home to Honolulu from visiting L’s family in London. It also gave E the opportunity to introduce L to our Massachusetts/Vermont extended family and B and I to show him where we had grown up, met in high school, and fallen in love.

As the family member with the most liturgical planning experience, I took on the duties of making arrangements for the service and for getting the information out to the relatives. We were blessed to have Rev. Carolyn of First Congregational preside for the service. Though she had never met Grandma, having come to pastor the church after Grandma had already moved out near us, she thoughtfully wove together some favorite Scripture passages, including psalm 121 and 1Corinthians 13, with references to Grandma’s life as a mother and grandmother, aunt, cousin, teacher, friend, and community member.

To close the service, I had asked our daughters E and T and son-in-law L to sing the traditional round, “Dona Nobis Pacem”(grant us peace). E and L have degrees in music and T is a long-time choral singer, including collegiate level. Everyone so appreciated the lovely sound of their voices, singing Grandma off to rest. I had forgotten that their relatives had not heard E and T sing since Grandpa’s memorial service almost eleven years ago; they were struck by how beautifully our family trio sings.

We were also blessed with a gloriously sunny, warm-but-not-hot morning for the service. Given the time of year and outdoor location, we had decided to forgo men in suitcoats and women in dark dresses for more spring-time clothes. I’m sure Grandma would have appreciated the floral prints and lace-accented tops we wore, which complemented the multicolor carnations we had ordered from her favorite florist shop.

After the service, we gathered for lunch at a favorite local restaurant. We had reserved a private room and had three tables of six, which made conversation easy. Although the reason we were together was sad, we appreciated the opportunity to catch up with family that we had not seen often in recent years. I was especially grateful for our daughters to spend time with their first cousins; given that their geographic distribution is about to be New York, West Virginia, Arizona, and Hawai’i ,they may not see each other together for years.

I’m sure Grandma would have been pleased and proud to see them all sitting together, chatting about their now-adult lives, even though she would still think of them as the children they once were.

Rest in peace, Grandma.

the legacy of Father James

In my last post, I wrote about a long-time, retired pastor who was near death. Father James died Friday night and these past few days have been about preparing and celebrating the funeral rites.

Leading those efforts has been Father James’s nephew, Father Tim, and Father James’s long-time music director Nancy. Father James served at Blessed Sacrament church from 1978 through his retirement in 2003. He hired Nancy early on, shortly after she graduated from university with her music degree, and they developed a true partnership and deep friendship that lasted through his retirement years.

They both loved liturgy and taught me that thoughtful, prayerful planning was the key to vibrant worship. I served on liturgy committee and in music ministry for many years and learned so much from them both. My role in the funeral planning was to write the universal prayer, which is a set of petitions which closes the liturgy of the word, for both the vigil service and the funeral mass.

Along with my daughter T, I joined the 40-voice choir, which was assembled from the choirs of Father Tim’s church, Nancy’s current church, Father James’s boyhood church where the funeral was being held, and some other former Blessed Sacrament music ministry alumni. (A number of the other choir members had also sung at Blessed Sacrament when Father James was there.) We rehearsed for two and a half hours Sunday night to be ready for the two services.

When a priest dies, he lies in state in the church, clothed in his priestly vestments. Father James had chosen white vestments with a multi-colored trim which, if I recall correctly, had been a gift from the parish for his 40th ordination anniversary. For three hours before the vigil service, Father Tim along with Father James’s nieces and other nephews received condolences from hundreds of friends and former parishioners.

We then held a vigil service with Scripture readings and prayers which focused on service. There were three homilists, one a priest-friend, who offered stories of Father James as a friend and traveling companion; one a niece, who told of growing up with with three priest-uncles, Father James and his two older brothers; and a Blessed Sacrament parishioner-friend, who told of the strong bonds of love and friendship that Father James built among us. His words reflected beautifully my own experience at Blessed Sacrament, what that parish family meant and continues to mean to me. (Unfortunately, for reasons too complex to relate here, the Blessed Sacrament community that we knew no longer exists as a parish.)

The next morning was the funeral liturgy. Nancy played prelude music on the organ, followed by two choral pieces. During the opening hymn, the many priests and deacons in attendance, all dressed in white, processed to their places, followed by the concelebrating priests, including Father Tim, and finally the bishop, who was the presider for the funeral mass.

The readings centered around Eucharist and included a gospel passage that was close to Father James’s heart and ministry, the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35).  Father Tim gave an inspiring homily, which was both intimate and encompassing. Not only had Father Tim had the example of his uncle Father James before him all his life but he had also been in residence with him at Blessed Sacrament for nine years when he was serving as chaplain at a nearby hospital, during which he assisted with weekend and special liturgies and shared homilist duties.

I was especially moved when Father Tim spoke about how special the Blessed Sacrament community was in the twenty-eight years of Father James’s pastorate, how Father James drew people together and encouraged them to develop and share their talents, how important liturgy was to him as the work of the people, and how extraordinary the partnership was between Father James and Nancy, resulting in eight choirs and a congregation that actively and joyfully participated in both spoken and sung prayer, empowering them to go out and serve others. He reminded us that it is up to those of us who were part of that community to continue to carry on the good works, friendship, love, and caring to others.

For T and me to be singing in the choir for the services was a special blessing. While Blessed Sacrament had been a modern renovated building with the music ministry in the front of the church, the church where we were gathered is one of the oldest in our area with a choir loft and a pipe organ. Being in the loft gave us a good view of the church and a bit of space from the emotions of the family. It also gave us the best advantage of the acoustics.

Some people who were unfamiliar with Nancy’s skills had expressed reservations about the choir not being amplified, but, under Nancy’s guidance, we did not need microphones to be heard and understood. They were also afraid that the congregation wouldn’t sing, but we were confident that they would – and they did. Many people were former Blessed Sacrament parishioners who were used to singing hymns and responses. Moreover, what many Catholics don’t realize is that it is not a choir or cantor that leads the singing, it is the organ. Nancy is a wonderful organist, who knows how to register the organ effectively and to pace and phrase in such a way as to lead the congregation to confidently sing the hymns and prayers.

Nancy also is the best liturgist of any Catholic church musician that I know. The hymns beautifully reflected the Scripture readings that had been chosen for the services. People commented afterward about how thoughtfully the music enhanced the service.

I know that Father James would be pleased with the vigil and funeral mass that we celebrated before laying him to rest.

With a wink, he would say it was because he had taught us how…which he did, by word and example.

As Father Tim reminded us, it is up to us to carry on, loving and serving one another, as Father James did.

May he rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon him.

 

 

SoCS: heartbreaking news

I am writing this on Friday as we await news on a former pastor, Father James.

He is in a coma in ICU and expected to die soon.

The news is heartbreaking.

I am not heartbroken for him, as he will be released from suffering and dwelling in God who is Eternal Love.

I am heartbroken for his family and friends and all his former parishioners who will miss his care, concern, sense of humor, and gentleness. Although he was retired, he said Mass at local parishes. Just in the last few weeks, I attended a couple of Masses at which he presided.

He was the pastor of a church I attended for over twenty years. He was the pastor for both of my daughters’ baptisms and first communions, as well as my elder daughter’s confirmation. I served on liturgy committee for him for many years, as well as participating in music ministry with my daughters.

After he retired, our parish, which I had known as a welcoming home, ran into major difficulties and eventually disintegrated. That is still heartbreaking.

It is also heartbreaking that the church building that we had renovated under his leadership is no longer a Catholic church. After being damaged in a second major flood, it was closed and, years later, sold to a nearby Christian college. They have recently re-opened it as their chapel, but it is no longer the place we built together. Even the stained glass windows had been removed.

We will lay him to rest from his boyhood church, though, which is fitting. That church is also the mother church in our area, meaning it is the oldest congregation.

One of his favorite Bible verses was from Micah 6:8:   “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

And he showed us how to do that.

Another passage is also coming to mind for me, from Matthew 25:21:  “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

I am also thinking of a setting of the final commendation, which is a prayer at the end of Catholic funerals, that we used to sing in Resurrection Choir when Father James would be presiding at parish funerals. The setting was done by Ernest Sands and used this refrain:  “May the choirs of angels come to greet you. May they speed you to paradise. May the Lord enfold you in His mercy. May you find eternal life.”

Amen.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “break/brake.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2016/05/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-2116/ .

SoCS badge 2015

 

Saying good-bye to a friend

Today was Peter’s memorial service.  I had written about Peter here and, this afternoon, we were all able to say our final good-byes and to celebrate his life among us and the eternal life to which he has been called.

Although Peter’s final illness was short, he was able to participate in the planning of the memorial, both musically and liturgically. The service was one of the most meaningful I have ever experienced and included some favorite Scripture passages, including 1 Corinthians 13.

The choir was made up of past and current members of the Trinity Episcopal choir and of Harpur Chorale, the most select choral group at Binghamton University which Peter had conducted since 1998. He had been organist/choirmaster at Trinity Church since 1981.  Also participating were the remaining members of Early On, a quintet that Peter helped form several years ago

Tellingly, the organ was silent for most of the service. The program explained:

 “In tribute to Peter’s many years as Church Musician at Trinity the organ will not be used during the first part of the service. The return of the organ at the end of the service symbolizes the enduring nature of music.”

The organ first played after communion for the commendation anthem, which was “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”, an arrangement that Peter had done of the tune St. Columba for choir and organ. It was so moving for all of us. You could tell that some of the choir members were struggling to go on, but together, they were able to continue.

We all sat and listened to the postlude, which was Olivier Messiaen’s “Dieu Parmi Nous” (God Among Us), the last movement of The Nativity of Our Lord.  The organ professor from the University played, but I couldn’t help thinking about how Peter played it. While the professor played it well technically, Peter played with more feeling and nuance and with a profound understanding of how to coax subtle shadings of sound from the 1960 Casavant organ. I thought about how often I had stood next to the console, observing Peter playing and turning pages for him, absorbing everything I could about service playing from him.

After the last reverberations of Messiaen died away, there was a profound silence in the full church. I believe we were all giving thanks for Peter’s years with us and feeling his absence.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine : et lux perpetua luceat eis.  Grant them eternal rest, Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

A Valentine’s funeral

Valentine’s Day morning found B and I in North Adams MA to attend the funeral of my aunt Helen. We were there not only to pay our own respects but also as representatives of the rest of my family, especially my parents who are not up to extended cold-weather car trips any more.

The funeral was small, mostly nieces and nephews with their spouses. I especially wanted to thank Marcia and Carl, who are related through Helen’s husband Stewart, who died several years ago, as they had been the ones who had visited and run errands for Helen and Stewart through over ten years in the nursing home. My mom and Marcia often spoke by phone, so that my parents could keep up with news of Helen, especially after she couldn’t talk to my dad on the phone herself.

Helen’s longtime Baptist minister led the service, with my cousin Cairn giving the eulogy. I read a Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 13, which was a favorite of both Helen’s and mine. Cairn thoughtfully gave me Helen’s personal Bible, given to her almost eighty years ago in Sunday school, her name embossed in gold on the black leather cover, with dried flowers, ribbons, prayer cards, a church bulletin, bookmarks, and copies of her parents’ obituaries tucked among the pages. There were old photos on display in the funeral home and one of her stenographer’s notebooks, showing her skill at the now-lost art of shorthand.

Most of the remembrances of Helen were from her younger days as the eldest of seven children and later as a devoted spouse, watchful aunt, and super-efficient and respected executive secretary, the time period that I remember.  We lived about twenty miles away and would often visit at their home on the weekends. I remember playing with my sisters in their large backyard and attending holiday parties that Helen loved to host. Helen would often compose little poems for special occasions and liked to have people contribute to celebrations. I remember one Christmas party when we were each to bring something for the tree and my older sister made oil of wintergreen in the school chemistry lab as her offering.

Helen’s last decade-plus was very different, as she developed Alzheimer’s. While some things stayed constant until very nearly the end – her love of coffee, her joy in attending and singing at church services, her fondness for dolls and stuffed animals – others were permanently lost. In many ways, the woman that we all knew has been gone much longer than the days since her death earlier this month.

Born in 1922, Helen was the eldest of seven. My father, who turns 90 in a few weeks, was the third child and first son in the family. Of the four children who lived past the age of 70, my father is the only one not to have succumbed to Alzheimer’s, as their father had. My dad’s only surviving sibling is his youngest brother who is currently living in a nursing home in CT. My dad is the only one left who can recall the old family lore. I’ve been asked with such strong family history how my father has been spared; everyone always said that he took after his mother’s side of the family and perhaps that is what saved him from developing Alzheimer’s.

Despite the cold and snowy New England winter, we were able to bring Helen to the cemetery after the service where she is now resting beside her husband. It wasn’t until we arrived there and saw the headstone that I remembered she will also be resting beside her youngest sibling – and Cairn’s mother – Bev, who we lost decades ago to eclampsia. Bev was born on Helen’s 17th birthday and now the oldest and the youngest are finally reunited.