Posts Tagged ‘death’

Letter From New York

July 22, 2013

July 20, 2013

A vision of things not to be…

When I was very, very little I encountered the McCormick family. They had six children, all about my age. I don’t know quite how I met Sarah, the McCormick that was my age but we were fast friends by the time we walked together to Kindergarten at Fuller School.

I grew up with that family and have remained close to them in all the decades that have passed since Sarah and I headed off to school for the first time. It is unusual, I know. Our childhood friends seem to slip away as we move into adulthood but Sarah and the entire McCormick family did not. When they moved to St. Louis after 8th grade, I flew down to visit them. When Sarah was living in Spain, I visited her there. When she moved to Albuquerque, I visited her there and she visited me when I lived in Santa Monica. Her son, Kevin, has grown up thinking of me as Uncle Mat and I think of and call him my nephew.

I attended family reunions with her and stood with the McCormick family when a drunk driver killed the youngest daughter, Trish, one night shortly after I had visited her in Colorado.

Mary Clare is the oldest and lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I have visited her there, was present when her daughter Margaret got married and returned when Margaret died. She and her husband Jim lived in New York awhile and we dined together at a favorite restaurant, Café du Soleil. I introduced them to my friends and they became friends.

John and Eileen, the parents, settled in New York after St. Louis and once I had moved to New York, I dined with them on a regular basis at their country club and attended family events with them. I contributed to John’s 80th birthday presents as if I were one of the kids. I mourned when both of them passed away within months of each other.

For four years I have spent my Christmases with these people. They are as much a part of my life as if they were my blood family. They are a family of choice and I went to be with them once again when Joe Eros, the oldest son of Jim and Mary Clare, died in an accident while he was hiking in Alaska, where he was stationed in the Army.

Kevin and I sat, looking at Joe in his coffin, and he said to me that he had always had a vision of the future and it had included doing things with his cousin Joe. We cried together. I, too, had a vision of the future that included getting to always know Joe a little better. And now our vision of the future included things that would not be…

He was a special man. Smarter than anyone I know. His Uncle John said that before there was Google, there was Joe. There seemed to be no nook or cranny of history of which he didn’t have some knowledge. He had a wry, dry wit that would bring a crooked smile to my face as he would crack a joke with his own crooked grin. His eyes danced with intelligence.

After 9/11 he joined the Army, served in Iraq, left the Army, went to law school and re-enlisted and was stationed in Alaska, a place he loved. He died doing what he loved, being outdoors, being alive.

I cannot tell you how much I miss him and miss that I will not have more opportunities for knowing him better. His brother Michael went to Alaska and met with his friends, met with the people who had been present when the accident happened and then accompanied Joe home. My admiration for Michael is enormous and my vision of the future includes knowing him better. He demonstrated what an amazing man he is during this painful period.

I have my family of origin. I have a family of choice. My vision of the future includes them both. I cannot imagine it differently.

Letter From New York 4/16/12

April 16, 2012

Or, as it seems to me…

A little over a week ago, my beloved cousin Virginia passed away, rather suddenly, and much too quickly for all of us. She wasn’t eating much, which concerned all of us and caused us to think the end might be near but not so near. One moment she was with us; the next she was not.

Virginia was ninety when she passed away. Older than I by much, old enough to have been my parent and so it was always hard to think of her as cousin – I thought of her more as an aunt due to the age difference. Regardless of the relational nuances, Virginia was always present in my life and was a glue that held a family together. We gathered around her, to both honor her and enjoy her company.

I was asked to eulogize her; I did. I think it went well.

Last week’s Time Magazine’s lead article was about “Rethinking Heaven.” It posits that heaven is not just the celestial plane but also those things we do for each other, the kindnesses, the generosities, the graciousness and love we exhibit to one another, the concern we have for one another. Virginia manifested all of that; she was a bit of heaven on earth and she is now in heaven, surrounded by all those she loved and who loved her.

The ancient Egyptians had a phrase: To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.

Virginia will continue to live in all of us who knew her, in our memories and we will speak of her but I exhorted my cousins, family and friends to let her also live through us, through following her example of kindness, graciousness, love and good works – to let her continue to live through us, to let us help heaven be on earth in her good name.

Hers was a life well lived.

I went from her funeral to Philadelphia, where I attended the Religious Communicators Conference. Odyssey was up for and won a number of awards at the ceremonies for both the DeRose Hinkhouse and Wilbur Awards. But I knew I was tired and had trouble getting through them. Virginia’s passing took a toll on me, physically and emotionally and it was only today that I have felt near my old energy level back, after a good night’s sleep in the little apartment in New York.

She was the last of her generation in our family and her passing brought to a close one more chapter in the book of Tombers. Now it is my generation that is at the forefront, we are next in line, in the natural way of things, to pass and our passing will close yet another chapter in the book.

Like all families we have been wrapped in our family stories and our family myths, all twined together to make a history. But that story now runs thin and I doubt the stories bind to my cousins as they did to the generation before us or to us. I doubt the story of my immigrant great-grandfather and his stern wife is much retold these days.

All the folks today are a long way from the stories that once bound us and that, too, is the way of families. With Virginia gone there is no one left who can identify the strangers in the photo albums or retell the stories of the interesting relatives who inhabit those albums.

It is the way of time. It’s the way it is. But it has filled me with a bit of sadness which is, mostly, the sense of loss of an extraordinary ordinary woman who lived an ordinary, extraordinary life, who lived long and well, who prospered and shared, who was generous with her gift of love, who had a shy warm smile and who everyday did a good deed, a natural act that came from an uncommon generosity of spirit.

Rest well, Virginia. May you inspire the rest of us.