This past week, two deaths came to my attention.
They occurred under distinctly different circumstances and at opposite ends of the spectrum of life, but both had the same result: Loved ones were left behind to mourn and those folks are the focus of this article. We all need to light a candle for them today.
The first passing was of Bill Gunter at the age of 80.1 Bill was a beloved retired English teacher who was also an extremely talented musician and performer. Nobody played a washboard or sang a Dixieland jazz tune like Bill. In 1992, he joined my friend Bob Romans’ band, Cell Block Seven, holding court with his washboard, pondering “How do you tune this thing?” He told jokes between and introduced the musical selections, sang a few tunes and, most of all, provided percussion. He had a single cymbal on a stand which he thunked from time to time with a drumstick tugged in his back pocket, ready to be whipped out at the opportune moment to provide just the right emphasis. He also strummed and clunked that washboard in time with the tunes, performing a solo riff from time to time with a twinkle in his eye and smile on his face. Bill loved to perform, loved jazz, and communicated those facts to his audience.
The last time we spent a Friday evening at the Dry Creak Steak House in nearby Galt2, we were surprised to see that Bill was not with the group. Bob explained that he had suffered heat stroke a few days before, but was recovering nicely and would rejoin the group as soon as he was able. A couple of days later, I told Bob that, although the group played well and we enjoyed their performance, something was missing and that something was Bill. He was the glue that that held the group together. We were looking forward to seeing the group again — with Bill back in action — when we heard that his heart simply gave out and he crossed over into eternity a few brief days after his 80th birthday.
His wife, children and grandchildren remain to miss his presence in their lives, but celebrate a life lived fully during which he enjoyed two successful careers — one as an educator and the other as a jazz performer — and traveled around the world with his bandmates. He is gone but the band’s CD’s and videotaped performances are lasting reminders of the joy he brought to his audiences.
In contrast, as I was clicking from site to site the other evening, I happened upon Life with Hannah and Lily where their mom, Rachael, writes about the adventures of and mothering her two little girls.
However, as I perused the photos of beautiful flowers that greeted me there, I was stunned to realize that I was reading the words of a grieving mother who described selecting those flowers in honor of her recently deceased daughter. Stunned, I scrolled down the page to see what had happened and found myself staring silently at my computer monitor with tears running down my cheeks when I came upon these words:
Our dancing queen is now dancing with the angels in heaven. There was an accident while we were at the beach yesterday and she drowned. I keep hoping it was a HORRIBLE mistake and that someone will call and say, she’s fine, she’s just fine. You may come and get her and bring her home.
Oh, GOD I HURT!!!!
Please please pray for my family. Please!
I refreshed the page, certain that I had misread Rachael’s words. No, there they were again. “[S]he drowned.” I stared at the photos of the beautiful little girl showing off her new bathing suit proudly, realizing that just a little while after those photos were taken, she was yanked from this life, leaving her parents and little sister, Lily, heartbroken, devastated and unsure how to continue living.
Two families. Both lost loved one under very different circumstances, but both are grieving today.
Last night Rachael wrote:
Tomorrow is the day I have to formally acknowledge Hannah won’t be coming in to snuggle me in the morning. Tomorrow is the day people will begin to stop coming by and visiting. Tomorrow is the day this madness, this crazy dream, will all become real and I will most likely crash. I don’t want to lose this bubble of numbness I’m currently in–there’s something comforting in just not feeling.
If you have ever lost someone dear, you know that Rachael’s fears are well-founded.
The first few days are actually the easiest because there are details to be handled — a service to plan, final arrangements to be made, friends and relatives to be notified who then flock to your home with food and words of comfort.
If death came suddenly and unexpectedly, the first few days immediately following the loss are marked by shock and disbelief. Several friends who have survived the tragic accidental loss of a family member have told me that they barely remember the days immediately following the death or the memorial service. One woman confided to me, “It’s all a blur. I was just going through the motions, walking around on autopilot. I fell apart later when ‘it’ hit me.”
The “it” in that sentence is, of course, the realization that a loved one is truly gone from our midst. His/her presence is keenly felt in the ensuing weeks and months; that’s when the difficult work of grieving and surviving takes its toll.
My in-laws were married 39 years and my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary 10 months to the day before my father died. I distinctly remember my mother-in-law and mother sitting on the couch comparing notes on widowhood. My mother-in-law remarked that nights were the worst time, even though my father-in-law had been gone for many years. She said, “I wake up at night and realize again that Bob is gone. It feels like a punch in the gut.” My mother concurred.
I was always impressed by both women’s desire to spare us from their grief or loneliness.My mother, for instance, always had an upbeat attitude, telling friends and acquaintances who inquired that she was doing just fine because, “it’s hard, but after all, I have my two daughters and four grandsons to live for.” After my father’s memorial service, my mother never again cried in front of us, but I know that adjusting to life without my father was extremely difficult. And so it will be for Bill’s lovely wife, Beverly.
For Rachael and her family, the days ahead will be even more difficult as they mourn all the lost possibilities the future once held for Hannah. Their days will be marked by questioning and struggling to understand an imponderable reality.
I call upon all reading this to visit Life with Hannah and Lily in the days and weeks to come. Leave a comment with words of condolence or comfort. If you have survived a similar loss, leave a note of encouragement, share your story, let Rachael her family know that they are not alone in their grief.
Light a candle today for all who mourn whether the loved one they lost was young or old, taken suddenly or released from the ravages of a lengthy illness. Surround them with prayers for acceptance, peace and emotional, spiritual and psychological healing. Write them a note or give them a call to let them know that you are thinking about them and sending your love.
- See In Memoriam: Bill Gunter.
- Cell Block Seven performs there a couple of Friday evenings per month