17 June 2008

A Soul Goes Home

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

Saturday afternoon, a little before 2 PM, my friend Rick S. stepped out of this life and into the next after a long battle with cancer. When we saw him last at church on the last Sunday in May, he was so tired, so weak… and then the e-mail notes from the Rector began.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

Rick has been my friend for around eight years. He is a man of wisdom, charm, and a delightfully wry sense of humour. He is a superlative musician with a real sense of how to make a choir a family as much as a functional worship unit. He is from the deep South and it shows… his manners, his wry delivery, his innate kindness. He is a Christian, a deep-faith believer, and he knows by whom he is saved. Now, he has met that saviour in person and been welcomed home.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.

When he told us about his cancer, he was very matter-of-fact. There was no real announcement to the group of us at large; when he ended rehearsal as he always did—with prayer, giving us a moment or two to mention things we felt needed attention—he simply said “I’m starting chemo this week and would appreciate some prayer.” We sat there nodding, yes, yes, that’s what we do when someone undergoes—wait, what, CHEMO?? Frissons of terror, determination, fear… but always a sense that it would get better, that if anyone could beat cancer, it would be Rick. He was a fighter, determined, strong. Right up to the end he was planning a trip to Hawaii.

Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.

For a while it seemed to go away… but when it came back, it came back with a vengeance. Sometimes when you see someone who’s been blindsided by the midnight freight like that, you just know.

I knew. I knew that would be the last time I saw him.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
And let light perpetual shine upon him.

If I have any regrets, it is that I didn’t spend more time with him as the days wore down. We weren’t in the same social circle; we only saw each other at church, where he was the organist and I the chorister. But at church… Oh, at church we had our own partnership. I occasionally was privileged to sing solos under his direction. He could play circles around many organists I have known, and if I flubbed a phrase he just played around it. If he wanted to slip in a change, he would look at me and raise his eyebrow and I knew to tell my fellow sopranos, “let’s do the descant!” If he felt he wanted a solo suddenly, he would look at me and just twinkle… and I would go to his side, get the hymnal number, and off we’d go… it was like we shared a brain sometimes.

I will miss that.

Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and giving life to those in the tomb.

Rick knew how to motivate people. He was kind, and his sense of humour was incisively wry; he didn’t exactly poke fun, he just kind of… prodded. Gently. He could tell a section they had screwed up very badly without making them FEEL badly. He could make them laugh, then play the part correctly, and cause more laughter with the “ahem, see??” expression he would give them. He was our dad and our brother and our uncle all rolled into one drill sergeant, and we adored him. He knew how to get the best out of all of us, particularly my autistic, musically-gifted son. I will always remember watching them work together…

The Sun of Righteousness is gloriously risen, giving light to
those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death.
The Lord will guide our feet into the way of peace, having
taken away the sin of the world.

The e-mails began early last week: Rick had received communion but hadn’t been able to speak; he had been visited by Hospice to receive a different blessing, that which would deaden the pain and allow him to remain at home until he passed. His partner Shaun was with him, and Shaun’s parents; they did what they could to keep Rick comfortable, those many things big and little that make it possible for us to stay occupied while walking the holy road of departure with someone we love—stay occupied and hold the tears at bay for just a little longer. It wasn’t a matter of whether Rick would leave us, but when.

Christ will open the kingdom of heaven to all who believe in
his Name, saying, Come, O blessed of my Father; inherit the
kingdom prepared for you.

It happened on Saturday: a bright sunny day, full of late spring, turning toward the long heat of summer. Choir was over for the season; we were into Summer Choir, where we would meet on Sunday to “pull something together.” Only when we met on Sunday he was already gone, flown free of his body and dancing with the Lord until we are all reunited in the afterlife. It was a hard morning full of tears and memory, but it was a good morning, too. We pulled it together somehow, because even at the grave we make our song. There is life beyond life, more happens after the transition known as death. We will sorrow—but not as those who have no hope. He is not so much gone as simply not here….

Into paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may
the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city

Welcome home, dear, dear Rick. Keep a light on for the rest of us; we’ll see you in time. Until then we'll miss you so very much....

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