Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Just a few days before Dave and I married in September, 1983 I caught up with a childhood friend from my elementary school days. She gave me some advice I have not forgotten, and in fact, I have passed along to every other bride when given the chance. “Be sure,” she said, “to look around you when you have been pronounced as husband and wife.” Stop and take in the moment she counseled, because if you don’t make a conscious effort you may be swept away in the emotion and not have a real memory of this important day you work so hard to make perfect, beautiful and fitting.
On our wedding day, I did look around. (Did Dave? Can I remember? Wish I could ask him now. I’m sure he did. I know he can describe how I looked!) And when I see the photos from that day we formally joined hands, I carry with me the feeling, as well as my own distinct memory, of what I saw and felt. It was a conscious moment. It was a moment that belonged to us, and honored us and was witness to our choice of commitment to travel life together from that time onward. We had written our vows together, and we understood through the paraphrased words of Kahlil Gibran that to “know and share the most of beauty” that we must also “have to share ugliness; to know the highest of joys (we) may have to share sadness; to know the greatest excitement (we) may have to share apathy; and to know the fullest pleasure (we) may have to share pain.”
On Sunday, March 25, we held the Memorial and Celebration of Life in remembrance of Dave. Before the guests began to arrive I walked around. First, as one of the coordinators of this special event to see that “things” were in place. And, of course, they were beautifully done. Friends and family lovingly and painstakingly staged the rooms with plants, flowers, pictures and documents representing his life. (“No actor ever had a better part,” Dave would say of his career as lecturer.) I really was only needed to show up. Then I looked around me and took the sights within so I could have a true memory of this moment as I did of our wedding day. ‘Til death do us part; a promise fulfilled.
On Sunday, I was filled. I drank in the ritual provided by the gentle presence of Tina Kuckahn-Miller, director at “the House of Welcome” venue at The Evergreen State College Longhouse Education and Cultural Center. It was a nod to Dave’s Native American heritage, never given to Dave himself, but magically restored to his descendents for how they choose to carry on. With his death he became an ancestor, now a part of history in both family and tribe. We opened and closed the ceremony with the voices of Objibwe women connected to his mother’s Chippewa roots, and thus Dave’s and each of his children. Seven generations forth, as well as Dave’s journey, the Traveling Song resonated as we took the walk together to send prayers of love, hope and wishes in a Tobacco Ceremony to ease the transition between worlds and our hearts.
I was filled with music played through the strings of his guitar and his bass strummed by long time friends and band members. “I’ll Fly Away” and the tale of “Amelia Earhart” notably moved the musicians as they sang. I reveled in Dave’s voice as he sang through taped content on the photo video on his life. “Hand Me Down my Walking Cane,” he belted out from bygone years when his voice was strong and his rhythm driving the tune.
I was filled with a sampling of illustrative stories of a man who changed lives as a colleague, as a teacher, as a mentor and as a caring person. The theme emerged that Dave had a capacity to listen and treat everyone with the same dignity and respect all humans deserve. There were, of course, words spoken on his passion for life-long learning and teaching to the very last days of his life. I was pleasantly surprised by the courage of his former students who followed the program speakers rounding out what we already knew, but now heard in first hand testimony.
I was filled by each and every photo chosen to highlight Dave’s 72 years in 16 minutes. I absorbed the stories and feelings and emotions presented publicly after hours of private memories were whittled away and then burned onto a plastic disc. “The Family Album” it finally titled itself as I finished the work over the weekend. I somehow always work better under the pressure of a deadline. I am forced to finish. Now his story does have a conclusion and I had to write it.
I was filled with love emanating from friends, family and even Dave himself. After the program many people stayed to replenish with food and more stories at the tables in the Longhouse Cedar Room. Cedar is known for its healing properties and was used in the ritual performed the minutes prior to the informal gathering. Nourishment and healing. Just a little more time together.
This memorial was a tribute to an historian and educator. We were foretold that everyone would learn something new about Dave that day, and I believe we all did. It was a tribute to the father, husband, friend and person. For someone who “doesn’t do memorials” I was touched and I have to admit that I needed this process.
Before I left I looked all around again. I filled myself one last time. It dawned on me (as I spoke to his daughter Dawn! And yes, I said that.) that Dave would have been pleasantly satisfied with how full his life was, how encompassing, creative, and often selfless. “Warts and all,” he might add. We spoke of so many elements and moments in his and our lives during the past year, but never had I been able to draw in the big picture. I doubt many of us ever do. On Sunday, we did.
Gone in peace, my love.