JUNE SIXTH NINETEEN SEVENTY SIX
One month ago a man died. We was a wonderful man who had lived a wonderful life, and he died a wonderful death. He was my father, the husband of my mother, the father-in-law of my wife, the grandfather of my children, the father of my sister and brother, the father-in-law of my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, the grandfather of my nieces and nephews, the great-grandfather of my nieces’ children, the brother-in-law of my aunt and uncle, the uncle or cousin of my cousins. And now he is dead.
But we were all with him as he left life as we had been with him when he lived it. Not every minute, of course, and not always in person. But we were with him in spirit as he faced and met the end, and we are all better people for the experience.
We did not have a formal funeral service, and that was right. He slipped so gradually from full command of his body to the final closing of his eyes that no final exclamation point was needed. Who really noticed which day was the last time he mowed all of his acre of grass in one day, when he mowed it in two, when he had no nap, when he had one nap, when he walked down to get the mail, when he walked upstairs, when he left his room? He accepted each change with dignity and even with interest. He enjoyed the powers he had left and did not fret over those he lost. Although the expression went from a belly-laugh to a chuckle, to a grin, to a wee smile, he never lost his sense of humor. He was always thoughtful of others and had the rare ability to ask for and be grateful for help without demeaning himself or the helper. And he is no more.
We didn’t have a chance to come together all at once, but we have done the more meaningful thing of coming together in twos and threes; by visits, by telephone, by letter; to share our experiences of him. And thus we have gradually, each in an individual way, come to accept the finality of his death.
He died on a Thursday. Friday night I listened to Verdi’s Requiem as I worked on my plants and I thought of him. Sunday I planted a tree for his memory and I think of him whenever I pass it. The next Thursday I sat in O’Shaunessy Auditorium while the Minnesota Orchestra played the Berlioz Requiem and I though of the first time I had heard it – in the Washington Cathedral with him – and of countless other things I had shared with him. Part of the next week I spent in Rockville, going through his papers, and I thought of him. And I am thinking of him now as I again play Verdi’s Requiem early on a Sunday morning.
We could wish he could live forever, but he lived so much. He will never know my grandchildren, but he knew my children and my brother’s grandchildren. He will never hear Argento’s “Voyage of Edgar Alan Poe”, but he saw his “Postcard from Morocco.” He will never drink another Martini, but people all over the world will think of him when they drink theirs. I will not be able to share my retirement party with him, but I shared receiving a medal last year. I will never be able to tell him the story of the islanders and the palm leaves, but he laughed over the bass-viol players and Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. I shared so much that I will miss but not regret the future non-sharing.
I was fortunate to be with him for twelve of his last thirteen days. And to see so many of you and talk to even more of you during that time. We shared our concern; we shared our love; and they were better for being shared. And as I share these retrospective thoughts with you, I also share his last picture. A two-dimensional static print could not do justice to his three-dimensional dynamic face which was beautiful even as it wasted and the motion slowed, but I hope you will feel as I do to see our love and concern for Philip Hodge mirrored in the face of Philip Hodge in this picture taken by