This week, I learned something profound: It matters to connect with people you care about early and often. I learned this because there is a friend that I can no longer connect with.
She died this week. Suddenly. Several niche communities lost a great personality when Andrea died on the 21st. This loss was significant to me in a number of ways, not the least of which was the fact that I held Andrea and her husband in high regard. She will be missed. She had a wicked sense of humor and was a Master (Mistress) of Snark, and her delivery was so soft-spoken that she took more than one person by surprise. 😀Over the past couple of years, I had been keeping in touch with Allen and Andrea over Facebook, since we stopped playing with the local reenactment/recreation communities for a number of personal reasons that are not germane to the topic at hand. We passed comments back and forth, and communicated in brief, but always (in my case) with no small affection. I would not call our communications “close” but I would call them friendly.
Then, Andrea died unexpectedly, of heart failure secondary to cancer. She had been in and out of the hospital recently, so her health was not exactly good, but there seemed to be no imminent danger. Many who knew her were hoping that she was getting better.
After she passed, her husband, Allen, asked me to write and officiate the funeral service for his wife, having remembered that I have done some small ministry in the past (Full disclosure: I am an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, and have been for many years). Of course, I said that it would be my honor to perform this act. What I didn’t say at the time was that I didn’t feel like I was qualified to do something so important for people that I respect, even though I was going to do my best to make it happen.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend John Donahue for his immensely useful help with pointers, recommendations, and things to consider when it came to performing funeral duty. His words of wisdom (he was previously a seminary student) were most helpful in keeping things together, and he pointed me to an amazing resource to draw inspiration from. I think that the most useful comment that he made was the one in which he said “[Y]ou are the representative for God…so be calm, cool, collected, and don’t let Aunt Lucy drape herself over the casket…True story.” The calm-cool-collected reminder was really helpful in a couple of places in the service.
One other person that I owe thanks to is my wife, Kristen (here, here, and here) for one small but incredibly useful bit of advice: “Slow down.” I felt like I was rushing, even though I tried to read the service slowly. I don’t remember her exact phrasing, but she said something to the effect that slower words have more weight. I felt that the service deserved gravitas, even though I did introduce a moment of levity toward the end. I kind of felt like I was shouting, though there were many people standing outside the graveside shelter.
After things were over, a couple of the attendees of my acquaintance caught up with me and said that they were able to hear fine, which made me happy. The two most amazing comments, though, came from Allen (that he liked the service) and from Andrea’s sister, Sister Hildegard (Yes, the sister is a Catholic nun, though I didn’t catch her particular order), who said that it was a nice service. I was pleased to hear a professional in the field approve of my first efforts, even though there were others who said that they liked the service as well, which is always nice, too.
Not everyone who cared about Andrea and Allen was able to attend the service in her honor. Therefore, I would like to share the order of service with them. Please click on this link to download the PDF of the service as performed at the funeral, should you be interested. Funeral – Andrea Dubnick Final
In writing and performing the funeral service, I realized that, even though there were hard feelings that I had toward some of the attendees, harboring those was not worth the energy. We are all children of God and the Universe (in whatever manner you perceive him/her/them/it), and as such are all part of the same whole. In the service, I mentioned that the candle and the flame are part of the same light, and should be cherished together and as each entity. I know this as a (nominally) Buddhist teaching, but it never hit home in quite the same way as it did after the funeral service.
I’ll miss you, Andrea. We all will.