At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Celebration of Life

Some people I know don't like going to funerals and avoid them like the plague. Understandable, I think. We usually eschew as much thought as possible about our own mortality. Those reminders tend to be painful enough as they are. And when the person in the casket is a friend or a loved one, our hearts tend to rip apart in ways that can't be fully mended.

Still, while a funeral, memorial service...whatever you want to call it...while those events can bring a fair amount of sadness, I've found they can shape us in ways we don't expect. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I began Litany of Secrets with a graveside service, to show the enormous impact it had on molding Cameron Ballack's worldview. But that takes us beyond my point, which is this: Saying goodbye to someone in this manner assists us in recognizing what life is for.

I got a sense of that this past Friday when I went to the homegoing service (it's really difficult to call it a funeral, because the tone was so celebratory) of Jim Hearne. He is the father of my college friend David Hearne, and in the all-too-short time I had to know the elder Hearne, he amazed me with his grace and earthiness.

- When we moved to St. Louis in the summer of 2008, we had to make a run up here to look for housing. During our time up here, I spoke with Mr. Hearne about leads on any rentals. Toward the end of our conversation, he said "And if you catch a break at any point, come on by and I'll take you all out for some frozen custard at Ted Drewes!" Our schedule that week was so hectic we never got the chance, but I always appreciated his offer.

- Mr. Hearne attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (yep, MIT!) and graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. Both schools are high-powered citadels of engineering production, and Mr. Hearne ended up working for McDonnell Aircraft here in St. Louis, and part of vocational journey was spent working on the F-4 Phantom and well as the Mercury and Gemini space exploration teams. He owned his own machine company and it seemed he could make or fix darn near anything. He didn't have a toolshop in his basement; his basement was a toolshop.

- The last time I sat down with Mr. Hearne for an extended time was for Sunday lunch back in October. Our family joined his (Dave included) at St. Paul's Lutheran over roast beef, potatoes, green beans, rolls, and cole slaw. My favorite memory of that meal is when Mr. Hearne kept looking at my daughter Lindsay, who had helping after helping of cole slaw. And oh my word, was he feeding off her delight. He practically beamed with sheer joy as she kept up her cabbage-infused bliss, soaking in the moment as if it was a memory he'd always treasure.

So last Friday was hardly a funeral atmosphere. There was loud singing, a lot of harp music (his late wife Laura was an expert harpist), and shared memories that made us laugh and cry. Perhaps the best description of the service came from the pastor, Ryan Laughlin, who termed it "bittersweet, yet joyful."
It was indeed a celebration of life.

That's what I want my own memorial service to be like. Would that we all hope along those lines, because whether you dwell on it or not, that day is coming for all of us. It was on my mind throughout the service as I sat there with fellow friends Lester Stuckmeyer and Kal Dawson, the three of us forming a brotherly phalanx in loving support of our dear friend Dave and his entire family. I thought about when my last grandparent--Grandma Herron--died in August 1994, and I felt the "mortality barrier" fall between her tribe and my parent's generation. Now my friends and I are starting to bury our parents. And the day will come when we will start burying each other. What will we recall then?

And that is why I'm thrilled to have been there at Mr. Hearne's homegoing service on Friday. It reminded me that life--permeated with a passionate love for God and for others--is meant to be lived, not merely gotten through.

I would hope that people who attended that service went away as changed souls.

I would hope that when Jim entered heaven when he died last week, that the first person he saw was his wife Laura, and that they shared a kiss so magnificent that it blew the hair back on all the angels in heaven and caused Michael the Archangel himself to say, "Bro! Welcome home!"

I would hope that--after Laura--the first person in heaven who greeted Mr. Hearne in the Holy City was  our sweet little Jordan, and that even now the two of them are working on building something.

I would hope that all our lives are lived with the zeal and mirth that Jim Hearne lived his own.

If not, what on earth are we here for?

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