President Abraham Lincoln died on this day in 1865, nine hours after he was shot in Ford’s Theater on April 14. April 14 was also the first anniversary of the death of my father-in-law Norm, who has impacted so much of the work I am doing regarding educating people on living and dying – our rituals, funeral planning, end-of-life issues, and how to make a meaningful, healing “good goodbye.”
Last year, on April 15, we extended our tax returns as we had been dealing with Norm’s seven-week hospitalization after he fell and broke his hip and developed pneumonia. The rehabilitation hospital had posted a sign at the foot of his bed that said he would go home on April 14. Shortly after midnight on April 14, he drew his last breath with the family gathered around his bed in the hospital. In a sense, Norm went home on the predicted date.
The funeral was held on April 16, postponed one day because in Jewish tradition, you can’t hold a funeral on a holiday, in this case the last day of Passover. My husband and I had pre-planned Norm’s funeral two years earlier, something my mother-in-law Myra was very uncomfortable with. However, when we went to the funeral home to finalize the arrangements, it was so relatively easy to reconfirm what was already on file and make a few small changes. Myra told me, “I didn’t like it when you were pre-planning, but now I’m glad it was done.”
Norm had fully intended to write his own obituary, but somehow never got around to it. We were all so exhausted by then, we just listed the important dates, names of family, and the funeral arrangements. He was eulogized fully and well at the funeral, but the obit got short shrift because that was not pre-planned.
Our family belongs to a Wednesday night guitar group, a diverse collection of wonderful people who get together weekly to sing, tell stories, trade jokes, and play guitars and other instruments. Last night I announced this anniversary, and asked to sing “Swimming to the Other Side” by Pat Humphries. The chorus to the song has a wonderful message for those whose loved ones have died:
“We are living ‘neath the great Big Dipper, we are washed by the very same rain. We are swimming in the stream together, some in power and some in pain. We can worship this ground we walk on, cherishing the beings that we live beside. Loving spirits will live forever, we’re all swimming to the other side.”
I began crying as we sang, just a few tears at first. But as the song went on, the faucets really opened. My loving wonderful guitar group friends gave me hugs all around. This caring community showed me their support with their words and actions.
We all need this human connection, this community support when we face the death of a loved one. Avoid isolation and let your caring community help you at a time of loss.
As I drove home last night, Madonna was on the radio singing “Material World.” I couldn’t help but think of Norm as he has left this material world, yet his goodness and memory live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him and loved him.
That’s what living and dying is all about – being remembered well when you’re gone. Make today, and every day, count.