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Friday, August 07 2015 15:58
In the same week last month, I attended celebrations of the life and death of two friends. Some time later, I am still thinking back to their passing.

The first event was what members of the Jewish community call Shiva.  By this time of life, I have attended several, never without deep feelings.

On this occasion, I was privileged to witness something of what members and friends felt for their beloved Diane. Hearing their words, filled with emotion, made me feel closer to their loss.

This Shiva held something special that I do not recall previously seeing.  That was the participation of young children. 

With the help of Diane’s son at the piano, the girls and boys took turns  singing familiar songs. It was obvious that they had been used to sharing their music with Diane. Some adults quietly joined in, filling the room with warmth and affection.

The same feelings were evident when the adults began to speak. Family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues expressed their sense of loss and their gratitude for all that Diane had brought to their lives.

When we left the house, my wife Susan and I felt blessed with knowing better a friend whom we cared about.  We were thankful for having shared in the experience of those who had known and loved Diane.

We felt part of the hearts of others who would continue to cherish the life of a dear wife, mother, and friend. This Shiva would help us to remember what she had brought to us all.

Later that same week, we attended a service of thanksgiving for the life of a remarkable man who had died this past winter. The celebration brought a large crowd of his friends to a university church.

I had known Bill well over a period of some thirty years. During that time I came to value his integrity, his originality, and his kindness.

His concern for religion brought us together, as did his interest in college students.  We belonged to different churches, but we discovered that we had a great deal in common.

The memorial featured music, reading, and speaking. The speakers – eight of them, at various ages and situations – enabled even close friends like me to discover new things about Bill. Above all, he had an extraordinary gift for friendship.

The people who spoke about Bill evoked that friendship rather than their sense of loss.  Of course, all mourned him, but that was secondary to our love for him and our celebration of his many achievements.

Bill also had idiosyncrasies that made us smile during the service. The last speaker honored him in an appropriately quirky way. He ascended the pulpit without having a tie on.

This he explained by noting that Bill had always refused to appear in public without a tie.  He had had hundreds to choose from.  So, on this occasion, the speaker invited everyone to select one of Bill’s ties as they left the church.  I did so, and now wear it in memory of my dear friend Bill.

 I think of death virtually every day.  The loss of friends has the effect of making me reflect on it.  So many of my friends, along with some of my family members have died that I feel compelled to meditate on this human reality.

Of course, death is weird, a strange event that is full of mystery. How is it possible for us to understand anything of it?

The closest I can come perhaps is thinking of friends like Diane and Bill.  By living life so well, they give me hope of understanding its meaning a little better.