In Our Own Backyard...Goodbye, old friend


I walked out of the funeral feeling as though I'd been wrapped in a warm embrace.

And though that may seem strange in light of so somber an occasion, that's exactly how it felt. All of those folks coming together with love and affection for the elderly man who had passed away somehow dispelled the sadness and gloom and shed light on our own lives in a brand new way.

Paul, the 81-year-old gentleman who passed away, was a retired minister and an old friend. He and his wife were youthful beyond their years and interested in pretty much everything. They could engage in lively conversation about everything from world affairs to the Minnesota Gophers. They rode their bikes all the way around Lake Superior in their younger years, and they loved to go out to dinner at the drop of a hat.

In fact, they jumped at the chance to see Cirque de Soleil at Amsoil Arena with my husband and I last New Year's Eve. We went out to dinner with them and shared a wonderful evening together, and when we drove them home Paul asked us to wait just a moment before leaving. With a twinkle in his eye, he dashed inside the house and came out with a bottle of champagne for us.

The stories you hear at a funeral are nearly always heartwarming, and the stories told by Paul's two sons during the service were no exception. They recalled a father who was thoughtful and wise, but who would let them try most anything if they were willing to take responsibility for the consequences. They talked of his love and respect for their mother, his compassion for those he served in his several congregations and his delightful sense of humor that endeared him to children.

Those sorts of memories helped turn the funeral into more of a celebration of life, and that's why those times of sharing have become so popular in recent years.

Last Saturday's funeral went beyond all that, however, taking a series of little side trips that made it all the more heart-warming for me. I had been asked to bring a tray of bars for the gathering of friends and family after the service, and as I contemplated what to bring, I recalled the Special K bars my mom used to make. I asked her about them on a visit to her house last Thursday, so she got out her old recipe file and found her recipe for the bars. She gave me her hand-written copy, which I brought home and made for the funeral, bringing old memories flooding back of how much I loved those bars as a child.

There were other things that contributed to the day as well. Before the service got underway, we were pleased to spot old friends Glenn and Nancy Kraus from Cloquet, whom we hadn't seen in some time. We sat behind them before the service and had a nice visit about how we knew Paul and how he came to touch our lives.

Among the many in attendance at the funeral were several Methodist ministers from around the state who knew and had worked with Paul over the years. When it came time to sing the familiar old hymns the family had selected, it sounded like a heavenly chorus, with all the faithful Methodists bursting into full-throated song together. The sound nearly raised the rafters and perpetuated that groundswell of good feeling that had started to build up inside of me.

We were invited by the pastor to convene downstairs in the church fellowship hall after the service for coffee and refreshments. We found ourselves at a table with mostly strangers, but the conversation literally flowed as we shared memories of Paul, creating an unseen bond between us that hadn't existed before that day.

And then, as we were on our way out the door, a woman came up to me and said, "You're Wendy, aren't you?" I didn't recognize her, but I smiled and said yes.

"We haven't ever met before," she acknowledged, "but I recognized you from that little picture at the top of your column." It turned out she was a Pine Journal reader from Cloquet and was kind enough to take the time to come up to me to let me know that she reads my column.

It was then that I fully realized just how interconnected all of our lives actually are. There are folks who touch us in certain ways, but they touch many others in different ways as well. And sometimes it's those little connections -- like hearing about someone's youth from those who knew him back then, bringing bars to share from a special recipe of my mom's, reconnecting unexpectedly with old friends, glorying in the sound of a hymn sung joyfully in unison, and forming bonds with folks I'd never met -- that make all the difference.

We tearfully said goodbye to an old friend that day, but his passing unexpectedly enfolded us all in a warm embrace. After all, that's what his life was all about.