Sunday, February 24, 2008

A celebration today

Today was a memorial service, a celebration, of BH. There must have been over 150 people. I'm now hearing 200. A wonderful person opened the ceremony. An old friend relayed distant messages and shared life experiences. Lovely wife made a few comments. Sisters and friends read poetry. I gave a eulogy, as did another fellow. Beautiful guitar and mandolin music was played. Friends and family got up to tell stories. There was a Statement of Hope, followed by a tearing version of "Flowers of the Forest" played on bagpipes. People brought food and drink, so we all talked and ate and talked and ate some more. I'll try to follow up with more details in the next day or two. But today was a good day, a hard day, a tiring day, a touching day.


jmb said...

Thanks for sharing that with us Ronolulu. I'm sure we have all been thinking about BH and his family and friends this weekend.

Anonymous said...

I too thought of you all this weekend. I bet it was a good day but a hard day for TLW and all of BH's dear friends and family. In some way a bit of closure, and yet not. In some ways this is just the beginning of grieving again, at least that's been my experience. I wish you all peace.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting us know, Ron.

Today on the subway, I thought I heard a man near me crack his knuckles and I automatically thought, "Brainhell".


Liz said...

Thank you Ron for the update. Looking forward to hearing more when you get a chance. How wonderful that you were able to give a eulogy--very brave too!

Flowers of the Forest--what a wonderful comforting choice. Was that BH's request? He would have been so proud of all of you together celebrating his life. Wishing all of BH's family and friends a peaceful evening. Now starts the year of making it past those milestones without him. You are not alone in your journey.

Droid said...

Thanks Ron, so good to meet you and jansenist at the ceremony.

The lady officiating at the ceremony, who opened it (funny--I mis-typed that first as "hopened it"--I bet she'd have liked that) and read the Statement of Hope at the end, had written the most eloquent, poetic sendoff for BH. I'm afraid I can remember so little of it (you know how your mind can swim at weddings or funerals), but it was so beautifully written, it was stunning.

BH's wife asked me to read a statement by the lady who had officiated at their wedding, who couldn't be there, and to offer some of my own reminiscences or thoughts about BH. I felt honored to be asked. I've had to do the same thing at two other funerals over the last year, those of my father, and of another friend of 40 years who died last fall. And I loved my Dad so much, and he was the very best and dearest friend I've ever had. But I didn't choke up when reading the Shema and another Jewish mourning prayer at his service, or talking about my feelings about him. This time, though, preparing to read for BH, I just couldn't talk for wanting to cry, for probably a full minute or more. I'm standing up there, and finally, BH's wife brought up tissue. I'm thinking, "I'm taking the tissue box from BH's wife--she's lost her husband, and I'm the one who's about to blubber." But Ron will tell you that he had a moment or two like that as well, when he gave his eulogy.

The lady who had officiated at his wedding had sent along encouraging words, about how BH and his loving wife had never stopped saying "Yes" to life. Though she couldn't be there, she seemed, judging by her words, to be another of those gentle, kindly people that BH was so lucky to have around him. She mentioned BH's two young'uns, who weren't paying attention--but they both grinned when I read the passage about them and said "(daughter) and (son), that's you."

After reading her words, and the beautifully wrought statement by the lady minister who hopened (I did it again--shall we introduce the word "hopened," as a happy coinage from this ceremony?) the ceremony, I felt clumsy in my off-the-cuff eulogy for BH. I had to mention how grateful I'd been to BH for being there during this awful time at that awful high school. I don't know how I would have made it without him. It was funny that after the ceremony, not only the friends of BH who had attended that high school with me, but also the parents! voiced the same opinion of the place. And, just as BH used to do, some of those friends had these memories to relate, of things I'd forgotten, and couldn't even remember doing (though they were all too plausible), but that were so funny and worth remembering. I thanked BH's wife and two children for having been there. (continued)

Droid said...

The man I've mentioned in BH's blog as having been my first guitarist had been asked to do some music. He had wanted to work up some Joni Mitchell, but in the end, was still uncertain about what to play. There were over 200 people in attendance, and we'd been expecting a small, informal gathering. He had two "sets" to play, and said he'd probably be playing some Zeppelin. BH, the guitarist and I had all bonded 30 years ago with classic rock; BH with his school binders with The Who, and The Who's RAF markings marked on them (you know, the red, white and blue concentric circles that the British used to put on their airplanes); guitarist, with his cries of "SKYNYRD!!!", and his adoration of Hendrix (though later, after 30 years of a belly-full of Hendrix being overplayed on classic rock stations, he'd said "I just can't listen to him anymore"); and my love of the Zeppelin, with its combination of Englishness and mysticism (no, I've never grown out of it; no, I'm not ashamed). But the guitarist invited me to sit in with him, since he'd brought both his guitar and his mandolin. But he played his first set alone, and did a beautiful version of Over the Hills and Far Away and Bron-yr-Aur, by the Zeppelin, along with one other tune which I've forgotten. Bron-yr-Aur was just haunting, he did it beautifully. He played from the back of the room, which gave his performance an informal, casual feel. I think that was perfect.

Ron got up, and talked for some time about BH, and their college days. (I introduced myself to Ron first--I knew it must be him, by his Hawaiian shirt.) It was very funny. He spoke of their salad days in this horrifying apartment, living on burritos and rice, and of BH "teaching him how to culture yogurt in the boiler room." Later, he spoke of the days after BH met this wonderful woman, who was to marry him. There were times when it seemed as hard for Ron to continue as it had been for me. I don't know if Ron had the same experience as I did, but after I got home last night, I had to sleep for ages. It felt as if I'd spent the whole day lifting 100-pound weights.

The guitarist had been wondering what songs he should play for the second set. 30 years ago, I'd taken the test to leave high school, and gone to junior college. When I'd gotten the test results, I'd come to BH's classroom, looked at him through the window in the door, and mouthed the words "I'm Free!" This was one of our favorite Who songs at the time. I still remember his face brightening, and him mouthing the words "really? Really?" But I'd never sung the song before, and it was Roger Daltrey, who is a tough act to mimic, so I was petrified that I'd completely butcher the song, doing it cold, with no rehearsal, and never having played it before.

But then jansenist got up and did his eulogy. jansenist spoke at great length about an aspect of BH that I'd never properly appreciated, but which jansenist had seen, from his unique vantage point. Something you saw at BH's memorial was what a multifaceted person BH was; everyone had such different experiences of him, though all agreed on certain aspects such as his intelligence, humour, and sarcasm, but you could also see that each of these different perspectives were accurate and valid. jansenist's experience of BH was of a man who prized the freedom that America had offered him so highly. This made sense: the BH that we all knew respected the law, but he was also most outraged, always, by authority overstepping its bounds. Instead of hearing this characterized as the negative ranting of BH the adolescent, it was cheering to hear jansenist treat BH's love of freedom as the positive, honorable trait of someone who loves liberty, and feels deeply that it should never be disrespected.

That clinched it. jansenist, therefore, was at fault for causing me to want to sing "I'm Free" after all. So first, I went back and joined my old guitarist, who improvised an amazingly beautiful, gentle little song on his mandolin, while I played along and took care not to step on it. Then I played "I'm Free." Sure enough, I sort of butchered the vocals on the verses (although I did remember all the words and the guitar parts), but I hit all the high notes on the words "I'm Free." Better to have lost the diaphragm on the verses, and belted out the important refrain, than the opposite, I think. It felt good singing that for BH. Later, I laughed with the person Ron calls "The Angel" here, that I wasn't sure if I should sing the line, "I'm waiting for you to follow me" at a funeral!

After this, everyone who knew BH stood up and offered their own memories of him. The Loving Wife's mother, a dear woman, stood up and related the emails BH had sent about his family. There was one email wherein he related that BH's son had told his mother that "if the baby throws up, I can help you--because I can run really fast!"

A young woman related that she was sad to have had a falling-out with BH on two occasions; once, when he found that she was doing drugs, and a second time, when he had objected to her portrayal of him in an article she'd written. I think that he had objected to her portraying him as unable to parent effectively, with his disease. She felt she had written honestly but sensitively, even a little glowingly, but deeply regretted having offended him so. This was such a painful thing to see. Considering the way BH and I used to snap at each other when we were 14, I am amazed that we ended up being such fast friends to the end. It was heartwrenching to see someone who had had such an argument with him, and that this was never resolved for them, but of course, it was their argument, and we can't have the argument for them, or resolve it for them.

Finally, an older man in a kilt stood up and spoke. I already very much enjoyed that there was someone in formal highland dress there; it turned out that he was a neighbor, an old friend of the family, and he was there to play the final song for BH, on the Great Highland Bagpipes, called "Flowers of the Forest." Someone stood up and said that this was a song especially for soldiers who had died before their time. The piper said that when BH was a teen, he'd learned that the piper was a pilot during the war. He said, "the questions--oh, the questions." BH was full of questions for him. This is also the BH I remember. The piper choked up also, to remember it. He spoke of taking BH up in his plane, and the way BH loved the flight, though their other passenger was getting ill from the aerobatics.

I told the piper that I felt ineloquent in my eulogy. He said, lowering his voice, "well--as BH would say, 'bullshit!'" What a great guy he was.

When the piper began to play, everyone's spine straightened, and their heads rose, with the reaction people always have when the Great Highland pipes start to play. How they inspire reverence, and how beautiful that song was. The piper had said he hoped it wouldn't be too difficult to play it for BH, but though he was plainly as full of emotion as all the rest of us, it was so perfectly beautiful. I'll remember it always. "Flowers of the Forest" was the tune.

Rest in peace, BH. I hope you are free indeed.

Holly said...

HUGE thanks to Droid and Ron for all the details of BH's life celebration ceremony. What a gift to have The Blue Shirt Version (this means details!) of things. Thank you so much. Droid - I have to say that you really made me cry. I, too, lost the physical presence of my Dad recently. Feels recent. April 2006. There was a bag pipe player there, too. I gave a eulogy, but I cried. And, I took a lot of deep breaths and pauses. It was hard. But, a necessary honor. So much of what you wrote about BH brought back memories of various other funerals, memorial services and wakes. I guess this ending of life's circle (physical life's circle) is a common thing to tie us all together. I printed out these comments and took them with me as I waited to pick my kids up after school. I cannot explain the levels of emotion where they took me. I am truly thankful to get these glimpses and to "feel a part."

Rest well, our beloved BH.

We are with you, Ratty, TLW, kids, Droid, Ron and jansenlist (who I had somehow gotten the idea was a woman, so I was surprised to see Droid refer to her ... er ... him ... as a man!). Love from Colorado. -Holly

Droid said...

Thanks so much, Holly. I'm very sorry to hear about your father, too. I think it's good to hear about how others deal with death, or just to know that other people are feeling sympathy for you. I felt at BH's memorial that it wasn't so much that I was grieving, but that the emotions took me over, and the emotions were what were doing the acting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Droid, Ron. It means a lot to know BH was celebrated in such a joyful way. You guys are the best -- he was lucky and he knew he was lucky. Doubly blessed. God Bless you both.

monicac2 said...

Thanks so much for sharing all of these poignant details of BH's memorial service. I hope that all of BH's loved ones are doing ok - that includes you, Droid and Ronolulu!

Droid said...

Thanks Monica and Iris. Thanks Ron for providing us this space for BH.

At the moment, I live very near to where BH grew up. I took a bike ride the last couple of days to the park where BH used to ride. We used to go to that park all the time, when we were kids, for lunchtime barbecues, or field trips from school. It's in the kind of green dale that you find around here, with friendly little hills crowding against one another, their forms echoing one another's, like brother and sister cats cuddling up for a snooze. Napa in the Wine Country has places like that, but since this isn't a tourist destination, we have them mostly to ourselves. The place was extra green today, because there was rain recently. I rode up to the top of one of the hills, and sat there alone for a while. The last time I had been up there, BH was still with us, but fading fast, and the Underture from The Who's Tommy came on my Ipod (that was one of his favorite songs, I think, from one of his favorite albums by one of his favorite bands, when we were growing up), so I'd sat there and had a moment with it. This time, I had no music with me. I'd felt so lethargic this week, it was nice to get out and do some pedaling, and get some air in my lungs, and speed at sunset down the hills BH used to ride down. I still feel as if I'm working through BH's death. It's strange, after a year with the deaths of two other people who had been in my life for so many decades, that is, my father and another friend of 40 years, I didn't think it would affect me so badly to lose BH. I was actually worried that it wouldn't--would I become insensitive, after a year like the last one? But it did affect me, all right.

Droid said...

And this may seem a trivial point, but though this may sound xenophobic:

>but since this isn't a tourist destination, we have them mostly to ourselves.

It isn't. Warm welcomes to anyone who comes here. I didn't want to leave the impression that I was one of those Californian tourist-haters. I'm proud to be from here, but I feel that everyone should be welcomed, as long as they bring good will to us here. We need it!

Anonymous said...


You've done a lot of folks a great service by posting your sensitive, detailed account of the service. Thank you.

So good that you are getting some exercise in a place where you and BH enjoyed yourselves as boys. I want to see that "stupid high school" some day!


Of course I'm a woman! But like BH, I fiercely protect my true identity. So I came to the service disguised as a man. I had to be careful not to sashay and made sure not to bat my eyes at Ron or Droid when they spoke up at the podium, but I don't think anyone suspected me.

The best part was checking the guys out at the urinals when I went into the stalls in the men's room. (I told people I had a little traveler's diarrhea so I could make frequent pit stops without raising suspicions.)

All you women out there will pleased to know that Ron and Droid are both fine men (if you know what I mean).


ronolulu said...

Thanks for posting the comments on the Service. I can't believe it is Thursday already. Janesist - what the heck are you talking about? :-)It was great to meet you both. And all the friends, family, colleagues, etc.

It was a long flight back to Honolulu. Something about being in a seat for 5 hours with nothing to do but reflect. I'm sure the young couple next to me wondered what I was listening to that had tears quietly running down my face (Alive by Pearl Jam, My Two Hands by Jack Johnson, and oh, just about anything else - I particularly love Michael Franti.)
I was pretty wrecked for a couple days, though at work. I guess it is a combination of losing a brother and having his time with dying take so long. Right to the core. Like others, it will take quite a while. I've been part of death before, but this is just harder. I had a filling done today on a tooth. It was a couple month process. The dentist, a fine lady, asked how I was doing. I was thinking 'so what if it hurts, it isn't as bad as what BH went through.'
While the image is grim, I'm so relieved that BH isn't stuck staring at his right nipple. Unable to lift his head. Barely able tomove his fingers. No strength in his limbs. A body that quit. That's what gets me. The vehicle broke down. The driver was no longer in the control. The wheels really had fallen off.

So tonight I'm playing Rock and Roll with the boys. Cranking it up loud. Then joining another couple friends for her birthday. I think we're eating some kind of mountain of chocolate. That worries me a little. And we'll carry on. But I don't plan to let go. Not too soon. Not for a long time

Droid said...

Well God bless, Ron. You were a great friend to him. And yes, this was harder than almost any other death I've seen.

Jansenist, thanks again. And no, don't worry--I don't think anyone mistook you for a woman! (Ron--what jansenist is talking about is that another of our posters upthread had said that she always thought he was a woman, for some reason.) Heh.

Anonymous said...

Droid and Ron -- Again, thanks for keeping us all posted and for such rich details about Brainy's service. It means a lot. Last night I dreamed I was at a concert, a nice concert. Don't know who the artist was. The music hadn't started and I was wandering around people watching. At some point, I looked up and saw a tall, slender, sandy-haired man talking about Brainy. Because of the anonymity issue, I wasn't sure what to say, but I knew it was Ron so I introduced myself and spoke of BH. You had such a nice boyish smile in my dream, Ron, and you were so kind. We had a nice conversation, and then the fine music started.
God Bless you both.