56, too early

The text message showed up on the evening of Saturday, November 23. Unfortunately, the words were a sad, out of the blue jolt. 

Back in the summer, a nice young couple, Phillip and Rachel, moved into the house beside us on our west side.  The text reported that Phillip’s mother had died.

She was 56. We all know this was way too early to jump up above. 

Yet, life has a way of giving us these unpredictable, unwanted, unfair intrusions, and those of us who are still hanging around have one question—why?

It is a small world. A few years ago, Phillip, his mother, younger siblings, and stepfather lived in the house beside us on our east side.

To make the world even smaller, our son and his wife purchased their first house from Phillip and his wife this past summer too.

We had lost track of Phillip when he graduated from high school. Eventually, his family moved out from next door.

I remember when Phillip was scouting the house on our west side that he wanted to purchase. He brought his mother by to take a look at it.

 I hadn’t seen Phillip and his mother in years. But, I could sense right away Phillip’s passion for returning to the neighborhood, and this was despite my gentle warning that the house would need lots of work. At the same time, I picked up his mother’s wholehearted support of him in the pursuit of the house.

Phillip’s zeal worked, their proposal was accepted. Throughout the summer and into the early fall—a flurry of frenzied activity took place just about every day. The house was being transformed in and out, and on some of those days—Phillip’s mother was present. 

Her presence was both physical and emotional support. Remodeling a tired house can wear a person down, and I suspect Phillip’s mother was just the right cheerleader in some of those moments.

The memorial service for Phillip’s mother took place on Tuesday, November 26. My wife and I planned to attend.

On Monday afternoon, I saw Phillip for just a minute as he was talking with another neighbor at the end of his driveway. I wanted to let him know that if he and Rachel needed anything, all they had to do was just call or knock on our door. While conversing with our neighbor, Phillip was full of tears and emotions. I knew Tuesday’s  memorial service would be tough for him and the family.

The afternoon of November 26 was a bonus day with the weather. A mild temperature, soft blue sky, and patches of color from the annual changing of the leaves filled out the landscape along Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

Inside the Sanctuary, the magnificent old wooden pews filled quickly. This was our first visit to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

The memorial service was constructed around eulogies, hymns, Episcopal liturgy, scripture, a homily, and communion.

I always admire when a family finds the courage to share their stories about a lost loved one. Those stories come straight from their hearts. And, I’ll go ahead and say, sometimes those insights are more powerful than the words of the presiding pastor.

For this service, there were three eulogists. 

Each was special, but Phillip’s words about his mother were as stunningly beautiful as his mother. Between his tears, quick gasps to catch a breath, and tiny pauses to attempt to steady himself, Phillip delivered an unforgettable tribute to his mother. It was the perfect blend of raw emotions, stories, and humor.

He captured everything about her. But, most important were the life lessons she shared with him. Those difficult lessons, those motherly conversations, her perspectives stuck to him. Clearly, Phillip was molded and shaped by her. I am certain those essential character guides for life will never depart him. 

In the homily, the pastor basically acknowledged he could not equal the words from the eulogists. But to his credit, he did two things exceptionally well. 

He carefully explained the communion protocols, and made clear that everyone— no matter our religious convictions was welcome to participate. 

And then at the very end of the service, the pastor thanked everyone in attendance. He noted this packed Sanctuary was a real tribute to Phillip’s mother and her family. Love had prevailed.

As long as I live, I will forever remember the closing sentence in his mother’s obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It stated:  “In memory of Cathleen, her family would be honored if you would be kind to someone who needs it.”

With Thanksgiving in my rearview mirror, and Christmas barreling down on me there could not be a more timely reminder. 

I just wonder how much better I might become as a person if I looked to be kind to someone in need beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Clearly, I need to go and find out.

How about you?

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