I was sitting in the bar, on a long wall couch, next to a man my age, Canadian by choice, born in another hemisphere. He told me he hadn’t understood this North American thing of replacing a funeral with a celebration of life. Aren’t you supposed to cry? And cry and cry? With your brain flat lining and void?
He had felt this way right up until his brother’s funeral. With more than a thousand people in attendance. His brother was an artist and a musician. At his service, people produced guitars and other instruments. They asked the surviving mother: May we play? The mother paused, and thought of what her boy would have wanted. Yes, play. And they played at length, and it was beautiful. As they played, the mother did not flat line. She had room to reflect, to look, to see how so many people loved her son; to think what his life had meant to them. He had touched them.
My friend left his beer getting flat on the table as he explained that now, back in his old hemisphere, there are various celebrations of life these days. “It is OK,” he concluded.
Across the table from us was the surviving brother of a man we held dear. Precisely one week earlier, just after giving a terrific humorous speech, entitled, “Apparently I snore” complete with expressive arms to show how Fred Flintstone moves the blankets when he snores, Michael Cody sat down, breathed, and then slumped to one side. Heart attack. We all behaved well that night, and we didn’t save him. His soul went off, even as his heart pumped and his blood flowed. We did CPR. He never woke up again, spending some days in hospital. In the end, before his body went home to funeral, he donated his organs to save others.
My plastic driver’s license has a little heart to show that I will donate, and my paper health card is in my wallet with my sister signed as witness. “Donate all” I have said. Of course the dead must serve the living, and that means that living relatives can deny one’s request to donate, or so I am told, but let’s hope that they don’t.
Michael’s surviving brother Bob lives two time zones away. Visits are rare—just Christmas. He told us, just as he had told his mother, that our love and assistance to him, so unexpected, had softened him up, so that now things affected him more. He said that by attending our memorial at our toastmasters club, he had met people from different parts of his brother’s life. He wouldn’t have known how much his brother touched people. Back home, in old life, at church, his service was limited to passing the collection plate, but now he was going to serve more: He was changing his life.
What we toastmasters learned, since we normally saw Michael solely at our own club, was the gratitude of toastmasters regional leaders. They told us how Michael had helped them, how they had turned a profit at the annual downtown one-day leadership training conference, the year he ran it, for the first time in years. Michael was a highly competent man, whose day job had once involved flying in as a consultant—worth every penny of aviation fuel.
A sad, numb friend gave us a friend’s perspective: He explained that some one had told Michael he was “not enough” unless he owned his own business. So he bought into a franchise, resulting in long years of long hours… long, long hours. It wasn’t worth it, I agreed, as I listened with heavy heart. Michael, said his friend, put on a hundred pounds.
I used to see him with a too big belt. With the big end flopping down. Too big, only because he was using his belt was charting his progress in getting back to being the same size as his surviving brother. He never made it. When he crossed the river he was about age 59.
Let me say this: I was always glad to see Michael Cody DTM, (Distinguished Toastmaster—the highest award we have) and he was always glad to see me. I call that a good legacy.
I will be be absent from Free Fall for this Friday and the next.
~Our memorial ran for the entire second half of our meeting. Here is the Youtube
~Call me a Zen Buddhist, but it seems to me that if you “set your intention” to have folks always feel a little better for having been in your presence then, in good time, your results will always be positive.
At our very next meeting, although I would normally not sit anywhere near the middle, (I like to look across at people) I sat in Michael’s usual chair, front row center. And yes, somebody challenged me about my choice of seat. I reasoned: This ain’t the Ford Theatre, and this ain’t the fancy box seat of President Lincoln. The show goes on.
Coincidently, the next day, I ran into another member of my club in a coffee shop. He said he had been intending to sit in “Michael’s” chair, except that I beat him to it. He said, “Life goes on.”