“… Say it loud
Say it clear
You can listen
As well as you hear
It’s too late
When we die
To admit we don’t see
Eye to eye…”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Standing room only.
The very same temple in which Andy had graced the piano and made many a joyful noise – was now filled to capacity with his dearly beloved.
Family, friends, co-workers, and musical acquaintances alike had all gathered to celebrate his richly-lived life and pay their final respects.
Souls entered the gravity of the sanctuary that afternoon softly and slowly.
Some attempted anxious fragments of small talk, but most hearts anchored heavily in the mournful silence.
Almost every eye raining tears of both grief and relief – as is often the case at funerals for the terminally ill.
But this was unlike any other I’d ever witnessed.
The dearly departed had not actually departed yet.
He was arriving.
It was crystal clear, as the paramedics wheeled Andy’s eerily frail 53-year-old body into the synagogue – he was very much in his final descent.
Most in attendance that December day had spent the previous 3 and half years watching pancreatic cancer slowly diminish the tempo and volume of Andy’s body.
None more than his bride of 30 years and his two teenage daughters – who were front and center, as the paramedics rested Andy’s bed beside the piano.
Cancer had seemed to rob him of everything – except the joy of his spirit.
The piano had been his refuge in the last of his living years. Medicinal, both for him and for we who had the pleasure to play alongside him.
Andy had always made music look so effortless. The untrained eye would have been shocked to learn the complexity of his phrases and voicings, because the most evident elements of his playing were joy and love.
He always looked like he was having the time of his life when he played.
So, it was fitting that what would likely be his last time in that space would be spent in that spot.
I remember Andy’s smile being brave and genuine that day. You could tell he was at rest – and that he’d made peace with his sealed fate.
And he was still cracking jokes.
‘Good to see you’, I’d whispered to him at some point before the service started.
‘Oh, I wouldn’t miss this for the world’, he offered through a coy smile.
And that was Andy.
For the next few hours, a handful of Andy’s loved ones stepped forward.
One by one, they were able to look into his eyes, and share laughs with him as they told all the old stories.
They shared tears with him as they read him his eulogy. And confessed to him the great impact he’d had on their lives. How much of a difference he’d made in their narratives.
They said all the things they would’ve said after he was dead – except he was alive to receive those gifts. To smell the flowers while he was living.
We played all the music he’d meticulously planned for his funeral, and he was able to hear every note – and every rest.
On the jazz pieces (new melodies he’d composed for traditional Jewish prayers), no one played piano – because really, no one could play piano like Andy.
At the end, he spoke eloquently into the lapel mic resting on his chest (he was too weak to sit up). He quietly thanked everyone, and gave us some parting gifts of wisdom and whimsy.
One by one, almost every soul in attendance waited to offer him a handshake or hug before they made their exits.
I don’t remember what I said to him. Nothing profound, if memory serves. I think I just smiled and wished him well – knowing full well that it was the last time I’d see him alive.
I remember driving home with the image of his widow-to-be and daughters.
Lamenting the tragedy of it all.
I also remember thinking what a blessing it had been for him to have been able to say everything he wanted to say. To be able to hear all his heart had desired to hear before he went gently into his goodnight.
He’d had three and half years to connect all the dots. Mend fences. Forgive and be forgiven. Speak the fullness of his truth to the world – his legacy.
He’d left it all on the field.
And when I learned of Andy’s death a few weeks later, there was joy inside my tears.
I’d said everything I’d wanted to say to him.
As had he, to me – not the least of which were the heartfelt words he wrote to Sarah and I just after our miscarriage that September (while he himself was dying).
A great many of us will die suddenly (subito) – with a to-do list.
Up to our eyes in things unspoken, unfinished, unbalanced, unsolved, unresolved, and unknown.
Affirmations that we’d been meaning to offer. Truths we’d been trying to get up the courage to say out loud. Fences we’d been thinking about mending.
In my experience, the souls who seem the most ‘undone’ at funerals are often the ones who left the most unsaid.
Their elegant elegies falling upon now deaf ears. Saying all the things in death that they could not bring themselves to say in life.
I had the gift playing bass for Yom Kippur services Wednesday in that same sanctuary. I think of Andy every time I’m there – but even more so in this season of confessing innermost (and sometimes inconvenient) truths, in the spirit of atonement and renewal.
I happened upon Andy’s widow playing some piano alone in one of the temple’s social halls. Her eyes were joyful, having just dropped off the youngest of their two daughters at college. She shared her travel plans (courtesy of the newly empty nest), and we shared some old Andy stories – and some pretty loud laughter.
I’ve said all of the above to say this –
Say it out loud.
Clearly. While you still have tempo and volume.
Say everything to your loved ones that you would say about them at their funeral – now.
I try to live each day as if I might die that night – because I really might. Someday I will pass away – and then, it’s too late.
In my understanding, the life process is eternal. But each life is short.
Many of us will not have 3 and a half years to tie up our loose ends.
So – consider giving others their flowers while they can still smell them.
Say now what you might otherwise only say in their eulogy.
You never know when they (or you) will lose life.
So why not play your grand finales in this mo(ve)ment?
What do you have to lose?