So there I am, second row, behind the family, the paternal grandmother of the boy to my left, the maternal grandfather of the boy to my right, the mother, there she is, one chair forward, the four surviving brothers to her right, and where is the father? He’s up there about to speak.
When he’s done, it’s all I can do to not stand and applaud…
Was – Is – Always
His name was Peter, his name is Peter, he’ll always be Peter, he’ll always have his name and his place.
It was supposed to be sad. If all you have in the kitchen is died-at-sixteen, the it’s-not-supposed-to-be of parents burying children, the whole JustLikeThat ambush of it all, what meal could you cook from those ingredients except sadness?
The grandfather to my right, he’s fighting to open a little package of tissues, just in case; I have mine already open, so I hand him half. They count 700 cars in the parking lot, plus school buses. The floor is filled, the balcony is filled, they’ve got people in satellite rooms, it’s a community tragedy, and most of them arrived ready to wet some tissues too.
God cooked a different meal. It was as water-into-wine as anything I’ve ever experienced.
Let There Be Music
The father is on stage, playing an instrument. One of the brothers, guitar and vocals. It’s the whole David-before-he-was-King-David thing, talking to God through music, especially when you don’t have words. We’re seated, but upon first note she stands, Stacy, the mother. There’s something Alpha about her, power in her dignity, power in her silence, and now power in her action; we all follow her lead, and stand. The music feels More. The lyrics line up like honor guard soldiers…
The four surviving brothers with the one syllable names, Jack, Sam, Ben, Hank, speak of their two syllable brother. Still on the boy end of manhood, there they are, one after the other, composed, solid, quality times four, each speaking about the brother who liked to talk the most, and had lost his voice along with his life.
We’re into the service now. There’s been songs, the boys have spoken, instead of Less the audience feels More. And now, rising from his seat is the father of Peter Atwood Webb. Let’s see how this goes…
Jim On The Occasion Of Peter’s Funeral
Right off, he speaks to his sons, “I’m so stinkin’ proud of you.” We agree. The boys reflect the parents; the parents reflect the boys; the occasion reflects the inner of the family All.
And now, the father looks at us. And we look at him. He’s about to speak.
Jim isn’t a big guy. 5’6, 5’7 maybe. Measuring the inner man, is best measured in reactions.
There he was, he tells us, running the chains at the Friday night high school football game. Got two boys playing. Play over, whistle blows, one son is on the ground. Those attending to him wave Jim over, “I knew then that it wasn’t good.”
It got worse.
We imagine the blur. Ambulance. Fast to the hospital. Then wait. Pace. Pray. Hug. That particular helplessness. Pray more.
And now we’re back to him speaking, it’s the doctors, multiple, sharing the burden of bad news breaking, a blur of words that include Brain Dead and Nothing We Can Do.
His posture changes as he recalls this moment. He’s looking for the words, just like he did back a Friday ago, and now we hear this man speak of the moment, “So I said, ‘What do we do with that?!’”
And Now, He Earns Our Awe
Just days ago, organ donor forms, yet here the father is, in so little time, gone ahead, to scout the path, like a leader would.
Don’t waste time on Why’s. You’ll never get an answer.
He leads us to C. S. Lewis, “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” Looks over his glasses, “Pain is what we sign up for when we love someone.”
Last family vacation, Wyoming, these ridges, watersheds, same cloud, same rain, some drains west, some drains east. “Our family had a watershed moment. It’ll change us forever. It better change us, or all this pain is wasted.”
He’s straight shooting his family – and us – “We were promised suffering. It’s part of the program.” Instead of asking why, ask two other questions – How and What. “How shall we live? How shall we change? How shall we grow?”
As for what, “What are we supposed to do with this?”
He now directly speaks to his family. “I told the boys, ‘I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t understand. One thing I do know – we’re going to make it through together.”
He addresses his wife, “You’re the one and only love of my life. We didn’t realize that we were signing up for this. Yet here we are, side by side. And that’s how it’s gonna remain. God is going to make our marriage stronger.”
He turns to the boys. “What are you gonna do with Peter’s death? This is a watershed moment in your lives. You get to choose how this changes you. Do not let it harden you.
“Mom and I love you fiercely. We love you no matter what you do. We’re on your team and we’ll never leave your side.”
It’s a man talking to his sons, not as the boys they are now, but to the future men they’re soon to be. It’s true leadership. The words, the eye contact, the certainty, it’s all I can do to stay still in the row behind his intended audience. It’s all truth, even bad truth, and it’s all We, a family turning into a team against a common foe. They, we, all of us, we believe him, that he is up to the job of what this family needs. He understands one-day-at-a-time, the power of the little victory, and that’s what they’ll do.
When it was over, he walked down the steps. It was silent. If I have one regret, it’s that I fought my urge to not just clap, but to rise from my seat and applaud. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this…
It was a short talk, but thick. It was wider than he knew. There he was, showing his sons what a man was, what a husband was, what a father was, how quality reacts to loss, how a Christian walks his faith. I wonder if he realized how many eyes were on him, everybody, an entire community seeing what I was seeing, that This was rare, This was worthy of aspiring to, This was possible.
This death changes the family. It’ll speed up maturity. It’ll make for tougher. With his leadership, the family will head towards a substance and depth that only grows in loss. These four boys, they’ll be fathers one day, and then grandfathers. Long after Jim is gone… this time ‘n test will hold its place of honor. This substantial moment will be their Aim For.
As for Peter, his donated organs will save, improve, allow. As for his spirit, let us hold to faith, that Christianity always has a To Be, in this case, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to the mysteries of God. On the one hand we are fragile like an eggshell. Other times we find out that we have a steel yolk.
We truly are, fearfully and wonderfully made…
Uncle P can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.