Four funerals and a birthday

Shortly after I posted a note last week about the death of college roommate David DeCoursey, a high school classmate, Francine Gouvin Bernard, posted a comment: “Sorry for your loss, Mitch. It’s starting…”

Actually, Dave’s was the last of four funerals I attended in 2014, but Francine was right about something starting: Just as many of our younger housemates at BHFH find themselves heading out to weddings, Carol and I are showing up at more and more funerals.

Brian Mitchell and family (photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell)

Brian Mitchell and family (photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell)

The first was for my cousin, Brian Mitchell, who died July 3 at his home on Cape Cod. At lunch after the service, Brian’s widow, Judy, told us that he went out in a way that, had he been given a choice, he might have chosen: Sitting on the porch with his wife of 53 years, drinking a beer.

Brian was ten years older than me, and I wish I’d made a point of telling him what a life model he’d become for me in two important respects: Charting a path that fits, and having fun along the way.

That's Billy Bowles and the left and Remer Tyson on the right

That’s Billy Bowles and the left and Remer Tyson on the right

Carol wrote about the passing of Billy Bowles in an earlier post. Billy was 18 years older than me, and I learned some of journalism’s most important lessons from him on stories that remain some of the most memorable adventures I’ve ever been involved in. I wish I could link to our 1975 Detroit Free Press account of tracking down seven of the ten most dangerous escapees from Michigan’s institutions for the criminally insane. Unfortunately, we concluded our investigation without and before the Internet.

Perhaps Billy’s biggest gift (and flaw) as a newsman was his failure to come to grips with a line from the Lion King that was read at his memorial service: “There’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.” Like Carol, I find myself struggling to make peace with that harsh limitation.

My final two funerals of the year were celebrated for friends who, like Carol and me, were born in 1948 and celebrated 66th birthdays in 2014. In all those updates from the Social Security Administration over the years, 66 seemed like such a long way off. No longer.

Steve Burgard

Steve Burgard

Steve Burgard was a distinguished editor at the Los Angeles Times before returning home to Boston to head up the journalism program at Northeastern University. I’ll remember him as the best boss I never got to work for, as he hired me this past summer to teach a Northeastern course that begins later this month.

I didn’t know Steve well (we met five years ago while I was on a fellowship across the river), but I learned a lot from the stories told by friends and family at his funeral. Those stories got me thinking not so much about a big legacy as the small, everyday opportunities that life provides to reflect what really matters.

1969-70 roommates (Dave DeCoursey at top left)

1969-70 roommates (Dave DeCoursey at top left)

I learned of Dave DeCoursey’s death in a phone call from his daughter, Jan. Dave and I were among eight guys who lived together in 1969-70 and have managed, in fits and starts, to stay in touch ever since.

The timing and location of the services were challenging enough to prompt some soul searching about the nature of final farewells. Given my sense of whatever life may exist after death, it wasn’t Dave I was focused on in deciding whether to go or not. I thought it would be nice for Dave’s family if one or more of his college buddies were able to show up. (Phil Krill, in the middle of the second row in the photo at right, also made the trip.)

As it turned out, it was Dave’s family that bestowed the gift, helping me understand the value of all four funerals I attended this year.

In her eulogy, Jan DeCoursey said her Dad told her just before dying that he would always be with her. Of course, that’s a promise perhaps more frequently offered than fully received. But then Jan delivered the same message to those of us gathered in the massive nave of St. Josephat Church in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. “(Dave) is in you,” she told us, “and you are in him.”

In the nearly two weeks since Dave’s funeral, I’ve found that to be true. No strange visions, just a sense of connection and continuity that makes me very glad I was able to fly into Midway on a day of crazy holiday travel.

In its year-end “The Lives They Lived” issue this past Sunday, The New York Times Magazine headlined its print edition cover with an echo of that line from the Lion King: “One life is too short for doing everything.”

True enough. But as I head deeper into a time of life closer to the end of life, it’s Jan DeCoursey’s nine-word message that’s got my attention.

2 thoughts on “Four funerals and a birthday

  1. Bill,

    Beautiful and moving piece, and so very poignant. Thanks for sharing with us. All the best to you and Carol in the New Year!


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