Sunday, February 13, 2011

Another Farewell


As I mentioned last week, this Tuesday we celebrated the Funeral Mass of our Brother Cecil. He actually died about 3 weeks ago, but in recent years the funeral of one of our brothers has been somewhat separated from the actual time of death. Immediately after our brother has died the community has its own observances; we sing the Office of the Dead for one entire day and have a simple Requiem celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and we do our own reminiscing. The funeral is then set on a day that gives friends and family a chance to get themselves together and arrange transportation, and it has become increasingly important to be able to find a day when the Guesthouse isn't completely filled and we have room for those who are coming from a distance.

Cecil was 80 years old and, like so many brothers at the present time, he had come to the Order after a full life of work and family. He was from Texas and Arkansas, and loved that part of the country dearly. He had a Masters Degree in Library Science and worked as a college librarian both before and after he entered the Community, and had held other clerical jobs as well. He had married and had a family - a daughter and 3 sons of whom 2 are still living. Those who spent time with him here when he came to West Park knew very well how important his family was to him and how deeply he felt any alienation or brokenness between himself and them, and how hard he worked to overcome such wounds.

Cecil had most of his formation in the Order on the West Coast, in the days when the novitiate was located in Santa Barbara, and he came to West Park only later on. When he was here he served as Librarian, and also ran the Bookstore for a time. He also had a period of service in West Africa, when we were still in Ghana, and helped organize the Library for the Seminary in Cape Coast with which we had a good deal of association.

Then in his later 70's Cecil had a space of a number of years when his health began to diminish. Several years ago he recognized that the time had come when he was having increasing difficulties living in this location and that caring for him was proving to be steadily more difficult. After a period of discernment he moved, with his own agreement, to a nursing home. After some time he relocated to a facility that was about 10 minutes from the monastery, which made visiting with him much easier. Br Lary faithfully visited with him each week and others of us dropped in on him when we were in the neighborhood. He was also able to have occasional visits with us here, especially at the time of the great feasts. We came to know his daughter Sara especially well during her visits to him during those years, and also became acquainted with his sons.

The funeral was a really fine occasion, and was one of the most intimate of these events that I can remember. All of his children were here, of course, and his sister, who is 8 years older than he, called that morning to express her sorrow at his passing and her gratitude to the community for his years with us.

Br David Bryan, our former Superior, came from Toronto to preach the homily, and it was exactly right for the occasion. It was gentle and also realistic. It was quite honest, and very graciously so. He spoke of the Cecil that we had actually known, and of the love of Christ that transforms us. It's hard to Imagine any sermon for Cecil that could have been better.

The attendance was not large, as one expects for the funeral of someone in their 80's, but it was a very personal occasion. I could identify every single person there, and knew why they had come. Besides Cecil's family, and our community, there were several of our local clergy, who had known him or who came to be a support to the community, and this included one priest who had been a regular visitor and counselor to Cecil after he entered the nursing home. There were 3 men from a 12-step group that Cecil belonged to, who had never lost touch with him and who occasionally had their meetings in the nursing home, which he greatly appreciated. There was a woman from the Church of the Messiah in Rhinebeck who is a Eucharistic Minister and who brought communion to him every week. One of our Associates from New Jersey who was a particular friend of his was able to come. And Sister Mary Klock of the Sisters of Mercy, and Fr Tony Cayless, who have both been Residents of our community also came, Tony from North Carolina and Mary from Philadelphia.

Cecil's children all came forward at the time of the Committal at the end of the Eucharist and each of them had a bit to say, just in testimony of their life with their father. Then Robert, our Superior, gave his ashes to them to carry back to Arkansas. Most of us are buried in the Columbarium here at West Park, but Cecil had a great desire to rest in his family's plot in Arkansas and we agreed that it would be good for that to happen. Cecil's plaque will join those of the few who are buried in other places, either where they ministered for many years or where their families are buried.

And so we bid farewell to one of Holy Cross' most colorful characters. And of course we don't bid farewell at all. His presence will linger with us in our choir, in the refectory and in our halls. This is a place of history, among other things, and those who have gone before are very much a part of the life of Holy Cross.

Before I sign off, I also wanted to make sure you noticed the link to the MyAuntMarty blog, written by a recent guest and old friend of Br Bernard. She is spending a year eating in a different place each day for a year and writing about each experience, with an eye to producing a book about her experiences.

We had a wonderful supper with Marty this week when those of us at the table with her shared her experiences of the journey so far and then also heard from another guest who happened to be sitting with us of his bicycle journey from Seattle to Washington DC about which he is also writing a book. It was one of the most fun and stimulating meals I've had in a long time. I think you'll enjoy her reflections on the meals here and her time with Edward, our chef. I certainly did.

1 comment:

Jeff Lowry said...

Thank you for your remembrance of Br. Cecil. My first retreat at West Park was the spring before you moved back. Bro. Cecil and I had several good talks.

Thank you also for remem-bering Robert (guesthouse visitor). Robert reminds me a bit
of a man in the parish I went to some 20 years ago. Coincidentally,
his name was Robert. This Robert was older, lived in a privately run group home. He rode his three-wheeled bike to church even in the bad Iowa winters. Bob loved being in the choir. There were many reasons to not bother with him.
He had ill-fitting dentures, he had a definite speech impediment
and his gait was very awkward. He had a sense of humor. Instead of
telling you he was from Maine - he said he was a "Maine-iac". When
Bob died those who notified the church used his first name and no one knew him at the church by that name. It turns out that he also had cancer. Thinking of him participating in the processional and going up the steep set of stairs to the choir pews week in and week out; under the ravages of treatment or none at all... His funeral was attended by few.
There were four or five from his group home, with the home owner
explaining to the residents that
The Episcopal Church "is kind of like the Baptists"... Then there was the Assistant Priest and myself. RIP George Robert "Bob"
Armstrong,

Thank you, Bro. Bede!
Jeff,a/OHC