Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Life Well Lived

On Saturday, June 6, we gathered to remember Terry at the country place of friends Sara and John Trittipo. Terry made me promise there would be no traditional funeral, but he had listed things to include. There should be a bagpiper (playing "Amazing Grace"), it should be by water and there should be fire. Terry told me that what he really wanted was a viking funeral, so we adapted the concept to include his ashes on a small water vessel on a pond in this idyllic countryside.

My sister, Heather Kish, worked very hard to coordinate the events that weekend; our friends and family were eager laborers to bring it all together.

More than 150 people joined us, writing their good wishes and funny memories in the guest book. At 8:45 pm, the bagpiper led the way as Terry's brothers, Tim and Dave, carried the little boat that held Terry's ashes, along with reeds and grasses to help it burn. Behind them, I held hands and walked with Dale, Jace, Ed and Joan (Terry's parents); everyone followed us. When we were all gathered at the water's edge, Rev. David McDonald (friend and Phi Psi brother) spoke: he helped us remember Terry's humor, grace, and loyalty while also honoring his life and legacy.

As we listened, my brother-in-law Steve Kish helped Dale and Jace into a metal rowboat at the dock. Tim and Dave handed them the small boat with Terry's ashes and the three men headed to the middle of the pond. Just before sunset, Dale and Jace placed the boat in the water and lit small torches that they laid on the grasses. It lit right away and cast a beautiful reflection on the darkening water. The bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" and, for a full five minutes, we watched the pyre float along the perfectly still water and listened to the music.

When the fire burned out and the boat fell beneath the water's surface, Rev. McDonald closed the service and we all made our way back to the bonfire up the hill. People embraced and wept, some lingered to watch the water and the beautiful surroundings.

We lit candles and gathered in lawn chairs around the roaring blaze. The rest of the evening was filled with stories about Terry, humorous memories of his antics, and the Phi Psi brothers in attendance singing "Amici," the Fraternity song. Our friend's dog Lupen barked and jumped during the entire song, prompting several of us to insist that Terry had found a way to join us after all.

On Sunday, June 7, we held Terry's Party: he had always insisted that there should be fun and celebration, not tears and sadness. So we celebrated Terry's life by including things he loved in a place he loved. At the Woodruff Place Town Hall (the gathering spot for our neighborhood), we hosted more than 300 friends and family with sushi, karaoke, and Maker's Mark (the true bourbon).

Dale and Jace played a few songs with The Key Strummers, a children's ukulele band that Dale first joined in fourth grade. Here is a shot of Dale during his solo, "I Like Mountain Music." The guests looked at Terry's life in photographs and shared stories and anecdotes for more than three hours.

For the more mature attendees, there was a CD of out-takes from an audio recording Terry had made a few years ago. The finished product was used at an SPJ awards banquet; the leftover cursing and screw-ups were captured on CD with a backdrop of lively music. In a word: hi-larious.

The kids kicked off karaoke about 8:30 and soon everyone was joining in. Several people asked where we got the karaoke machine; my answer: from our living room. We use it regularly in our family of hams! It was great fun to see Terry's spirit come alive on stage through renditions of Jon Bon Jovi, Frank Sinatra, and everything in between.

We closed the night back at our house with the last 20 or so people lighting sparklers in a circle on our front lawn. We burned 100 sparklers continuously, until the last box was empty. It was a great way to end the celebration of a life that burned brightly and was extinguished far too soon.