Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Remembering Alan

Sunday, June 18, is Father’s Day.
I know, because the ads for Father’s Day are everywhere.
They are in my e-mail, on billboards, on the side of buses, in store windows, in magazines, in newspapers, on television, on the radio – there is nowhere one can hide from reminders of Father’s Day.
And every one of them feels like a stab in the heart.
My father, Dr. Alan Sherrod, died last summer, one month after Father’s Day. He was 89 and had been becoming more and more frail. Still, against all reason, his death caught us all by surprise. He was such a monumental figure in our lives that I guess we expected he would be there forever.
He had eluded death so many times. During World War II doctors told my mother to take him home to die when he contracted TB in the Army. But he fooled them, just as he fooled all the doctors who told us time and again to come home, because he was about to die from various heart problems, or cancer, or an aneurysm. He practiced medicine for nearly 50 years, played saxophone in a jazz band, raced sport cars, traveled the world with my mother and loved life to the hilt. He cheated death for so long that I guess we thought he always would.
As we’ve moved through the months since his death, grief has traveled with us. The journey is a familiar one to any person who has lost someone they love – the first day after the death, the first week, month. His birthday. Their wedding anniversary – it would have been their 63rd year together. The first Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter without him were especially hard.
At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has offered prayers and rites for remembering the departed among Liturgies for Rites of Passage, saying, “The service for The Burial of The Dead focuses on the bereaved, offering a public gathering in which to lament. It also opens the prospect of growth in the hope of resurrection. . . Our Christian faith assures us that death does not sever the bonds of love, but that our relationships live in faith and hope until the day when we will see God face to face in the presence of those we love who went before us.”
The prayers and collects are “for particular anniversaries making the journey of grief’s healing.”
There are prayers for a week, a month and year after death; for Coming Home Without a Departed Loved One; for Giving Away Belongings of a Departed Loved One; for Visiting a Graveside; for The Birthday of a Departed Loved One; On Visiting the Site Where a Loved One was Last Encountered; On Grieving a Violent Death; and For a Child Who Dies by Violence.
With the exception of the last one – which I also appreciate – my mother and my brothers and I would have benefited from these prayers as we moved through our grief. It often is a lonely journey. We would have felt comforted by the thought that the Church was moving with us.
These prayers will help make that happen for all grieving families.
As for my family, on July 12, we will pray this prayer:
A Year After Death
God of the living, you are the Way, the Truth and the Life; we have lived a year without Alan.Throughout the time of the turning earth, sun and moon, you have shown us signs of your wonders: the Christmas star of Bethlehem, Easter's empty tomb, and the tongues of Pentecost fire, which speak of your glory and goodness to all creation. We have counted days of sorrow, laughter and endurance in our journey through grief's stages. Now we declare that even though we still feel bruised by the pain of our loss, life continues. You give us yourself in moments of grace, transforming us through your love. We thank you for the distance you have brought us during our year of healing, and ask you to help us become ever more whole in years to come. Keep Alan present in our hearts, and may we honor his memory, embracing each new day with courage and faith, through Christ, in the Spirit, we pray. Amen.