Dear Family and Friends,
Last night I made by myself a big batch of the marinara spaghetti sauce Francis and I used to make together. It was a bitter-sweet experience to open the cans and put in the spices -- his part, as well as cut up the onions – my part. But I wanted to choose one of Francis’ favorite recipes to use for the special dinner and anniversary ritual Lynn, Lee, Rowan and I have been planning for some days to initiate tonight as an annual tradition: a gathering around the Japanese Stuartia tree where I would say a few words.
While the sauce was simmering (This authentic Italian recipe, a tradition my parents, calls for 5-6 hours of slow cooking,) I emailed: “Dear Lynn and Lee, I trust that when we gather outside with candles tomorrow night, around the Pepere/Francis tree, what I plan to say will be accessible to Rowan. It represents exactly what I feel and want to say, but in a child’s vocabulary (I think.) Agreed?” They agreed
So just after our spaghetti & homemade sauce dinner this evening we four plus a close friend walked out into the dark with our lighted candles (dusty pink 100% bees wax candles we’ll use every year,) and circled Francis’ tree. Rowan placed at its foot a large beautiful specially selected seashell, and I spoke out into the night something close to what I wrote last night:
Dear Francis, -- be-loved Francis,
*One year ago very late on this night, you died. That’s why we’re here, -- Rowan, Lynn and Lee, and our longtime friend Nicki. We are your loved ones standing here around your Francis tree, your Pepere tree, holding candles on this first anniversary of your death.
*We miss you terribly, but we come to celebrate love that never dies. We love you and you love us. In fact our love keeps on growing – just like this tree that will slowly grow very tall and wide.
*We also come to celebrate because you don’t have pain in your back anymore.
*And you can go anywhere now, just like the dragonfly** that winged off happily in its wonderful new world of sun and air.
*Since you can go anywhere, you live in our hearts, -- in the hearts of those you love, and in the hearts of those who love you. So we can ask you to help us whenever we need help.
*Because we are like the waterbugs that still live under water, we don’t know where you went. But we will find out when we join you someday.
*Right now, though, we want to live our lives just as fully as you lived yours. We want to spread around love to other people the way you did.
Then we sang the chant I sing every day: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, for love is (more) strong than death” (Song of Songs 8:6). Rowan stood on the other side of the tree’s slim trunk and delicate branches bearing buds in readiness for spring. Since I was holding for others the melody they were quickly learning from me, I was grateful for Rowan’s heartwarming, sweet, smiling face. It’s she and her clear voice which prevented mine from cracking.
** I highly recommend Water Bugs and Dragonflies, Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney. It’s a most apt fable alluding to what St. Paul called,
-- in I Corinthians 15:44 -- our “spiritual body.”