Chapters

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He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.

Bessie A Stanley

 

There are a number of versions of this poem, another attributed to Emerson, was read at my grandfather’s funeral and this one, at my father-in-law’s memorial service last weekend in Cape Canaveral.  I think it beautifully sums up what it means to have lived a great life.  And that there are many ways to do so.

Edward Dickinson’s Memorial Service was on on a warm but breezy Florida Spring morning at the very new Cape Canaveral National Cemetery, an impressive, expansive, but peaceful place where many a hero now, and in the years to come, will be laid to rest.  Ed served in the Air Force for 6 years before dedicating his life to teaching and it was this service that lead to the honor of being at the Cemetery.  A gathering of about 40 friends and family under a shelter here, with Ed’s favorite hymns being played before and after the service, made for a perfectly lovely and intimate final goodbye.  It was great that his four grandsons, Rory, Ben, Luke and Finn were able to be there along with many other family members and close friends.   Steve delivered his heartfelt eulogy and we also witnessed the Flag Ceremony and the playing of Taps.  Those currently serving and the veterans in the group were all invited to give a final salute.  Beautiful.

In the eulogy Steve remembered the day 33 years ago when Ed woke him up to tell him that his own father had died and “expressed his loss by saying that his father’s death was the end of a chapter in a greater book that was his life”.  Wise and true words that give us all pause for thought as we contemplate our own chapters and how people weave in and out of them.

There are few more important things in life than friendship, in my opinion.  Longtime and lifetime ones are surely the best and some of life’s richest gifts.  Ed and Polly are fortunate to have enjoyed and nurtured plenty.  Many of their dear friends were present on this day, a testament to the strength of their friendships.  There’s something to be said for having a Memorial Service a few months after someone has passed because the raw grief has lessened and healing, acceptance and peace have begun to settle in so the Service can truly be a Celebration of Life.

Afterwards, we all got in our cars and headed to one of Ed’s favorite places, Fishlips, to eat drink and reminisce.  Everyone there had been a part of one or many chapters in Ed’s life story.  Shockingly, I opted not to take pictures of food, although it was a delicious buffet and it was delightful sitting overlooking the Port with cruise ships in the background.  Instead of pictures of food, I took ones of people, far more important on a day like this, and while doing so picked up little pieces of other people’s stories…

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While looking out at the cruise ships, I reminisced with Tony, Polly’s next door neighbor about how we had all been on the Disney one, four years ago to the day celebrating Polly’s 70th birthday.  He responded with his own memory of how he’d been spoilt forever by the Disney cruise experience as he had been on one with the Make a Wish Foundation years ago with his wife Priscilla and their son before he tragically passed away at a very young age.  Whilst few of us go through life unscathed, that’s something I don’t think most of us could even begin to imagine experiencing but here he was talking about that memory on a day off he’d taken to honor Ed and just a little while later was joking around with Steve about Football teams.  He and his wife delight in raising their sweet daughter Olivia and as a family they have shown incredible kindness to Ed and Polly.

Don and Lee sought me out to introduce themselves and to tell me how much Ed loved me.  I was very touched.  I was also in awe of their retirement lifestyle, they live in a penthouse condo in NYC but also love the great outdoors and take camping trips, apparently very basic ones.  What a fascinating contrast!  They tried retiring to Florida but missed all that the big city had to offer.  I could quite happily retire to NYC, but the camping part?  Not this girl…

Cliff and Ellen, newer friends who are neighbors recalled Ed’s love of singing and said he used to serenade them with renditions of “Roll me over in the Clover” when giving them a ride to the airport often at 3am when they were off on another of the many cruises they take all over the world.   Longtime friends were there too, folks like the Allens who have decades of history with the Dickinsons that included many a camping adventure as well as cross country trips.  Polly’s brother Marc, and his wife Alison were also present.  They are true adventure heros in my book, eschewing  corporate life way, way before normal retirement age, quitting their jobs and selling everything they had in order to live on a boat and travel on it wherever they could.  They’ve picked up jobs all over the place and a few years ago, traded the boat for an RV so that they now travel on land.  They’re off to volunteer at a park in Colorado this summer and when asked if they have had any regrets, the response is “not for a second”.

Do you detect a theme here?  Ed had a sense of adventure and was surrounded by like minded people.  Even his cancer diagnosis 15 years ago didn’t stop him and last summer, he drove across country then went on an Alaskan Cruise to celebrate his 80th birthday.  Just 2 months later he passed away.  Talk about living life to the fullest right until the end.  His absence on this day was sorely missed.  Many people remarked about how much he would have loved it.

The rest of the weekend was spent doing things that we would always do with Ed.  We had a gorgeous walk on the beach….

We enjoyed the pool…

And I once again cooked in Polly’s kitchen and served food on her platter.  Roasted Salmon, Cod with a garlic and citrus panko crust with roasted asparagus, a salad of field greens and strawberries, and baguette….

Sundays have always been started with brunch at Fishlips, especially when all the snowbird friends are down for the winter months.  This Sunday was no different.  We arrived right at 10:00 am and the early birds had already secured tables out on the deck.  Is there a more pleasant way to to have Sunday brunch than on a deck on a perfectly sunny day, looking over the water?  I think not.  To add to the experience, mimosas are included in the price of your dish but are limited to four per person, five if you ask nicely!   Great company, food and of course, the setting.

I’m grateful that weddings, funerals and other such occasions bring people and memories together.  They give you a reason to think. Especially at funerals where you can look back at a life as a whole story and you realize how much can happen to a person in a lifetime.  It also gives you a chance for some self reflection.  How’s the current chapter in your own life going?  Are you fully engrossed and captivated?  Are you suffering from writer’s block?  Is it time to turn the page and start a fresh one?  Of course, we can plan and come up with drafts about what our next chapter might look like but life can throw some surprises in our path.  However, that’s all part of the adventure, right?  Talking of which….what’s Polly, now a widow going to do in this new chapter of her life, one without her constant companion of over 5 decades?  Sit at home?  Oh no, no, no…. the adventure continues because she went and bought herself this van and she’s heading off on a cross country trip!  May this new chapter of your life be healing, rewarding and enriching, dear Polly.  Happy trails!

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