A Long December

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Earl was a widower I visited regularly in Texas. He was a staunch Republican who had been a successful businessman and also loved theology. He was always working on some research or paper. He would often give me books to read after he was done with them. He had a brilliant mind and he loved the Lord. He never missed going to chapel services and liked to help lead the singing.

I had been in Texas for about four years when Earl’s health started declining quickly. Within the span of a few weeks he went from being active in many activities at his assisted living facility to being bedridden and incoherent.

He and his wife had no children – he had one niece who would come visit him when she could and she handled his affairs. Years before he had given her all the plans for his funeral down to the final detail. Earl was not leaving his funeral preparations up to anyone except himself.

The last couple weeks of his life he spent in the nursing home, sleeping. Every time I went to town I would stop to visit him. Often, I would read some scripture and then just sit there with him for a while in the late afternoon light. He had told me often he was ready to go “when the good Lord was ready” for him. It was a peaceful thing for me to sit there with him and spend those hours with him. In a way, it felt right – because I knew how much his pastors and his churches, especially mine – where he had grown up and then returned to in his old age – meant to him. It sort of felt like the least I could do – to just sit with him a bit when there was no one else left who could.

I’ve done funerals for a few people who outlived most of their friends and didn’t have children. One lady at my internship had only a great niece at her funeral as her sole living relative. Her pallbearers were men we recruited from the church. Another graveside service I did was for a woman who had been in a nursing home for many years and had no family at all. The only people in attendance were me, the funeral director, and two workers from the nursing home. One doesn’t forget moments like that and at least pause a bit to wonder what your own funeral will be like. Who will care? Who will cry? Who will be there?

Earl had a graveside service a couple hours away and he was buried next to his wife in a Presbyterian cemetery. It was a rainy December day. An elderly woman who had been the nursing home chaplain and Earl’s friend for many years rode with me to the service and we went out for lunch afterward.

I wonder if Earl knew I was there those afternoons I would read him scripture and sit quietly with him? I will always wonder if he could hear me as I prayed out loud for him. It always used to be that when I would pray for Earl, he would insist on praying for me as well before I left, so in those last days when he was unresponsive, it felt very silent when I would say “Amen.”

A Long December

by the Counting Crows

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leavin’
Now the days go by so fast
And it’s one more day up in the canyons
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
If you think that I could be forgiven…I wish you would
The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl
And it’s one more day up in the canyons
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
If you think you might come to California…I think you should
Drove up to Hillside Manor sometime after two a.m.
And talked a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower,
Makes you talk a little lower about the things you could not show her
And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass
And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean…I guess I should


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