Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A letter of farewell

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We were a family of five boys and two girls who lost both parents — Dad at 42 and Mom at 48. A few weeks ago, we lost a brother, David Rogers Lyons. He was 60.

An automobile accident at age 20, while in the U.S. Navy, left Dave a paraplegic. At his funeral service, I said farewell with a letter, excerpted below:

Dear Dave,

When the news came that your heart had stopped, I could not help but think how many days over the past 40 years you and that heart had to pull yourselves together just to function the next 24 hours. You were a warrior, every day summoning up the inner strength to keep going — through bed sores, pneumonia, infections, collapsed lungs and a failing heart.

Eventually, your body wore out, your heart pumped its last drop of life, but, not because you gave up.

It took more than courage to go on. You had your own spiritual center, your own pathway to God. And I know from our conversations that at times it was this spiritual force that sustained you.

When we first spoke of God, years ago, your religion was very different from mine and it seemed my obligation to convince you of the merits of a family faith rooted in Methodist churches in small Michigan towns.

Remember how every Sunday morning Mom would send us upstairs to put on those heavily starched white shirts ironed so religiously. We would go in our bedroom, close the door and just wad the heck out of those shirts before we put them on. To this day when I go to the cleaners I insist, ‘‘Light on the starch, please.”

I remember an important moment in our talks when you spoke about rising one morning, looking at the red sun, meditating and experiencing the spirit of God. You said, ‘‘It was real, man. It was beautiful.”

I stopped trying to convert you to my faith. I now know we were looking at the same sun and seeking the same God who was bigger than our religions. So, Dave, I hope your spirit is soaring and that the God who sustained you on this earth has welcomed your big smile to your eternal home.

Your passing brings to mind memories of our boyhood years ... how on rainy days we used to lean back over the banister on the front porch of the house on MacArthur Street in Corunna with our mouths open and catch the drips off the roof; how we rode our bikes down that long winding handicap ramp of the Methodist Church across the street; and how we made a circle in the winter snow in the side yard with paths that cut across the middle and chased each other for hours playing a game called fox and geese.

Tragically, life restarted itself in August of 1955. We were playing in the living room in our pajamas and Dad had left for work. There was this big crashing sound and we ran and jumped onto the couch and tried to look out the window down the street at the accident that claimed Dad’s life. Our lives were changed forever.

We moved to Owosso and lived on top of each other in that small house on Williams Street, but thanks to Mom’s hard work at Dilly Donuts, those Aid to Dependent Children checks, and the benevolence of Dr. E.R. McKnight, we survived.

When you went off to the Navy, for the first time it seemed you had found a place where you could be David Rogers Lyons; no longer my younger brother. You ended up in the medical corps and had a gift for medicine and science. We all knew about your sharp wit, but your sort of Dennis the Menace childhood cloaked your brilliance.

And, then an automobile accident changed your life. You lost the use of your legs and Mom, after spending months at your side at the naval hospital in Virginia, finally returned to Michigan where in a few months she died of cancer.

You moved around the country but finally ended up in California where you pursued your dream of making it as a manager in the music recording industry. In those hours of conversation on the telephone, I often had a hard time seeing past the financial hardships that came with your dream. It seems clear to me now, Dave, that pragmatism and dreaming are not always compatible. But, this world is nothing without its dreamers; there is no dreaming without defeats and no tomorrow without possibilities.

So, farewell, my brother. You have now moved far beyond dreams and we pray you are at peace. So, farewell, my brother. We love you. We miss you. And, as you liked to say, ‘‘You’re beautiful, man.”

Chuck Lyons is chief executive officer of The Gazette.