Rest in peace, dear friend

My friend might have left this life by the time you read this. Last evening at choir rehearsal I learned that he is in hospice care, at a beautiful, restful place a few miles from his home. Many years ago, Jeff left his practice as an orthopedic surgeon in Buffalo, New York, and moved with his wife, Cindy, to our town in North Carolina. Maybe he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease there in Buffalo, and that prompted him to retire and move to this university town in the south. Maybe not. Maybe he and Cindy simply felt ready for a change.

They came to our church and immediately plunged into its active programs. An above-average tenor, he joined the choir. At a rehearsal one Wednesday evening, he spotted a walking boot on the choir director’s foot and inquired about her injury. The boot was uncomfortable, she said, so he took a look. It’s the wrong kind of boot, he declared, and suggested that she see a different doctor to correct the problem.

Later, at a year-end choir party, I complained about the chronic osteoarthritis that was bothering my hips. I can cross my left foot over my right leg, but not my right over my left, I told him. Jeff smiled and told me to stop crossing my legs, period. Now that’s a tall order, but it’s good advice, he insisted.

Jeff took justified pride in his delicate wood carvings, precise, graceful renderings of birds native to North Carolina.

For many years, printed accounts of one’s life journey were reduced to a few paragraphs of type in the daily newspaper, a fact that saddens me still. Newspapers today, however, see printed obituaries as a source of revenue, so daily we read often lengthy accounts of deceased persons’ lives, listing their many personal and professional accomplishments. Many of these are accompanied by a photo. I like to read these and enjoy getting a fuller picture of who they were and what they meant to those who loved them.

Parkinson’s is such a cruel disease, and we who love Jeff watched helplessly as his body  failed him in stages. His many friends will miss him sorely, but I, for one, look forward to reading his obituary and learning more about his life, particularly those years before he came our way and lit up our lives. The chances are pretty good that his obit won’t mention our choir director’s walking boot or his advice for my arthritic hips, but she and I will remember those moments and his big smile as he helped us.

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