Friday, August 28, 2009

At my high school reunion

In the middle of our 40th year high school reunion on Saturday, we stopped music and revelry for 20 minutes to honor the twenty-five classmates no longer with us. My wife's brother Eddie was one of those twenty-five.

Twenty-five living classmates stood behind Jennifer Kestel Harris as she called the roll of deceased classmates. As Jennifer read each name, we all answered "Here!", to show that the departed classmate remained alive and present in our memories. Before Jennifer moved on to the next name, one of the twenty-five living classmates behind her stepped forward and lit a candle for the departed friend she had just called.

Of the two hundred people in attendance Saturday evening, my wife Joanna was the only relative of any of the deceased classmates. We asked and she agreed to light Eddie’s candle. As she stepped forward, I struggled not to cry. Joanna’s hand was shaking as she lit the candle, and I steadied her. As she turned to step back, I had to hold her up, and we exited to a back hallway until she could recover.

After the candle-lighting ceremony, a dozen or more of Eddie’s close friends came to Joanna, one by one. It was difficult all evening for Joanna to talk with everyone about Eddie’s life. But it was an important step toward reaching closure.

I don’t know if I’ll survive any of my seven siblings. I’m not looking forward to doing so. But if it happens, I hope I’m able to summon half the dignity and strength my wife Joanna has displayed these past sixteen months.