Thursday, April 10, 2014

Resquiescat in Pace

Of all the writing I do, perhaps the most complicated is writing memorials. Today I have been working on a piece that will be part of the service for one of Small College's most beloved professors, a man who was in the classroom just a few weeks ago. He was only ill for a few days, and for most of that time we expected he'd recover. He did not.

His death was a shock, not only to his family but also to his students (for some of whom this is the first death of someone they knew personally) and to those of us who worked with him. We've spent the week here at Small College rather blindly walking around wondering what has just hit. Most of us have never been in this place when that professor wasn't--he'd taught here for 47 years, and fervently wanted to hit the 50-year mark.

I want to capture him for the tribute that will be printed in the memorial folder, capture him in a way that will let his family and friends say "Yes! That was what I loved about him. Weren't we lucky to know him?" So I talk about how he always wore white Dockers and pastel shirts (long-sleeved in the winter, short-sleeved in the summer). I mention that he was known as the grammar guru of the college, even though his area of specialization was history. I mention that he taught three generations of the same family. I talk about his keen mind and how thousands of students have shared his insights.

I write how he always said "Hi-hi!" to me when we passed in the hall, and hope that others will remember his voice and how he laughed.

I remember doing this task after my mother died (also suddenly) and how healing it was to be able to look back on a life well-lived. Even as I was punch-drunk with grief, I laughed as I wrote Mom's memorial, documenting the one time I ever heard her swear (she had just backed over the plow), thinking of the dozens of orphans and widows she invited to Christmas dinner.

That was in 2009, and even then we talked about how God had rewarded Mom by taking her quickly, before her increasing cognitive issues took her mind but left her body for us to manage.

I hope that as they read about this professor's life, which was so very, very well-lived, his family will be comforted that this sudden death was a reward. His illness was one that would not have had a good outcome; he could have suffered through months of painful treatment. Instead he was gone only days after his final lecture. 

In time, I hope his family will re-read what I wrote and smile, even if it's through tears.

Weren't we lucky to know him?


  1. Sara thanks for this thoughtful piece. It is indeed hard to imagine that he is gone. While he was never my prof. he was someone I respected and I knew of his immense love for his wife and daughters. They were a family of great love. May God give peace and comfort as they begin to travel life without his wit and wisdom. Ticia Bennett

  2. You made me tear up and I don't even know him.