Funeral for a Friend

Leroy HuizengaBlog2 Comments

Death scatters, so some scattershot thoughts…

The funeral liturgy (Anglican) was lovely. The Latin requiem was most welcome. A Walhout youth played the cello perfectly. Closing hymn was SLANE=Be Thou My Vision. Wonderful. I couldn’t sing any of it, but I let the sound wash over and through me.

Why, I ask myself, does every single Christian tradition, from Pentecostal to Anglican, do better with worship than we Catholics do? It’s just not that hard.

Wake last night: I couldn’t look at the picture boards. Much easier time at the casket, for some reason, once I sucked it up to say goodbye. Probably because that’s ice cold reality, and the boards remind you of what sort of things the guy would still be doing, if…

Brett was dressed in a zippered argyle sweater with a slight collar, which was perfect. Coat and tie was always artificial on him.

Another Wheaton professor of English and thus colleague of Brett’s, Roger Lundin, died late Thursday night. He was on leave this fall. Are you kidding me?

News of Paris hit yesterday during the wake, of course.

Five friends and family members with cancer. Right now the score is 1-3 with one in the balance, at a critical moment.

Noah Toly is an absolute mensch. Others too. But Noah. His parents should write a book on parenting because he turned out more than OK. (Here’s his tribute to Brett from a few days ago.)

Hard to place a lot of people after just five years, and if I couldn’t find your name back in my head, apologies! Good to see former students, like Maggie, doing so well. Colleagues too.

I joked there’s not enough alcohol for such a weekend. I’m pacing myself. I say bold stupid things like that in certain situations for effect.

Nothing sadder, I think, than an untimely widow embracing her husband’s casket graveside to say goodbye for the final time. That’s when I really lost it inside. But I really tried not to cry, because crying is wrong. At least in public. In private it’s just bothersome.

I did just say I say bold stupid things like that in certain situations for effect…

Death is uncomfortable for us because there’s not enough of it. Meaning, we don’t face it routinely like prior generations, perhaps up to 100 or 75 years ago. Florence at the height of the Renaissance, about 6 out of 10 babies died between birth and first birthday. There’s no antibiotics until the 1920s, so infections and fevers were often a death sentence. Nowadays in the modern west thanks to modern sanitation and medicine, most babies live long and prosper, and when we get seriously sick medication and surgery save us. Count all the times in your life when you’ve been seriously sick, and think how many times you might have died were you living several generations ago.

Fr. Martin Johnson, priest at All Souls Anglican Church, where we attended when we were in Wheaton, who officiated today, can really preach. He might be the most peculiar homilist in the Christian world. Hard to explain, but his homilies are meticulously composed formalist exercises, like Joyce’s Ulysses almost but with theological substance. Poetry in theological motion. Incredibly complex, but he always brings it back around. “Here ends the reading.” I have to, I just have to, get a copy of the homily from today.

Brett Foster, accidental midwife: you had to be there, I guess. My 2+ minutes memory of Brett as a man on whom you could count, as proved by that time my wife was in labor and he needed to babysit our doula’s kids through the night in a sketchy hospital parking lot in Oak Park, Ill. I was glad to get through it without losing my cookies, because I thought I was going to. And crying is wrong. I couldn’t look at anyone in the chapel in the eye, but stared into a vague space about 20 feet out from my line of vision. And got through it.

If you’re going to break through an automotive funeral procession in your impatience, remember, your sparkly SUV is far from paid for, and my car is a mere rental. Count yourself lucky.

I hadn’t cried, and I really haven’t cried, yet. A few times before I stop myself. I think that was the issue at the wake and funeral for me. Brett’s friends in Wheaton have been walking through this with him, rather directly, for months, and were there in town when he died last week. They got a lot of crying out of their systems already, I suspect. I hadn’t, and haven’t, so it really hit me when I showed up at the wake just as dark had settled over Wheaton, that Brett was really gone.

Appreciate the little kind gestures from colleagues and administrators et al. I haven’t seen since I left–hugs, pats on the shoulder, etc.

Since Brett was a poet, I’ve been thinking of poetry, and this one by Stephen Crane came to mind today, and makes a fitting closing here:

In the desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

2 Comments on “Funeral for a Friend”

  1. Dr. Huizenga – condolences on the loss of your friend. I am praying for his family and all of you his friends. I was not familiar with Brett, but it appears a good portion of the academics in my RSS feed were good friends of his, and so reading all the posts, I feel as if it is a friend of a friend who has passed per se (maybe I’m the only one who starts to feel like my RSS feeds are a strange sort of one way friendship).

    Anyway, just wanted to share that, and to also tell you how much I appreciated your last post on Gnosticism. It really hit home the real reason it’s such a recurring (and easy to fall into) heresy in a way that others have not. Thank you for that. I know that it had to have been born at least partially out of the pain of losing your friend,but I wanted you to know it was perspective changing for others as well.

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