Raymond is Fine, but We Grieve

I didn’t know Raymond, and that’s really the point of why I’m speaking, I didn’t know him, and that’s a loss. I do know something of his generation, the Great Generation, it was my father’s generation, my father-in-law’s generation, and my mother’s generation, many members of my local church. So I can speak to that, and I actually might be able to describe some parts of Raymond, and you might find that you are in agreement.

I happen to believe that we are eternal beings, and as such I believe that Raymond is just fine, it’s us that I worry about, it’s us that have been left behind. And this has been with us for the last hundred years, the last thousand, the last million years. What are we to do about the loss of our friend, our father, our wife. With us for a time, and then gone. And yet, they are not gone, they still live within us. I have a message for you. In the coming weeks and months you may see Raymond here or there, sitting at a bench in the mall or standing at an intersection. I remember seeing my mother-in-law at the local drug store. I kept chasing down the aisles trying to keep up. I remember seeing my father driving a vehicle on the freeway, in a car that he would have never driven.

Don’t be afraid of these things, they are simply the memory that is still with you, desperately trying to compensate with your loss. Celebrate this with the knowledge that Raymond is still with you. Yet it is still the age old story, that are gone, and we still have no real solutions. The pain and the grief are still present.

So, what are a few things that I know about Raymond, without ever having met him? Well, he was a survivor. And that’s a remarkable thing. I am a student of history and I know about wars, famines, disease. I know what has happened to millions of people, how difficult it was to maintain life, to raise a child safely to maturity. Raymond was a survivor, his parents were survivors, his grandparents were survivors. Not only that, but every one of Raymond’s ancestors lived long to have a child, and that child survived and so on. If that wasn’t so, none of us would be standing here today. Some of us wouldn’t exist, and the rest of us wouldn’t have a reason to be here. Not one of Raymond’s ancestors died as a child. We share this with him, we too are survivors.

But because of that we have to deal with what it means to be a survivor. I’ve been told that Raymond has outlived all of his friends. He has had to deal with all the emotions that occur when all his friends, his wife, his parents….when everyone has moved on and he has been left behind. He knew about this, and now it is our turn. We share that together.

So, you know that he was born in France in 1921, and at the start of WWII his country was invaded by the Germans. France was occupied by a foreign country, do we share that experience? Can we comprehend this? How do you survive that? Raymond did. Raymond was 18 and he owned a truck. The Germans let him keep the truck if he used it to collect milk each day. He was given a special permit to drive alone at night. Only, sometimes he wasn’t alone. Sometimes he carried men, equipment and supplies that he snuck across the border into Free France. He did this at the risk of arrest and possibly death. He hadn’t married, he didn’t have children. He risked his future, and your future, by doing this. How many of us has risked our lives for the sake of others, knowing that we might pay the ultimate penalty. Raymond did, because Raymond knew that life without this risk was not worth living. So I think Raymond was courageous.

After the war I was told that he joined the French Army. There wasn’t a need for fighting, but the country was disaster. It had been divided, crushed, bombed, hundreds of thousands had died…someone had to do something, someone had to rebuild. Raymond volunteered to be that person, to make a difference. That’s tenacious.

Later, Raymond became a vintner in the family winery. He worked for months in the field, months more in processing the grapes, and finally the aging and bottling. Months of work that could ruin the product at any stage. One mistake, a bit of bad weather, a dozen other issues and a years worth of work could disappear. Raymond was careful, Raymond was confident in his knowledge, and Raymond was hopeful.

Raymond was also practical. He knew that his future family, that his plan could not come together in France. Private land was hard to come by, opportunities not readily available. So Raymond made the choice to go to North America, and being practical he went to Montreal.

Not a lot of wine making in Montreal so Raymond made use of another skill- mechanics. He repaired vehicles, he fixed things. After a time he moved to Vancouver BC where he met his wife. And then the next decision I find completely remarkable, he moved everyone to the Bay Area and started completely over, barely speaking English, yet successful. This was a man with a plan. Raymond was courageous, tenacious, practical, he was a fixer, and a maker.

That entire Great Generation was made up of makers. Workers in the factories, producing things, making things. They came from farms but they possessed the skills to get things done, to be creative and make a device that would solve problem. It may have been a Ruby Goldberg device (a favorite comic of the time), it may not have been elegant or even commercially viable. But it was an immediate solution to the problem.

You may have heard this story about a conversation between a Millenial and one of the Great Generation. The Millenial says, “You didn’t even grow up with the Internet,” as if that was something important. The response was, “Yes, I didn’t grow up with it. I helped to invent it”. They were makers.

So you see, I kind of know Raymond, and it points directly to the grief that we are experiencing. I didn’t get the chance to meet Raymond. There was no time. I know that I would have given a month of my life in return for another month of my father’s life, or my father-in-law’s, or my mother’s, or my mother-in-law’s. Because there is always some things unsaid, some things undone. And death tends to end that possibility.

So I think about that for us here. I’m sure that the following has happened to some of you. “I’m attending a funeral service today”, “Oh, I’m so sorry, were you close? How old was he?”, “yes, I was close, and he was 93”, “Oh, that’s good, he had a nice long life.”

I’m here to say that, “No, that’s not good.” Why? Because, (except for the rare cases of pain or coma) there is never the right time, there is always more to say, and more to be done. And that’s our source of grief. But I have a possible solution or at least a suggestion.

I was talking to someone earlier and they said that they felt that Raymond was still here because they remember him so well. Here’s a truth, every time you speak of him, he lives. He lives within you, within your memory.

Here is another truth, a wise man knows that he is replaceable. But he chooses to live his life in a different way. Raymond lived in such a way that there remained a Raymond shaped hole that can never be completely filled. That’s a good goal for each of us, because while everyone is replaceable, no one can quite fill that hole. The hole is supported and shaped by the stories that we tell, by your collective memories.

A few years ago I was deep into genealogy, and I had found relatives that I never knew existed. My goal was also to find the stories of their lives, so I asked questions and tried to write it all down. I found a distant relative that was far older than I was, but very interested in what information I had found. Her parents had a farm and small mine deep in the mountains in Montana. She was quite young when her mother had an appendicitis attack. While that was generally not life threatening, they were three days by wagon from the closest hospital.

Her mother died several hours from the hospital, leaving two very young daughters and a very grieving husband. His grief was so great, and he took such personal responsibility, that he refused to speak of his wife, and their mother. The girls grew to adulthood without any mention of their mother, without even a photograph.

So now they are in their seventies and I contact them. From other relatives I have stories, and memories, and even photographs. In a very real way their mother was restored to them, sixty-five years after her death. I’m here to tell you, “Feel your grief”, but speak of Raymond. Tell your children about his life, his choices. The only real knowledge that is important is generational. Knowledge that sticks from one generation to another. The more you speak, the more that the hole shaped like Raymond is defined, and filled by respect and love.

I’d like to close this blessing in a standard way but perhaps with a twist. The first part is recognizable as the famous Aaronic Blessing, the second blessing is the same Hebrew words but this time I am using the secondary definition of words, still accurate but it may offer a slight difference in understanding.

May the Lord bless you and protect you.

May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you.

May the Lord bestow His favor upon you

and grant you peace.

Adonai will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection,

Adoni will illuminate the wholeness of his being toward you, bringing order, and he will beautify you,

Adoni will lift up his wholeness of being, and look upon you, and he will set in place all you need to be whole and complete!
(Eulogy posted with family permission)