Yesterday I was at the funeral of a very dear friend of ours, John Brennan. John has been a dear friend of Bert's for over twenty years. They were in a men's running group together, had lunch together and shared their lives at a deep level on a regular basis.
Simply put, we are all astounded that John is gone. How can that be? He had a backache and side ache, felt like he had the flu, ended up in a coma, had an operation and they found him full of cancer, and poof...one month later he is gone.
John's memorial yesterday was truly unique. The Unitarian Church was packed, a sea of people from my "old life" with Tim and my early life with Bert...Jim and Sue Shaw, Kent Hoffman, Deanna and Don Roberts, Gail and John Goeller...the list goes on and on.
There were so many stories told about John and the most amazing service filled with bands, slideshows, a potluck, so many friends gathered. John would have loved this party. But he wouldn't have expected so many people to come.
I learned alot about our friend John yesterday. As Jim Laudermilk and Kent Hoffman said, John had asked them to tell the truth about his life, celebrate all he was and wasn't, to share his struggles. One of those struggles hit everyone hard.
While John loved other people deeply, he wasn't really so sure that people really loved him back. Maybe we are all a little like this.
As we told stories about John, and many of us did in front of that packed crowd, one story stood out that Steve Heeps told. He had stopped to see John at the hospital and told him that his friends missed him. John rolled his eyes and said, "Yeah sure, all two of them." While John was often sarcastic, Steve said he knew at that moment that John didn't "get" how much he mattered.
That's been a theme of life lately. How is it, I have to ask myself, that we are all so HUNGRY to matter to someone and so often feel that person's absolute indifference. We long to love and be loved in return, but we are rebuffed and turned away. In my opinion, it's usually not because of who we are, but because of the hole in that person's heart. But it hurts deeply, at the core of our being, to love someone who doesn't love us back.
As I have gotten older, I am no longer afraid to tell people who I am or to tell them that they matter to me. I told many folks at that service yesterday that I loved them.
Likewise, I have much better boundaries with those who don't truly care about me or those who can barely tolerate me. Life is much too short to waste more time trying to get someone to care. I value my life and time. I am blessed to be alive and loving the life God gave me. And that's a bit of the story I told in front of that crowd yesterday.
I walked up to that podium knowing that the story I was about to tell might shock some of the people in that room. One of the "family secrets", so to speak. But God knows it all anyway, my family knows the story, my students know the story, and I wanted Rachael, Michael, and Sarah, John's kids, to hear my story.
I started by saying that there had been so many warm and funny stories about John that were being told at the podium, and while I had many of those as well, I wanted to share about a difficult conversation John and I had, years ago. I told Rachael, Michael and Sarah that this story was for them and I looked only at them as I told the story
I told them that I was one of the people whose life was saved by their dad.
I talked about the time in my life when I was first married to Bert, yet where I was in so much pain and anger from my divorce from Tim that I began to drink heavily. My Dad was an alcoholic, but I had never been much of a drinker before that so I didn't imagine I could be.
One day, in one of those amazing twist and turns that life brings you, I heard a knock on my door and it was John Brennan. I assumed he was there to see Bert, who wasn't there. John shared that in fact he had come to see me.
He had watched my decline, hurt, and choices to dull the pain. John knew that I was a mess, and he told me so. While I had heard the same message from Bert, suddenly I listened with new ears. John said there was help out there for me if I would stop drinking and take it.
He then asked me a question that changed my life. He asked me what Jessi and Amy would think of me ten years from now if I kept this up?
My whole life changed in that moment. I am now 22 years clean and sober because a friend told me the hard truth about who I really was, not who I pretended to be. And as I looked at Rachael, Michael and Sarah, as I told this story yesterday in that huge service in front of all those people, my whole life changed again.
I told them that Bert thanked their Dad for saving my life, Jessi and Amy thanked their Dad for giving them a sober Mom, even my ex-husband Tim thanked their Dad, my twelve grandchildren thanked their Dad, and the thousands upon thousands of students I have had at SCC thanked their Dad for having a teacher who was sober and could really love them.
As I stepped down from that podium, in front of that packed crowd, I had told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I didn't cover things up, or keep the secret to make me look good. The pretenses were dropped. I had prayed before I spoke and felt God's "Go for it kid! It's time!"
Someone once said,,"The truth will set you free!" John's telling me the truth saved my life. My telling my truth yesterday, with no shame and only feeling grateful, set me free.