Barbara Bush’s Funeral

Detailed view of a program during the funeral for former First Lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston

There is nothing so satisfying as a fine funeral.

Being a funeral aficionado may be an odd quirk, but that description is part of my personal brand.

Words, music, texts, tears are all the currency of grief. As a writer I lean forward to hear which nouns and adjectives, which phrases describe the deceased. I look for succinct and economical eulogies. As a lifetime church musician I have a broad exposure to a treasury of hymns and anthems. Which songs have been chosen to commemorate this life, this death? An an incurable reader and a Bible-loving Christian, I am familiar with many classic texts for funerals. I wonder if there is a poem or a paragraph that speaks to this moment. Finally, as a sojourner in this world where pain is a daily companion, I want to be moved; this is the time and season for tears.

Here are my thoughts on Barbara Bush’s funeral. You can watch it on YouTube. The funeral program is here.  I call it the high-church version of Billy Graham’s funeral. His was an outside service under a tent. Hers was in St. Martin’s Episcopal church with stained glass and soaring ceilings. I’m a closet Anglican who loves the liturgy.

Prelude: My Country ‘Tis of Thee  I have never imagined this as a funeral anthem, but as arranged by Mack Wilburg and sung by the cathedral choir and accompanied by a bright brass section, and as a nod to Barbara Bush’s legacy of public service it was amazing.

Family Seating
There are all kinds of body language to read in these situations.
George W. pushing his father in a wheelchair.
When W had been seated, he turned to look at his daughters and winked. It wasn’t a creepy wink, just an acknowledgement.
Doro (Barbara’s daughter) sat next to 41, with her arm affectionately around him.

Entrance: Praise to the Lord
I love this hymn. And it can only be properly sung with an organ. Joachim Neander wrote the words. He was such a beloved poet that a valley was named after him: Neanderthal. (thal = valley in German)

My acute disappointment was in the omission of the fourth verse (in my hymnbook) with these words: How oft in grief, hath he not brought thee relief, spreading his wings to o’ershade thee!

The Beginning
I love prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. “Nourish them with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness.”

Job’s words are the BEST:
I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;
and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

Not a Fan
In the Garden – but this is the song BPB’s generation loved
The Holy City – just not my favorite, but well sung

Yes, Yes, Yes
Barbara Bush’s granddaughters reading Proverbs 31
Three eulogies: an author, a friend, a son. All well done.
The homily and prayers.

Would That Every Christian Funeral Included
The Apostle’s Creed
The Lord’s Prayer

Shakespeare
Her daughter read five lines from Romeo & Juliet

Joyful Funeral?
The processional was Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy.
“Giver of immortal gladness fill us with the light of day.”

I learned more about Barbara Bush from her choices for her service than I had previously known. Everything was in proportion. There was grief, but it was shot through with hope and peace.

 

Blogs I’ve written about other funerals

 

 

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To Serve Music

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Q. What is it that drives you at this point?

A. The experience of making music — really, the joy of making music is what I was put here for, I believe.

And I kind of knew — I knew right away once I’d started to kind of get it right, in my teens — once I’d started to experience the joy of getting a result from practice — that this was my destiny, I suppose.

And I always thank God [I] intuitively knew that music was the most important part of it. It wasn’t what I could get from music, it was what I could give to it.

When you asked me the question ‘What is it like?’ — well, I wish people could experience what it’s like to be really focused on doing something musical and have it work and be in tune and harmony.  And that can only come, I believe, if I am serving music, rather than trying to manipulate it to my ends, you know.

Eric Clapton
August 14, 2004
Transcribed from the DVD “Sessions for Robert J”

The Gift of Deep Friendship

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I’m back from the fourth reunion of childhood girlfriends since 2010. We were born in the same year; three resided in the same neighborhood; our parents were friends; we were raised in the same faith; we know each other’s siblings. We’ve been friends since kindergarten.

Along with all these similarities are differences. Geographic, to be sure. The closest link between any two of us is over 800 miles. We differ in economics, vocations, passions, politics, tastes, theology, and in all the other ways people change.

The thing is that we six were not bff’s growing up. I think the phrase friendship by proximity describes some of our early years. Sometimes we hung out together because that’s who was available. Now that our friendship has come of age, we are repeating stories! (We = me, sigh…)

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This treasure, these friendships, are more precious to us than diamonds. Other than checking our phones and taking calls from husbands and children, our time is unplugged. We don’t watch movies; we don’t go shopping (except for groceries). It is time to attend, to be present, to listen, to share, to truly know each other. We laugh and guffaw, we cry (even the non-criers among us), we eat, we swim, we sing.

We established a protocol at our first reunion that we always follow. We could (and do) have a fabulous time cooking communally, grabbing a cuppa, letting the conversation meander like a river. But eventually we have a formal time of focus. One friend shares her heart: what’s good, what’s hard, what’s changed, what’s real. This is a time of transparency and trust. We take notes, ask questions. It can also be a time of discovery, when the perception of girlfriends translates truth we didn’t before see. Then we pray, asking God to help, to intervene, to strengthen, to bless our friend. Then we sing the songs we grew up singing that are imprinted on our souls. Rinse and repeat.

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These friendships are for each of us a bonus. We all have sisters — not just sisters, but close sisters with whom we regularly share our lives and hearts.

Two stories. Meeting in the airport has always been an exciting moment. We’re giddy and goofy and garrulous. This year, however, Ruth’s father died the Monday before our gathering. She drove to Virginia on Tuesday, buried him on Thursday, and flew out to Phoenix on Saturday. My plane arrived five minutes before hers. I parked myself in front of the gate to welcome her. Sitting at the back of the plane, she was one of the last passengers to deplane. Seeing each other we burst into sobs, running into a hug. It was a spectacle, but we didn’t care. All our griefs to share.

Eileen’s plane came in later than the others. Nancy’s sister Kathy picked her up from the airport. Eileen didn’t want to inconvenience her. Are you kidding? Kathy replied. When we were first married, we flew to Chicago, but couldn’t rent a car because I was under 25. We called my mom in Phoenix and asked her what to do. She told us to call your (Eileen’s) dad. We called him, he dropped everything and drove to O’Hare to pay for our rental. I am only too happy to give you a ride. More tears, and the gift of an previously unknown story about her dad.

One evening the Gibson sisters joined us for an old-fashioned hymn sing. I guess reading the lyrics on your phone wasn’t old-fashioned! Those girls (ahem, women) can SING!! Lots of nostalgia and gorgeous harmonies and rejoicing in a heritage of music.

After four girlfriend gatherings, I remain astonished at the profound transforming power of this deep friendship. It has all the hallmarks of grace: unexpected, unearned, unsought, undeserved.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

Our 2010 Reunion
Anticipating 2010 Reunion

Long After Piano Lessons

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Why take piano lessons? Because one afternoon thirty-five years later, you will be sitting at your desk with your two monitors, analyzing inventory turns while Pandora plays in the background. And within four notes of a Chopin nocturne, you will be transported to an era you had all but forgotten.

You will look at your coworker, eyes wide. This, um, this piece, you will whisper, I played this for a recital…a lifetime ago. This. is. Chopin. You will be thinking: own this nocturne

Your thumb and finger will reach out to the volume knob of the speakers, intending to increase the volume, barely perceptibly. Then you will throw off tacit office etiquette and crank it up. Mercifully, no one is on the phone.

You will mumble, Please excuse my humming. But you will think I am one with this, how could I not hum it?  Your index finger will conduct the pianist playing through your computer.

Your hand will return to the mouse, and you will pretend to get back to the business at hand. You will abandon pretense, incapable of any action but soaking up the fragile beauty. Your coworker, younger by four decades, will pause and then stop what she is doing. She will listen to the delicate melody in G minor.

As the final notes linger in the air you will recognize that at this great distance from the discipline of daily practice, playing Chopin is beyond you. But you will make a note to find the music when you get home.

And you will remember the time when you practiced Opus 37, No. 1 until it was woven into the double helix of your DNA, when you could play this flawlessly, when your playing was capable of breaking even your own heart.

Awake Thou Wintry Earth

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Chives growing in my garden, February 12, 2016

Awake, Thou Wintry Earth is almost a life anthem. I came to Thomas Blackburn’s poem by way of Bach’s Cantata 129. When I heard it, I came to understand in a new way that spring is an annual demonstration of resurrection. Listening to this still gives me shivers. Singing it means I end up whispering to tell that dead is dead over a voice that is breaking.

I took a walk around my backyard this morning and was delighted to hear garlic and chives laughing at winter, death, decay.

Awake thou wintry earth,
fling off, fling off thy sadness;
ye vernal flowers laugh forth,
laugh forth your ancient gladness.
A new and lovely tale
through-out the land is spread;
it floats o’er hill and dale
to tell that death is dead.

Here is a joyful organ. 1 1/2 minutes that will lift your day high. Sing along! It’s pretty loud; turn your sound down. Or don’t. The organ is a dominating instrument and its volume is glorious!