For the partner still living, sometimes the silence in the months following a beloved spouse’s death is a uniquely challenging time. The funeral is done. The friends who surrounded us with love and hugs and words of support have gone back to their lives. Life returns to “normal” as it were, at least for everyone else, so it may seem. We aren’t any less loved in the absence of all the activity. It might feel like it, but such is the cycle of birth and death in this thing we call life: Joy interwoven with pain, the price exacted for the breaths and years we are gifted.
And so it passes that I write this in memoriam and in honor of Peg Van Loo in June, though she passed earlier this year in February. We have warm sun in lieu of our infamous fog today. Light shines through my windows. My plants look as if they are leaning toward the warmth. I am at my keyboard, looking at Peg’s memorial picture pinned up in my cubicle here at Grace. In it, a silver crown adorns her head, her slightly waved, bobbed hair peeking out from underneath. She’s raising a red- and gold-topped scepter in the air with her right hand, her left hand curled into a fist — the only sign in this photo of the Multiple Sclerosis so rudely taking hold of her body. A bright red sash boldly contrasts with her lavender sweater and grey knit scarf. Her smile is wide open and wonderfully alive, just like my memory of Peg. “Yes dear. Yes to life. Yes to laughter. Yes to love.”
As I sit here contemplating the life and wonder of our congregant and friend, I return to a special experience from Senior Community Day back in October of 2017. Our Outreach team intended to save this memory to share later as “gift” blog post following our Bishop’s 50+ Anniversary Evensong last February in celebration of Bill and Peg reaching 50 years of marriage together. But life sometimes has other plans in mind for us. Peg fell ill, and, on a Saturday morning, the Rev. Canon Nina Pickerrell gently informed me, “We lost our dear Peg this morning.” My knee-jerk reaction was, “I never got the chance to share the blog with her.”
And then the flurry of activity that happens when a loved community member passes began: wanting to say the “right” thing, to give comforting words to Bill. Anything but, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Not because that is not a helpful thing to say, but because those words somehow do not express my fierce desire to hold onto the light and acknowledge that, really, there is maybe no “right” thing to say during such a time. Instead, I gave Bill a “ninja hug,” sneaking in from the side. I offered homage to Peg’s spirit and offered up a story about my newly adopted rescue dog and my hopes that he might befriend, instead of perhaps eat, the kitten I hoped to get next. I thought, “Peg would maybe appreciate me being ridiculous and helping him to laugh.”
Therefore, this blog post has shifted in intention, content and timing. I see the yellow Post-It note marking the page of my blue, spiral-bound notebook. My writing reads, “Gift to Bill + Peg” in a simple scrawl. The text looks casual. It speaks a tone of, “I’ll return to this soon.”
What I remember most is how Peg’s energy filled the room. I found her positivity both striking and inspiring. Peg always had a smile for me — every time. She would come to Senior Community Day and greet our preschool visitors with joy when a small troupe would visit for breakfast. I remember, years ago, when our assistant director of music at the time was shifting careers from cathedral music to the aviation industry, Peg took the time to create a “picture” of Lawrence flying away in an airplane for his going away celebration. If I recall correctly, she styled the image to make it resemble a stained-glass window, à la church and Grace Cathedral.
That was Peg. Thoughtful, creative, full of ideas and generous in spirit. The Rev. Jude Harmon and I remarked, talking one day in our staff kitchen and still in a daze of new grief, that she remained more positive than many people who have full use of their bodies every day. Yes, that includes me. I say that with the caveat that we are all human. It is okay if we aren’t as bright as Peg always was in public. We have our ups and downs. Here at Grace Cathedral, though, Peg shined in the face of MS. She inspired us. She inspired me.
And now I have come full circle to conclude with offering a glimpse into Peg’s experience at Senior Community Day back on October 26, 2017. That Thursday at 11 am, Ben Bachmann, Canon Director of Music, presented our senior group with a special organ recital inside the cathedral. During one piece, I observed tears well up in Peg’s eyes. Between pieces, I asked if she was alright. “I was taken back 50 years,” she whispered. The music started again. I let her be and instead asked for backstory later when we gathered for a senior community lunch of baked salmon with roast potatoes. By coincidence, Ben had included a piece in his performance that Peg and Bill had used just shy of 50 years before as their wedding march! She explained how “back then” when she and Bill married, their musical selection broke with tradition at the time and caused “quite a stir.” She continued, “Now, no one even uses those [traditional] songs.”
“Well, Peg, you were simply ahead of the curve,” I mused. I like to imagine that, wherever her spirit is, she remains as such: joyful, warm in spirit and ahead of the curve.