Community Indicators in Times of Stress

As readers know from my last post, our family has been celebrating the life of and grieving the loss of my dad, Bill Wright. Yesterday was his memorial mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church here in Seattle where mom and dad found their Seattle “church home.” Right now I have the house to myself and found I needed some reflective time, and some processing of what has been swirling around us: community.

The core of my professional practice is “connected and connecting” people. In any sense of those words. Experiencing the love and community around my family and me since Dad entered the hospital on March 22nd is a fertile ground for noticing and reflecting on those things that tell us community is present, “community indicators.” If I think to the earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ, and Japan, these community indicators are alive and activated. They are alive in my home town.

By chance I happened on a TedTalk by Eric Whitacre today and lo and behold, the soundtrack for my reflection showed up. I received my love of music from my dad. I remember him playing me albums of marching band music, musicals, folk and classical music into my preteen years. Mom and Dad took us to hear Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops when they played at San Francisco’s Stern Grove. Over the last week I curated some music for the funeral reception – lots of folk music, especially banjo. But all with “soul.” So for me, a soundtrack feels “right.” Even more, the soundtrack itself is a community indicator, a virtual choir of hundreds of voices, recorded around the world and brought together. Now this is not about artifice, or a diminishing of the extraordinary power of singing together, but of how we can sing together in many ways. Singing together IS a community indicator. Take a listen.

via YouTube – Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir – ‘Lux Aurumque’. (The final piece will be premiered on YouTube this Thursday.)

So back to this community thing. I want to thank and honor the many communities that have gathered us in their arms over the last two weeks. I was preparing for a three week set of workshops in New Zealand and Australia the week my dad fell into a coma. A few emails and all of my colleagues who have worked hard to set up the workshops, market, book venues and everything replied to my notice that I had to cancel with two things. “Yes, no problem” and “our hearts, prayers and thoughts are with you and your family.”  They lifted that off my shoulders like a warm spring breeze. The participants, some of whom booked plane tickets to come to the workshops handled it all with grace and love.

Washington DC trip (1969?)

Here in Seattle, from the moment the 911 team arrived to my Mom’s emergency call, to the last few hours in the hospital when Dad was leaving us, people reached out. Strangers. Ambulance drivers. Emergency room nurses. Doctors, techs, cleaning folks, everyone. I think they all knew what was happening before we did, so they gently made the path a little clearer, a little more peaceful as we walked along it.

My parent’s pastor, Father John, came to the emergency room and hospital. On the night of Dad’s death, also his birthday, he called his sister with whom he was to have dinner and said he had to be elsewhere and he came to the hospital. My sister was there and she and I were able to sing to Dad through the end. She sings with a Threshold Choir in Davis, California and brought that calm peace. I would not have been able to sing alone. The nursing staff brought in food for the family as we watched and waited through the last hours. One saw my son was really struggling and hugged him and offered words of comfort.

Across town at Mirabella, the next day, as my mom walked down the hall, people started the flow of hugs, tears and “we are here for you” that have continued unabated. Flowers, cards, food. Yesterday at the funeral, 78 Mirabellians had signed up to share two buses and many carpools and came to celebrate Dad’s life. And many promised to keep reaching out to Mom as she works her way through the stages and waves of mourning and loss.

Dad and Randy, Santa Clara

Father John create a beautiful service that, with family members and friends doing readings and remembrances, flowed like a practiced choir. He started his homily with a verse from a favorite song of Dad’s “All God’s Critters Have a Place in the Choir” (by Bill Staines) and connected it to the Beatitudes which he read for the gospel, and to Dad’s generous spirit. MHB Conant sang and Robert McCaffery-Lent brought solace and beauty through music. (See 2011 Bill Wright Program).

Family members did the readings and Jack Blume (a Mirabella resident), Randy Wright (my brother) and Cleve Wright (a friend of my Dad’s and a former Mirabella employee) shared amazing, warm and beautiful stories about Dad. To a one, they all talked about Dad’s openness, positivity and generosity of spirit. Tears, laughter, music. As it should be.

Afterwards at the reception in the Parish hall there were more stories, songs (the water aerobic’s “Zippidy Doo Dah”), red wine (as Dad would want it) and lots of people coming up to me to say “your Dad was remarkable,” or “I don’t usually go to funerals, but I came to your Dad’s and I’m glad I did.” I think Father John also converted a few people to his parish! 🙂

Dad and I on the Washington Coast

Back online on Twitter, Facebook and on my blog condolences flowed in. I heard from people in my Dad’s life that I hadn’t heard from in years. Family that I thought didn’t even know I blogged commented here (thank you!) Cards from clients. Tons of love. This sustains us as we ride the waves of loss and grief. They refresh precious memories, sharpen stories that may have been fading.

My Dad was a steady light in my life. Patient to a fault. Tenderhearted. Appreciative. Easy to be with. He fixed things and showed me HOW to fix things. He gave me my curly hair, my love of music and vegetable gardening, my inclination to wave at trains, and  a confidence to step out in the world even when I felt scared and shy. Up to the last he was engineering and reengineering, having recently re-jiggered a no-knead bread recipe to fit into the new cast iron pan he got at the family Christmas gift exchange. His Sudoku prowess blew my mind. Both he and my mom role modeled community service at every turn, in often different but significant ways.

I can’t imagine doing this alone. You are my community. Your “indicators” are blinking and lighting up like the milky way on a clear, mountain night. Thank you.