Wednesday morning I drove to Columbus to attend the funeral mass of a friend’s father. I met Katie Pfister-Musick in the late 1980’s and absolutely fell in love with this incredible actress. Despite the various moves between the two of us, and me losing my address book, I managed to reconnect with Katie, and her husband, Mike, via Internet research. I found them living in the Kansas City, Kansas area, and have enjoyed communicating with them the past several years – and that includes a hiatus where my email addresses were wiped out.

friends-musick-katie

Last summer, I received a note that Katie’s mother had suddenly passed away. Katie had been sharing with me that her father was seriously ill with cancer and was not expected to live much longer. Her mother’s death was quite a surprise.

I attended her mother’s funeral and was overjoyed to see Katie and Mike, again. She is still just as beautiful as she was when she was a girl (and you know what, Lincoln said that about his wife when they were living in the White House! “My wife is just as lovely as she was when she was young. I fell in love with her then, and what is more, I have never fallen out.”)

Christmas night, I received message from Mike that Katie’s father had left in time to spend Christmas with his wife. 

Wednesday morning, December 31st., the last day of 2008, I drove to Columbus to share in the fond farewell with Katie and her family. I arrived at St. Christopher’s and was struck by the beauty and warmth of the church, decorated for the Christmas season. The candles, the nativity, the poinsettias and greenery was absolutely beautiful. As I was washing my hands in the rest room, I stopped… my chest began swelling with excitement.

I could hear Katie singing!

I walked back into the sanctuary, and immediately teared up… Katie was singing a responsive psalmody.  Her voice is still as beautiful as I remember it from when I heard her in the role of Anna Leonowens in THE KING & I.

I found a seat, and just absorbed the beauty, and the passion of each note she offered up – a musician offering up glorious beauty, a daughter bidding farewell to her father in song.

The service was beautiful. The violinist provided a beautiful prelude with “Amazing Grace,” and it set the mood – touching, but with great rejoicing for a life lived fully by this particular Irishman. The description of Don’s life, by both the priest and family, made me proud of my Clary & Daugherty clans! What truly touched me was that his children each offered something, and I can think of no greater tribute than to hear words and music from one’s own children at their funeral.

The closing hymn that accompanied the pall covered casket down the aisle was “Silent Night.” When I read prepped my hymnal before the service (that’s my German-Irish grandfather in me!), I first thought the final hymn to be too mild to send off this larger than life Irishman that I had never actually met. However, by the time the gentle strains of the introduction began, I knew just how fitting this tune was. It seemed to pull together not only the love for Don from his  family and friends, but it reminded me how much I missed, and still loved so many of my own family members who are no longer with us – especially my grandparents.

As the casket was wheeled past me, an elderly gentleman across the aisle saluted, the tears streaming down his face. I don’t know the relationship this gentleman had to Don, but for me, it was one of the most touching moments from the service. A tribute. A farewell. A salute. Only a soldier and a former drum-major can know the sanctity of a salute.

As the second verse of “Silent Night” began, the church bells began pealing. And throughout the song, they continued.

Bells have always held a special place for me. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE has one of the most tender scenes when the bell on the tree rings at the end – an angel received its wings. Also, my grandmother collected bells, and I now possess all the bells I gave her, some from Greece, Cyprus, Crete, Germany, Austria, and of course, New York City. And the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” also one of my favorite carols, has always been a favorite.

And here, on the last day of 2008, while singing “Silent Night,” the world resonated with the ringing of bells.

I bid farewell to Katie and Mike, and walked outside into the brisk December morning. The bells were much louder outside. One elderly lady covered her ears and looked up towards the sound of the bells. I stood for a moment, watching my breath swirl away from me, and hearing the bells.

Don had probably just received his wings…

My grandmother told me that she was still with me…

And the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminded me that “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep…”

I got into my car. I could still hear the muffled bells. I rolled down the window and listened, thinking they would not ring much longer. As I drove away, I could still hear the bells. I turned on to Grandview Avenue, moving away from the church. Finally, around 3rd Street, the bells began to fade – but only in sound.

Those bells were not pealing “farewell.”

The ringing of the bells were an announcement, and reminder of God’s love.

The ringing of the bells were a fanfare of the blessings to come for 2009.

The ringing of the bells were a reminder that it is, indeed, a most wonderful life!

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