The End of An Era
On February 9th of this year, an era of sorts ended for me. One of my favorite undergraduate professors at Utica College and one of my favorite people, Thom Brown, died at the age of 65. Thom first came to Utica College in 1975, fresh out of graduate school. I was a sophomore psychology major at Utica College when Thom arrived and he quickly made a lasting impression on all of us with his wit, honestly, intelligence, integrity and his love for teaching and his students. He was a major and influential part of the Utica College community for 45 years; I suspect that he always will be….
A Celebration of Life
Thom’s daughter Amy crafted an eloquent and beautiful tribute and read it during his celebration of life. This excerpt really resonated with me:
There is a quote I really like, from a book called The Fault in Our Stars, which you should all, of course, go home and read. It reads, in part:
“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s 0.1 and 0.12 and 0.112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for him than he got. But, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
I certainly wanted my father to have more numbers than he got, but the best thing he taught me was how to make a forever out of our numbered days.
My Little Infinity
Thom’s life compelled me to look at infinity and forever moments in the context of my daughter Jeannine’s short life. Jeannine died and was reborn into a new phase of existence on March 1, 2003, at the age of 18 due to cancer.
There were many” forever moments” that defined our relationship during her time on earth. There was The Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls concerts, her impromptu sweet sixteen party, her solo flute recital when she was in fifth grade, just to name a few. In early grief, recalling those forever moments were extremely painful, because I wanted more of them. Recalling those moments compelled me to think about “what could have been” had she had lived. I lived in the valley of regret, pain and self –pity for quite a while after her death. However it was necessary for me to honor all of those emotions in order for me to transcend my grief and find meaning. We must embrace what we so often run away from… ourselves. When we embrace who we are, we redefine who we become.
Like Amy wanted for her father, I wanted for Jeannine, more numbers than she got. Like Thom, Jeannine lived her life to the fullest and packed many forever moments into her numbered days, with friends and family. It is those forever moments that were part of the little infinity that we shared. It is those forever moments that will define her legacy, and those moments that I will honor for the rest of my numbered days.
What has become increasingly clear to me is that relationships with our deceased loved ones extend beyond the physical realm. Whenever Jeannine signals her presence to me, albeit in a different form of energy, another forever moment is created for us to share. One of the most magnificent manifestations of this truth occurred during April of 2013 when this sign appeared on the inside of our backyard shed. There are two number 8's; the number 8 is the symbol for infinity or eternal life. I believe that this was a sign not only from Jeannine, but from my deceased mother Sadie Roberts; both of them were born in the month of April. It was cool that my mom also wanted to share forever with me too.
The little infinities that are created in life continue when our loved ones are reborn into a new existence. The relationships that we held so near and dear to us and that touched our hearts and souls in the physical world, continue to live on from a different dimension. If we can embrace the idea of continuing relationships and continuing bonds after death, not only do we redefine forever, but also we learn to find our peace despite the challenges that our life path after death presents to us.
“The more you learn, the less you fear. “Learn” not in the sense of academic study, but in the practical understanding of life.”
From The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes