Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.
For I am your passing guest,
an alien, like all my forebears (Psalm 39:4-4, 12).
Before he died, my brother talked to my cousin Heidi about getting together for an all-family fishing trip to Paulina Lake in Oregon. You know how that goes. You usually talk about it and then when it gets down to finding a date that works for everyone, it doesn’t materialize.
We lived in California and the rest of my parents’ families lived in Oregon. Every summer, we’d go to Oregon for a two week family vacation. One week was devoted to seeing relatives. The other week was devoted to fishing either in Pacific City or Paulina Lake with my Mom’s side of the family.
It was an annual tradition my grandparents, my Uncle Gary’s family and our family looked forward to every year while I was growing up. Even after my cousins and I started having children, we’d still meet at Paulina every few years. If I wasn’t able to come, Grandma would bring my two sons up with her. Gradually, our individual families made their own plans as it became impossible to coordinate so many schedules.
When Heidi, my other cousin Tom and Uncle Gary were here for Vic’s memorial service in December, Heidi brought Paulina up again. We weren’t sure we’d be given any ashes to scatter, but regardless it would be a fitting final tribute to Vic to gather the family together for a fishing trip. By the end of January, we had the dates set, the cabins booked, and everyone cleared for vacation. Four generations of our family were going fishing at Paulina Lake in honor of Vic.
Vic would have loved everything about the week. He loved to fish, he loved a good time, and he loved family. He was unabashedly emotional, usually being the first to tear up, and there was plenty of that from the rest of us. I felt like I was channeling him helping my granddaughters reel in their first fish or seeing the cigars light up on our boats as anchors were dropped or one of our boats trolled by. He was an epic storyteller, and now his nephew and second cousins have taken up the mantle. We laughed so hard we cried. Everyone (except me) caught fish. The third and fourth generations beat the first and second generations in our fishing derby by a long shot. We taught them well (smile).
Vic used to tell people I married and buried people and he got the free family rate. I did officiate his wedding (which he, Tom, my sister and I cried through), but never thought I’d be officiating his memorial services. As with Grandma, Vic’s was a privilege even though it was very difficult.
Death is a part of life. We often don’t think enough of our life and even less of death. The loss of someone close to you is a bittersweet reminder of just how precious are our lives. It’s a reminder of what is important, like relationships and family, and treasuring all that we’ve been given.
Our last full day together was selected as our time for Vic’s celebration. It was a beyond-gorgeous day, the lake as smooth as glass. We loaded up in our five boats, forming a flotilla as we crossed the lake. Dad’s boat led our procession, each of us with our own thoughts. We beached and walked a short distance to a small beach just large enough for us to gather. Vic would have been so touched that we did this, honoring him and all that he meant to us.
My son Luke played Gershwin’s Summertime on his trumpet as we scattered Vic’s ashes. A monarch butterfly fluttered among us, starting with Dad, as we were concluding. A poignant reminder of God’s transforming love and that nothing, absolutely nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love.
And so we said farewell to Vic for now. No doubt he will be waiting for each of us, in our own time, with a string of fish, a cigar, and a welcoming hug.
Unto God’s gracious mercy and protection we commit you, Vic. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift his countenance upon you, and give you peace, both now and evermore. Amen.