Today I sang for you and for your beautiful family and a large congregation of friends and fellow parishioners. They orchestrated a lovely service and I wanted to do you proud, to give you the sweetest send-off my voice could offer. Thank you, Neault family for giving me this honor of cantoring Bob’s funeral mass. Bob, thank you for two decades of generous support of me as not only a fellow parent, but as an artist and writer. I’m remembering today how you introduced me to a job writing blog posts for a local realtor--a venture I’d never even considered, and in doing so, you earned me this bright yellow chair I’m sitting in right now as I type this. Thank you for the display of faith that you’ve always had in me.
You and I brought our families to Naples at the same time. Saying this is my way of acknowledging the fact that we are transplants in this southwestern Maine community. I’ve always been incredibly proud of my hometown of Millinocket and although you are originally from Massachusetts, we share that quality of “hometown pride”. We weren’t born and raised here, yet we both have made this beautiful town our home. You may have arrived here a little sooner, in 1991, whereas we arrived in January 1992. We didn’t meet right away. That’s probably my fault for I had our family attending mass in Windham until it was brought to my attention that the little brown church up on High Street in Bridgton was our town’s parish. We made the switch and I’m so glad to have done so, for especially on a day like today, I cannot imagine the past twenty + years without my St. Joseph’s family. I’m going to miss seeing you there each week. I’ll miss listening to you lectoring and I’ll miss your smile, your wink, your sense of humor, your wisdom, and your steadfastness--amongst so many of your other good qualities.
Our children grew up together, were involved in the theater together, and each of them participated in various events and celebrations of mass. In the early years our kids stood side by side near the altar as altar boys and girls or donning robes and costumes, singing in the annual Christmas pageant. Today I listened to Danny’s words about you and I thought, “Wow. What a good man you and Anne raised. I know you’re incredibly proud of him right now, and always”. I listened as Liam and Katie sang that touching song in tribute to you and I thought, “There it is. Right here--the strength, all-encompassing love that a father like you deserves to have”. I felt very blessed and honored to stand by your children at the piano, to hug them each and to have had the chance to say how sorry I am that they lost you but also emphasizing to each how beautiful a family they are. And thank you, Bob, you and your family have been so kind and good to my own three children and to Eric and I too, of course. Even today as Anne greeted me at the reception following the service, she spoke to acknowledge Sydney, Emma, Paul, and Eric. I’m so touched by this.
I didn’t expect to say goodbye to you so soon. I said my prayers and kept you and your family in my thoughts from the moment I heard of your stroke. I heard of your decline a few days before your death and I still held onto hope that you would pull through. I suppose it was tough for me to accept that a man so full of life, so strong and dedicated to his family and his community and to his church was being called to serve God so soon in new ways, in a new home.
Before I headed back to Naples after your service today, I stopped at the local bookstore. Books have always been a comfort to me but in truth, what I was looking for were the interactions between our fellow townspeople. I listened to the salesclerk helping a man find a new book about coins, heard her ask a young girl if she was in the store’s book club, and I smiled as the clerk gave me a ten dollar credit I’d earned for frequenting this local business. When I arrived home, I was greeted by a letter from a dear friend of mine, a former Millinocket neighbor. His letter’s words could not have been better timed. Responding to a note I’d penned him as I anticipated another recent death in my life he wrote, “We can fear death, hate death, run from death, shout at death...death is at the doorstep but the fruit that is born out of death can make life fuller and richer. Maybe not in the moment, maybe not for awhile, but the harvest will come”.
As we head towards another Christmas at St. Joseph’s, as I travel daily over the bridge you worked tirelessly for to aid our community, as I see our hometown of Naples ablaze in the glory of twinkling Christmas lights, as I hear God’s words each Sunday, and as I sing with the choir in the weeks, months, and years ahead, I will give thanks to you, Bob. For you, dear man, have borne much fruit here in our beloved community and we shall all reap the rewards for decades to come.
Go forth, Bob. I’ll meet you there in our new hometown someday. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the place.