About 3 weeks ago, one of The Big One’s friends’ dad (“Bongo” Barry Bernstein if you want to Google him) dropped dead of a heart attack. He was only 55, married and had two kids. I did not know him personally, but knew of him, because he was very involved with the band programs at the high school and middle school and was a children’s entertainer. He was also a music therapist with one of the school districts. I was looking forward to getting to know him when we got to the high school level bands.
We went to the funeral at the Unity Temple and it was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There were about 200 people, mostly in tie-dye, because that was his trademark. The opening procession was a drum circle of about 75 musicians. There was a slideshow of his life and about several people talked about him. Both of his girls got up and spoke and were both so eloquent and poised. No tears from either girl, both talked about how much he loved life and making other people happy. There were several performances from his musician friends and the processional was everyone jamming to Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” Barry was one of those lucky people who found their bliss early in life, was able to make a living out of it, and share his gifts. It is a true loss and so sad that he died so young and left so many people with this hole in their lives, but on the other hand, what a great legacy to have so many people love you. I came out of that service feeling high.
He and his family performed around the state over the summer, and left “Bongo Barry” egg shakers at rest stops along the way. They were passed around for the processional and I keep mine in my purse to remind me that life is short, that I should not take every day for granted and that I need to hurry up and find my bliss.
My aunt died yesterday after a bout of brain cancer. She had had colon cancer in the mid seventies, breast cancer about 8 years ago, and 2 years ago, it metastasized to her lungs in the form of melanoma (she never smoked or lived with a smoker, BTW) and went to her brain last year. She had radiation and it shrunk the tumor and she was doing great until a few weeks ago. Up until then she was driving, taking care of her garden, entertaining with her husband and just about everything she normally did. She was on hospice at her home and died in her sleep in no pain.
Jo had a great life, too. She was married to her husband for 60 years last summer. When he should have been retiring, they took a job transfer to Southern Korea, then to San Diego. They were the kind of people who made immediate, lifelong friends. Jo was also one of those people who love life, and got excited about just about anything. She was also one of the kindest, generous people you’d ever meet. Because she always lived far away from me, I usually only saw her once a year, at the holidays. I made several visits to her and my uncle as an adult, and those are some of the best trips in my life. I took the girls to down to their home in Wimberley, Texas two summers ago, and the last memories I have of her are of her heading down the long, wooded driveway from their house on the hill to the river at the foot of the hill, pulling a kayak, then launching the kayak into the water and giving the girls a quick lesson. At 80, she was in great shape, and I should look so good in a swimsuit at half her age.
Barry and Jo are just reminders that we are here to make the most of the life we have now. I don’t believe in heaven, because what’s the point of using your time on earth as merely a ticket to something that is imaginary. We humans have a choice every day of what to do with our lives. It’s just practical to choose to be happy.