Fourteen months after my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he reached the latest milestone on his terrible journey: the point where food and drink were doing more harm than good; the beginning of the very end. There would be no cure, no miracle, and no experimental drug.
It was Sunday, May 23, 2010. The story of how a day with such a sad beginning came to such an inspiring end starts three days prior, when Jeff G, the former music director of Dad’s beloved Lititz Moravian Church, stopped by with a hymnal and an idea.
He wanted to play the Moravian Church organ and sing Dad’s favorite hymns—a private concert. It’s hard to imagine a better gift for a music lover and twenty year choir veteran who can’t move, see, or talk but who has not yet lost his hearing.
The next day we got a call from Jeff’s wife, Julie the Organizer: the concert was a go for Sunday evening. Oh, and the choir was going to come too. And then others started to call, asking for details. Someone volunteered to make cookies and punch. Someone else offered to swing by and take Dad’s recliner to the church. The church sound engineer decided to record everything.
On Sunday night, we buckled Dad into the wheelchair for his last trip.
When he got to the church, seventy five people were waiting: choir members, Moravian friends, Lutheran friends, Catholic friends, former co-workers, and neighbors. Jeff sat down at the organ he hadn’t played for a year and began with his favorite Moravian Hymn: Join We All With One Accord. And the choir, overflowing on folding chairs set up next to the alter, sang and cried and sang.
People called out the hymns they wanted Dad to hear, and we sang them. Sang because there was nothing else we could do. Sang to console ourselves and to give Dad one last gift of music.
After we finished with Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord (known in some circles as the Moravian National Anthem), Dad’s left foot stopped keeping time, and he gave the choir and his friends a thumbs-up, the only gesture of gratitude and appreciation he could muster. As everyone gathered around to greet him, his thumb rose again and again.
Dad died less than a week later, listening to the recording of his hymn sing, a celebration of friendship, faith, and community.