St. Cornerstone and Jim
Jim has been celebrated before in this corner of the Internet... twice. October 28th I introduced you to my ninety-two year old aquanaut and his penchant for persistent questions (See Jim). Two weeks ago, in another of my rueful recollections of growing older, Old Men, I reported that Jim had suffered a severe stroke. James John Joseph Barron, grandson of the auld sod, died February 18th at Brookdale Place, West Hartford, following a brief stay at St. Francis Hospital. An obituary was published in The Hartford Courant Sunday. Prepared by Jim's daughter, Shirlee Grabko, now a Tennessean, the obit tells of Jim's pride in his Irish heritage, his work with Pratt and Whitney, and his eventual purchase and management of a metal stamping firm. Jim is survived by his wife, Carol, afflicted with senile dementia, a resident at Brookdale Place. Two children, the aforementioned daughter Shirlee and son Brad, who lives at the same Oxford Street address in the West End, survive Jim.
Shirlee and I exchanged several Emails following Jim's stroke. She asked me to preside at the graveside service and I agreed. The burial was at Mount St. Benedict Cemetery on Cottage Grove Road in Bloomfield to the east of Blue Hills Avenue. Tuesday morning was bitterly cold, the grave-digging equipment in disrepair. Family and friends gathered for the service in the cemetery mausoleum. Thirty of us, including two other Cornerstone buddies, Tom and Dennis, prayed and read Psalm 23 and together offered the Gaelic blessing printed below. Shirlee asked me to "say a few words." This is what I said... and then prayed.
An explanation is in order, about Jim and Bob and others, and where our congregation gathers, St. Cornerstone Aquatics in West Hartford.
The counter attendant there reserves lockers at the end of the room for those of us of a certain age, the undressing space nearest the toilets, of course, where there is more room than elsewhere to limp around. Locker #144, the last in the line closest to everything necessary, is the penthouse and Jim usually gets it. He should. He is the most senior of those of us of a certain age. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1 PM we hold our services. In the altogether. Jim often gets us started with a joke, or a memorable saying. One I have frequently quoted from Jim has it that life is like a roll of toilet paper: the more you use it the quicker it goes.
We also talk about ailments, the nuisance exercise is, the shape of the universe, and the life to come, whether there is one, what it would be like, and who’s there. Jim is like a bulldog in his pursuit of what Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion names “life’s persistent questions.” So when he found out that I was a retired, if not lapsed, clergyperson, he plied me over the past couple of years with some of his persistent questions.
And I celebrated him on my website, his persistence, and an epiphany he provided me. Shirlee can show you where.
St. Cornerstone, the unintentional church, where two or three and more gathered in their birthday suits to do more than shoot the breeze, to exchange confidences and uncertainties about life’s mystery.
Jim was sharper at ninety-two than many we meet along the way at forty-two. Three weeks ago he swam forty laps in the pool. And he regaled us with stories, jokes, and quips. I should have guessed earlier that his roots were Irish. His fey sense of humor and his twinkling eyes could have come from nowhere else. We’ll miss him, our small congregation of swimmers and exercisers, of a certain age. But we know, because he told us, that we shouldn’t shed tears for him, that he wondered in fact why he should have lived so long.
Now the wind is at his back and the sun shines warm upon his face. There in that better place, in the company of those we have “loved and lost awhile,” where we know even as we have been known by God, where the brokenness of this world, circumstances Jim faced, more than his share, no longer reach or tear at us, there we are held in the affection, no, the love, which greeted us in our parents’ arms and then our children’s… and sometimes even in the company of other men of a certain age.
God bless Jim.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
God of the universe, all there is and all there ever shall be, who in this moment of time has breathed life into us that we might share the love and joy for which you brought forth the worlds from the chaos, we thank you for the many blessings which have come our way, high among which we count Jim, father, grandfather, neighbor, and friend. On his behalf we thank you for providing him at his beginning with a loving family. You equipped him with a keen intelligence, and physical strength that served him well the length of his years. You coupled him with a loving and loyal helpmate for most of those years. You prospered the work of his hands and mind; he wanted for very little. And when he no longer could manage his affairs with customary skill, you surrounded him with helpers, his own children, to see him through, all the way to nearly ninety-three years. You were good to Jim and he was good for you. And to us. We shall miss his self-deprecating banter and his jokes; which now charm the other residents of your house with many rooms. We shall miss his questioning spirit, which now finds in your presence the answers that eluded him here. But we shall not miss the troubles that nagged him, confident that with you there is no sorrow heaven cannot heal. Hold Jim in your everlasting arms. Give him that peace that eludes all of us here, peace, perfect peace. We ask these things in the name of the one who shows us the way, through this life and into the kingdom of love and light, Jesus, our Lord, our Savior. Amen.
A Gaelic Blessing
May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
may the rains fall soft upon your fields,
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.