A Good Life, a Good Obituary

A Good Life, a Good Obituary

I like to read obituaries, in death, as in life, I find it interesting to learn about people. And so, while returning to New Rochelle from Upstate New York, I read the obituary for Donald Lincoln (his middle named bestowed upon him by his paternal grandfather in honor of our 16th President) Burgess. He died on August 25, 2021, at age 102 years in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

His family referred to him as “a scholar, musician, World War II veteran, business executive, gardener, friend and lover of the sea.” This care manager believes this description comes with certain characteristics which make for a good life. Among them, being a good person, courageous when the occasion calls, kind, helpful, loyal, trustworthy, selfless, generous and purposeful.

For Mr. Burgess courage and loyalty characterized his devotion to country. During World War II, on the U.S.S. Brough he made twenty-six North Atlantic Ocean crossings protecting convoys of troops and supplies. He continued another 18 years in the naval reserve, to his resignation at rank commander.

After forty-three years in the printing business where he worked his way up from office manager to president of Sutin-Burgess Printing Associates he retired. A life of purpose became most apparent. During this time and thru retirement, he was a gardener, taking pride in a backyard full of plantings he nurtured for many years. His generosity to community was highlighted by his love of music and using his piano skills to serve as the organist for his church. Perhaps most significantly he was the care-giver for Kathryn, his wife of sixty-four years. While I am not a fan of “single-handed” caregiving, the term used in the obituary, I can imagine his devotion to his wife, trumped all offers made to help him. He “surrendered his role to professional care-givers only as a last resort.”

And then came one of the hardest tasks older adults face, “letting go,” as his obituary read, of his home of over a half century. He entered Payn House in Chatham, New York. Its website describes it as “a sensible, affordable option for the independent retired person.” Here, Mr. Burgess drew on his strengths from times past. While adjusting to a new home and befriending residents, “he maintained ties with far-flung family” and dwindling friends. “Doug, found among new friends and activities respite from loss, and opportunities to give of his time and abilities.”

Besides his children, Mr. Burgess left behind ten grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Judging from his well written obituary, I think his family recognized all the pieces that made for a life well lived. Quoting the author, futurist and pastor Erwin McManus, “a life well lived is the most exquisite work of art.” Douglas Lincoln Burgess, you were a masterpiece.

Putting Pen to Paper in the Time of COVID-19

Putting Pen to Paper in the Time of COVID-19

To write a letter is human, to receive a letter, divine
—Susan Lendroth

Four years ago, I downsized. Living in an apartment house, I am now part of a community, not a formal one, but one with a passing hello in the lobby or weather conversation in the elevator. However, it was my relationship with our fifth-floor neighbor that went beyond the hello and the weather. Meg was of an earlier generation, there was no computer in her home and only the most basic of cell phones. In lieu of these items were plenty of paper and pen.

Given the generational gap, Meg was a woman of notes. Invariably, they would be slipped under our kitchen door. They varied in nature, telling us she would be visiting family, wishing us a happy Thanksgiving or my favorite, letting me know how much she enjoyed looking at my hanging geraniums that she could see from her living room window. In our three years as neighbors, I left my computer and iPhone behind. From my side of the hallway, it was a note thanking her for taking in our newspapers or a holiday card with an accompanying note. There was something so special about our across the hall communication. These notes were acts of thoughtfulness. Sometimes on a random piece of paper or other times on a real piece of stationery, especially when Meg’s birthday rolled around. The common characteristic that each of our exchanged notes shared was gratitude.

As much as I delighted in having Meg across the hall, I knew that a woman approaching her ninetieth birthday with an array of minor health problems, should not be living alone. Her children, also knew this. Meg would tell me in her soft voice, that while she understood the logic of a move to assisted living, she was saddened to leave her beloved New Rochelle where she was born and raised her family. Inevitably, acceptance trumped resistance. We had said our good-byes many times, voicing how fortunate we both were to have each other as neighbors. I returned home one day, the wreath that changed with the season was off Meg’s door and Meg was gone.

In the weeks following Meg’s move, I sent a note, bringing her up to date on what was going on with my family and inquiring about how she was doing. In return, I received a lovely card from Meg. A few brief sentences, with her ever-thoughtful sentiments.

Quoting Phyllis Theroux, a writer based in California: “to write a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” In these times of COVID-19, where going anywhere is done with an abundance of caution or not at all, a note not only moves the heart but let’s those we care about know they are remembered.