An event, once described in human words, takes on an air of permanence.
Perhaps this is why I’ve hesitated for so long to make a proper chronicle of the events of May 29, 2020. This was the day on which Robert Alois Streveler, known to all and sundry as Fr. Bob, crossed into eternal life. Perhaps I thought I could make his crossing a little less real, a little less permanent, by simply failing to put it into human words.
And yet the permanence of that day’s events remains with us.
And so I record the events of that day for the records of this house.
The story begins, in a sense, in November of 2019 when a wind of monumental speed, strength, and cyclonic swirliness wrought havoc on the venerable trees of our courtyard. (I believe the details of the storm are contained within the pixels of this very Chronicle!) Shortly after Brother Wind had felled the courtyard trees, Sister Snow came to blanket the downed branches with her tears, covering them gently for a winter’s rest. As winter turned to spring and Sister Snow’s blanket receded, issues more pressing than the removal of downed branches in the courtyard always seemed to pop up unexpectedly.
Finally, in the time of the pandemic – in these days of cloistered living – time was found to tend to our fallen trees and otherwise care for the courtyard. To be exact, Marge was mowing the courtyard grass on Friday, the 29th day of May, while Tracy and Fr. Bob hauled brush out of the courtyard, through the house, down the stairs behind the kitchen, and across the back parking lot into the bed of the truck. I, meanwhile, was preparing, eating, and cleaning up after my lunch in another part of the house. I heard sirens through the open window of the recording-studio-turned-kitchen in the basement and thought the sound was drifting in to me from Highway 29.
But when I returned to my room after lunch, I heard a commotion in the stairwell beneath my room and thought, “What on earth is that? Why are there so many people here? We’re closed!”
I peeked out the windows of the stairwell, saw flashing lights, and immediately realized that the sirens I’d heard while eating my lunch had come to St. Anthony’s. I peeked over the banister, saw a crowd of people gathered in the stairwell one-and-a-half floors below me, and realized that I should take a different stairwell on my journey downstairs to discover what had happened. As I retreated back up to the second floor, I heard the words “heart attack” and thought of Fr. Bob, who’d had a heart attack before; Fr. Bob, whom I had taken to the doctor at about this time last year for a procedure designed to reset the rhythm of his heart.
I quickened my pace considerably – some might even say that I ran – along the 2nd floor hallway, down the stairs at Exit 5, past the refectory, and through the doorway at Exit 6, where a first responder informed me, with a gesture towards the back dining room, that the residents were in there.
I joined my shell-shocked housemates as they filled out paperwork for the EMTs and waited for the undertaker.
Someone has died. Fr. Bob has died.
It didn’t really sink in that Fr. Bob had died until I started calling staff members to let them know of our loss.
They were shocked as profoundly as I.
Tracy and Marge and Fr. Bob had been working in the courtyard at about 3:00 in the afternoon. Marge was mowing the lawn; Tracy and Fr. Bob were hauling brush. Marge stilled the lawn mower and sat down to take a break. Tracy encouraged Fr. Bob to join Marge in taking a break. Fr. Bob joked about not liking these Union rules. Earlier, he had joked that no one would have trouble finding him if he were kidnapped on his way outside because he was dropping such a messy trail of brush. Indeed, Tracy was about to admonish Fr. Bob for having dropped most of the tree on the floor when he realized why there were so many branches scattered across the floor.
Namely, the brush had flown from Fr. Bob’s arms as he fell. Tracy saw him at the bottom of the stairs and called 911.
He then called out for help in trying to make Fr. Bob more comfortable. Patrick happened to be here that afternoon, just a few feet away in the garage, replacing a part on his car, which had stalled out in our garage over three months ago on a cold winter’s afternoon. Patrick ran to Tracy’s call. They brought a cushion to place under Fr. Bob’s head, and Patrick squeezed Fr. Bob’s hand, telling him it would be all right. No doubt things were already quite all right for Fr. Bob. By that time, perhaps, he was already feeling the embrace of his beloved mother and father instead of the squeeze on his hand back here on Earth. Tracy and Patrick were just preparing to start chest compressions when a first responder arrived to take over.
At first, no one was sure of the cause of death. Had it been a heart attack? Or had he simply lost his balance on the stairs, and had the head injury brought about his passage to eternal life? The coroner would later rule that the cause of death was a massive heart attack – the one known as The Widow-Maker. Blessedly, Fr. Bob probably hadn’t even known what hit him. One minute, he was joking and doing yard work (a chore that he never minded doing!) with people he loved in a place that he loved. The next minute, his earthly experience was quite simply over. But eternal life had begun, and our Fr. Bob St. Reveler will surely revel in it! (Did you never hear him comment on the fact that his last name was St. Reveler? He is surely now the patron saint of revelers and rejoicers everywhere!)
We waited in the surreal silence of late afternoon and watched as his earthly body was taken away.
Patrick cleaned up the stairs. Neither Tracy nor Marge nor I would have had the heart to do it.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of suspended shock. Late at night, just before I went to sleep, I noticed the text Patrick had sent me when it all happened, a text that I hadn’t seen because my phone had been in my room while I ate my lunch in the kitchen on the other side of the house:
911 is here
Father Bob has had a terrible accident.
And so the reminder of that day is embedded in tiny little points of light in my phone.
On the day when he was laid to rest beside his mother and father at the cemetery in Halder – Wednesday, the 3rd day of June in this year of our Lord 2020 – Tracy and Marge and I rang the chapel bell 77 times, once for each year of a beautiful life generously and wisely lived.
We knew how he loved to ring the chapel bell. And so the tolling of the bell seemed like a fitting farewell.
The shock had worn off by that afternoon, but the permanence of his being gone hadn’t really sunk in yet.
Indeed, on Saturday the 6th day of June in this year of our Lord 2020, I thought for a fleeting moment that the events of that day in May had all been a mistake.
I’d gone out for a walk at dusk, as I am wont to do. I love the quality of the light and the air and the sighing earth settling in for a nap as twilight fades to night. I rounded out my walk with a visit to the cemetery in our back lawn to say good night to another dear friend, Fr. Peter Hesse. Having conveyed my greeting to Peter, I turned towards the house and saw a light where there shouldn’t have been a light.
Did I leave the light on in my shack? (“Shack” is a word from the world of ham radio; it refers to that space in which a ham’s station is set up.) But I hadn’t been in my shack in an embarrassingly long time. I knew the light wasn’t coming from my shack. What room is to the east of my shack?, I wondered. I knew, of course, what room lay directly to the east of my shack; I knew what room was lit up that night. I just didn’t want to admit that it was Fr. Bob’s office. Glancing further to the east along the profile of the house, I happened to notice that it wasn’t just Fr. Bob’s office that was lit up against the twilight. His bedroom window – or the window that I was pretty sure belonged to his bedroom – also cast a light out into the night.
I walked rather more quickly than slowly through the gently waving grasses of the north lawn and into the house, resolved to take Marge, Tracy, or both housemates with me when I ventured to turn off the lights in Fr. Bob’s office and bedroom.
Once in the house, I was confronted with more surprisingly burning lights. Namely, the chapel lights and the lights in the sacristy – both places that were dear to Fr. Bob – were blazing out into the quickly darkening house.
I found Marge and Tracy in the Conference Room, where they had just finished watching a movie. We all three ventured to turn out lights in rooms that shouldn’t have been illuminated. None of us knew why the lights were on in these particular rooms. It might have been forgetfulness on the part of the last persons who’d been in those rooms to start packing away the memories of Fr. Bob’s life or to pray or to retrieve music from the shelf in the sacristy. Or it might have been our beloved housemate’s way of saying “hi,” and “bye,” and “I’m OK.”
He was a brightly blazing light, indeed. A bright blaze of generous love for all of us to follow throughout our days.
Deo Gratias! +