One of the most poignant memorial services for which I have ever been asked to play bagpipes occurred in the backyard of a house in an unassuming suburb of Milwaukee in 2015. The daughter of the deceased Lauren, called me, having gotten my information from the website at that time, explaining that her father had recently passed away, and that the family would like a bagpiper to help them celebrate his memory. While arranging particulars, I got the sense that this had not been an expected loss, and that this was also not to be a traditional memorial service. Indeed, her father was 62 years old, and had suffered a heart attack.
Prompted perhaps by an ongoing monologue, constructed as a facet of her grief, she went on to explain that her father was unlike anyone else she had yet to meet. From him emanated a pure, and joyful zeal for living, which he strove to share with everyone he met. There was never a person who met her father who felt worse for their interaction. The calm with which she articulated her thoughts was emphasized by her unhurried, succinct elocution.
The memorial was simple. I was asked to play Amazing Grace at a certain point in the middle, and the pipes cooperated marvelously, as often seems to be the case for somber occasions, and then people told stories. I listened for more than an hour as friends and family confirmed the astute accuracy of Lauren’s assessment of her father. As I offered condolences, bid farewell, and thanked Lauren, I was compelled to say how well I felt I knew her father, after hearing what his loved ones said. For the second time I was struck by her calm as she explained “That was his effect on people; everyone knew that he was special, somehow, because everyone felt special around him. He brightened the room. He brightened the world. And that was his aim in life.”
As I carried my bagpipes back to the car, and drove home, I considered what she said. If my brief glimpse of Lauren was any indication, her father struck his mark.