In Jewish tradition, family and friends wait one year before placing a headstone on the grave of a deceased loved one. This 'stone setting' ritual is a ceremonial conclusion to a season of grieving; a kind of closure for those who are still shaken by a great loss. Though the pain of that person being gone does not go away, permission is given, in a sense, to 'move on' with life, knowing that the one being mourned would want that for you as well.
Tom Howard is a man who would have had that sentiment. In that spirit, I note his one year passing with this brief post to you who are visiting us here.
As you may know, Tom was a well respected pianist, songwriter and composer, our producer and arranger for over twenty years and, most of all, our very dear friend. He passed away unexpectedly on January 29th, 2010, approximately one year ago. I shared with you then some thoughts on his life, his death and his memorial service. Oddly, it seems a long time ago that all this happened -- and like yesterday!
Tom's loving wife Dori wanted to mark the day of her husband's passing in a special way.
It was a Saturday when she and Tom had set out on a walk on an unusually snowy weekend. The Howard's were from Minnesota and snow was their natural environment! And so it seemed fitting they would join some of their friends on a trek through a Nashville park. It was on that walk that Tom had a heart attack and passed away. What would have been a pleasant, leisurely afternoon turned into a traumatic and tragic day for her and their companions.
Yet, that terrible memory was turned into a beautiful memorial by Dori and others who loved Tom Howard.
Tom has no gravesite, so there was no headstone to be set. Instead, a gorgeous granite bench was built in his memory. A simple brass plaque bears his name, with an inscription written by his family, punctuated with a verse from the Bible -- Ephesians 2:6 -- which reads:
"...and raised up together (to) sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus..."
Strangely, it was a Saturday -- January 29th -- exactly a year since Tom's last day on earth, that a small band of friends joined his wife and his children to dedicate the bench to his memory. Quite coincidentally, it had been placed in the very spot where Tom had passed from this life into the next. Near it was an older bench, bearing the name's of a couple who had been some of the first new friends Dori and Tom had made after their move to Nashville from Los Angeles. Tom had sat on that bench before breathing his last and leaving us -- for a time.
And that was the reality of which we all spoke -- and the truth we acknowledged in our commemoration; that we will see Tom again; that we all will be together again one day in the presence of our Lord Yeshua -- Jesus!
Memories were shared; stories were told; poems were read; prayers were said; laughs were had; tears were shed. It was a sweet and fitting tribute to an irreplaceable soul. One of the realizations we all had was that, to each of us, Tom was our best friend! He made each of us feel that we were the most special and treasured person in his life, even though we knew there were others with whom he enjoyed that same closeness! Somehow, he could share himself completely with you -- encouraging you, inspiring you, building you up -- and still have enough left over to do the same with myriad others who had the blessing of knowing him -- and calling him friend!
None of us will ever have another like him -- and the loss is still palpable. Therefore, it was fitting -- and comforting -- to have the opportunity to remember him on that day and to consecrate that location to his memory. People walking there -- as he and Dori did so often -- will be able to pause and reflect, hold hands and pray, talk and laugh and embrace the moment, all the while reposing on the bench that bears Tom's name.
One colleague of Tom's commented that he thought of it as a piano bench. That was a perfect reflection, creating in all of us the picture of Tom sitting there, surrounded by the beauty of nature, playing hymns of praise to his Creator!
He would like that.
Should you ever have the chance to take a stroll in Edwin Warner Park, Nashville, Tennessee, perhaps you'll be able to sit for a spell and enjoy a moment with God and His handiwork -- courtesy of our friend, Tom Howard.
He would like that as well.
We miss you, Tom; and we will see you again -- but not yet, not yet.
Shalom -- and thanks for listening.