I wrote this non-standard obituary for my Mom this summer after her passing. It’s a little stream-of-consciousness, but followed my thoughts during those early weeks of August, 2020.
Barbara Ann Gott Hapgood Obituary
If, during the evening in July 1960, a 22-year-old kindergarten teacher from suburban Philadelphia could have had her wishes, her soldier love would ask her to be his wife. Anywhere. If that 24-year-old boy from the next town over, a Cold Warrior stationed on a U.S. Army base in West Germany, could have achieved his strategic objectives, she would devotedly consent. Anytime. If those fabled fates of place and time could converge on them in a manner beyond all imagining, that profession and confession of unity would unfold in a gondola on Venice’s Grand Canal, the fireworks of the Festa del Redentore roaring above, silhouetting the singing, striped gondolier. And she said to him yes.
To be conscious that this actually happened on a real springtime evening to Barbara Ann Gott, as orchestrated by Thomas Layley Hapgood, has brought a comfort on a molecular level to all who know them, knew her, with an affirmation of life, and optimism, and marriage, and, really, of why we’re all here. To then know their certitude and romance wavered never through the decades because precisely of the momentum from that unapproachable origin story, is understandable, because, because Barbara Ann wasn’t someone you propose to on the football stadium jumbo-tron or at the karaoke bar. You go largest, and you connect with history, and you manipulate time and space themselves, and you obliterate all former expectations of others’ feeble demonstrations of amorous intent, knowing fully what it means, and you make it last. You use pyrotechnics and Italian opera among 16th Century buildings that ever hold off the ruinous floods, whatever may come. Forever. For time and all eternity. You only need each other – you just need Barbara.
And that Barbara was dignified and refined. In fact, Barbara’s speech, sullied infrequently, if ever, and then only with, at most, a bit of silly wordplay or an “oh, shoot,” that portrayed her opposition to the low road, the baseness, and contention in all forms. Everyone was special and worth your respect. She knew she had been given much and she knew that her kindergarten kids and her Cub Scouts and her tennis students would benefit most from knowing they mattered, and she told them all, and they did.
There would always be M.A.S.H. and milkshakes, perfect spelling, a withering slice backhand that saw her ranked in the east, the subtle and slow triumphs that come only from dogged consistency, saying into the phone “This is she,” cooking cozy, playing piano and Scrabble, laughing, the two-cheese-enchiladas-rice-and-beans a thousand times, all interspersed by traveling the Lord’s good world from Guatemala to East Berlin to Japan. And serving the Good Lord whom she loved, while raising three completely and truly unattainably perfect children. Never a whiff of complaint. Her body, internally wrecked by bringing these, again, great, children into the world, there were even supposed to be more kids, and there are tears somewhere in the atoms of Washington and in a motel in Nebraska where she and Thom packed their bags in the morning and kept driving, because. There was unimaginable theft, big, tough life things, there were tests, and parents Betty and Earl Andrew Gott taken by cancer, by aneurysm, bad. But little sister Betty Jeanne taken by cancer at 44, and Barbara wouldn’t recover from that. Ever. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word, Psalm 119:28. Always within reach at her bedside.
Maybe, then, the shuffling gait, the stiffness, the shaking that would set in just a few years later was actually the disease, but who knew, life never showed to get her down. She rocked on with grace and dignity that was a trademark. Who would know, through the days and nights of the constant trench raids by General Parkinson’s hideous shock troops, that would nearly, but never, bring Barb and Thom to surrender, and their efforts will someday be known.
And then after all the decades of minutes, over 15 years of suffering in a Parkinson’s body, and yet, suddenly, there’s that Army colonel, now 84, standing over that girl from the gondola laid in an orchid and pink casket. And then a few days later there’s the, somehow, 50-year-old son in a hotel room in Amarillo, a view of majestic thunderstorm clouds through the window, having just bafflingly removed a mandatory mask from his face, attempting to enchant words of a language into assembling into an obituary to match such a life. Barb’s life. Somewhere overhead she passed. And with that grieving father kneeling in prayer at the next bed, and oldest sister asleep in the other after prayers, and yet another sister bent over weeping many states away. The glow of a computer screen, trying to type, reverently. And he reflects on the past few days since August 8 when she went. The half-eaten egg salad sandwich on a hot dog bun, the writhing, the tears, the “we’re rushing over” hospice nurse, the depths, the pronouncement and then, the phone calls.
Really, in some ways, August 8, 2020, was a good day. By normal standards, the date of someone passing away is not heralded as anything less than tragic, but sometimes circumstances converge during this strange life journey where that succession to the world beyond is a greatest blessing and consecration. When someone such as our “Barbie” languishes in a mortal existence that disallows the sweetest of souls an active place among the hills and houses and happy occasions, it has to be a mercy of the most tender favor to release her to the eternity of youth and vibrance. When someone such as she crosses through that veil to reunite with the endless family, our God, angels and even the foundational elements must take notice, and know that one of the true and honest have returned from a life lived in highest form.
While staggering and baffling, for Thom, that she’s gone, for the three children Lynda (+Tony) Tillman, Kristi (+Andy) Daynes and Tom (+Adriane) Hapgood Jr., and then 12 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren, August 8th was the day of parting that timeless veil and emerging in heaven whole from a broken body, to be enveloped in open and surprisingly familiar arms for the great reunion fest. Maybe Father in Heaven was there. Maybe her Mother in Heaven. Jesus her Savior was there. Little sister BJ was there. Mommy Betty and Daddy Earl. Baby Washington and Baby Nebraska. Grandma Mimi, even all of them all the way back. There was music and pretty lights. And when the party wound down, if you get to choose your eternal age up there, we all know the age she chose, and she sauntered slowly away from the group, and stepped elegantly into the gondola, the same one, with that cute blonde ponytail with matching bow and cute dress, could she have been that young?, sitting on one side of the bench, serenely watching the fireworks when someday, not soon, Thom will request their song from the gondolier. You are the angel glow that lights a star. The dearest things I know are what you are. Some day my happy arms will hold you. And some day I’ll know that moment divine. When all the things you are, are mine.