Norman B. Bendroth, his brother
There’s a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them…
I used this text on New Year’s Sunday. I said it’s a remarkable thing to wish someone Happy New Year because it only takes a second for your life to be totally changed or totally ended. In a year full of seconds, anything can happen at any second. It only takes a second for irresistible, inevitable circumstances to occur. We have no choice in our being born and we have little or no choice when we’re going to die and in between we think we control a lot more than we do. So that’s what I said. Little did I know that in two months the reality of that would kick the stuffing out of me.
The Apostle Paul asked, “Where, O Death, is your sting?” I can tell you. It’s right here in this room. It’s in this dagger of grief thrust through my heart. David was too young to die. My mom shouldn’t have to bury two sons or me two brothers. Sue shouldn’t be a widow this soon nor Sam, Hannah, Rachael and Rebecca without a father. But I know this isn’t the last word. God’s heart was the first to break when David died.
This is why I find such comfort in this line from the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” I have no idea of what a resurrected body looks like. Jesus gave us a few hints after his resurrection, but nothing definitive. C.S. Lewis said if we were to see our loved ones in their resurrected state, we would be tempted to worship them. This is my hope for David—that he is whole and healthy and vital and alive in Christ. The Christian hope is that we shall be recognizable and known. Our particularity, our individuality, our distinctiveness will remain and live on forever with God. All that makes us uniquely, wonderfully, powerfully who we are will be present. We will be wildly embraced in love and fully known by God and others in all our wonder and wackiness
And David certainly had his share of wonder and wackiness, didn’t he? We shared a room all through high school and the top floor of a house after college. You get to know someone pretty well over the years. I remember things like David as an outfielder in Pee Wee league. A long fly ball was hit to him. He circled under it around and around. We expected him to drop it like every other kid, but he caught it! I went nuts. Later my father told Dave, “You know who was most excited about you catching that fly? Your brother.”
He always gave me the top bunk which I thought was weird because that was the coolest bed. At the dinner table he wanted me to sit with my back to the dark hall. When we were older I asked him why. He matter of factly told me that if the Boogie man came he would get me first on the top bunk while he got away or if the Boogie man came out of the dark and nabbed me at the kitchen table David could escape out the family room door. And I thought he was being altruistic. We went through the rise and fall of girlfriends together. On one occasion at UNH when a relationship was on the skids, I crawled into bed on a Friday night feeling sorry for myself. Shortly thereafter I heard a pounding on the door and David waltzed with a couple of friends and said, “Norman, get up. We’re going to have some fun.” I was his best man in his wedding and he in mine, so we sorted it out in the end with the two wonderful women we both married.
We logged hundreds of miles in the White Mountains together and spent a Thanksgiving at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I remember waking up with the tent wall 8 inches in front of our noses as a storm came through the Canyon like a locomotive. I remember watching mice run around the top of our pan lids, building fires in the pouring rain, and leaving the keys in the car we left at the trail head and not having them when we got to the other car at the end of the trip.
David reinvented himself at least three times. He started out inseminating cows all over Vermont. He had the highest percentage of conceptions (88%). He told me it was time to go when he inseminated a Jersey with Holstein semen. He started his own painting business and when the bloom went off that lily he and Perrin took up rock and ice climbing. Later, he pursued photography as witnessed by the delightful display of his work here which gives us a look into his gentle, kind and loving soul.
After he was let go from Highland House, a job he had at UNH, Sue sent him down to visit Peggy and me when we were living in Washington, DC. I took him to the Smithsonian and found him inspecting the wainscoting. I asked him what he was doing. “Checking out the paint job,” he said.
So many memories. Spent summers at Lake Winnipesaukee with our cousin Donald and good friend Judy Deene, catching Cray fish, building models, reading comic books, listening to 45s, and going swimming as soon as the ice broke up in April. Becoming father’s together. Taking my dad to a Red Sox game in his wheel chair. Teaching Nathan and Sam the love of backpacking together. And too many lasts. Our wonderful last Thanksgiving together. Our last hike together up Mt. Kearsage last August. Our last bro hug in the hospital. I’ll miss our phone conversations. He’d pick up and say, “Hello-oh.” And I’d say, “David.” And he’d say, “Norman.” And we’d talk about the Red Sox or the Pats, about how mom was doing, politics, work, and the kids. I’d ask what Sue was up to and he’d tell me: “Oh, she’s goin’ Mach 5 with her hair on fire.”
It was Peggy’s and my great privilege to walk with David and Sue these past five weeks through their “valley of the shadow” at Mass. General. There were so many grace-filled moments. Call it serendipity or call it the providence of God. We “just happened” to be there when they got the news that the bone marrow transplant hadn’t taken. We “just happened” to be there when they got the news that the MDS had morphed into Leukemia. We “just happened” to be there with their dear friends the Gould’s the night David decided to try another round of chemo. We laughed so hard when he told us stories we had never heard before. And Peggy went down the morning Sue and the kids decided to take him home. Those were bittersweet times of long talks in the cafeteria, of prayers, of laughs and hugs. The bonds of our love grew richer and deeper.
During David’s last days I asked him how it was with his soul. “My soul?” he said. “It is well with my soul.” I wanted to be sure so I continued. “Where is God in all this for you?” “Right here with me.” “Really?” I said, “Palpably present?” “Oh yea, right here.” “I’m not afraid to die.” “But I’d feel gypped.” “I don’t feel that way. I’m grateful for all that I’ve had.” And I’m the minister. I’m supposed to say that stuff. So that is the emotion I carry with me this day, along with the penetrating grief; a deep, deep gratitude for the 57 years we had David with us. It was too short, but this I also know with my whole heart, as did David:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruler, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I will miss you so much.