Monday, March 7, 2016

The memorial service for Robert "Bob" Hendricks

The memorial service for
Bob Hendricks
Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home
Fargo, North Dakota
Monday, March 7, 2016

Good afternoon. It a true honor to do this service for Bob. As I said at the beginning, I was Bob’s priest. And it was an honor for me to serve as such.

Last August, when Bob was in the hospital and was really beginning his final journey, I went up to see him. It was an interesting visit. Bob was, of course, beginning to really show signs of his dementia. And often, with illnesses such as that, important events come to the surface. That day, there was discussion about where Bob was going to be moved. But for Bob, he had his mind set on one thing. Where did Bob think he was going that day?  He was certain he was going camping that day. And I’m happy that’s where he was in his thoughts.

What was particularly interesting, however, was, at one point, his doctor came in and was questioning Bob trying gauge where he was in relation to his dementia. Some of those questions, Bob answered incorrectly by the doctor’s standard. But at one point the Doctor turned to me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked Bob, “Do you know who this is?”

Without a beat, Bob, very clearly and very strongly, answered, “That’s Fr. Jamie, he’s my priest!”

I have thought a lot about that day over these last several months, and especially over this last week and half. I was honored and proud to be Bob’s priest. And like many of us today, I am very grateful for having known him. He was a special and unique person. And those special and unique people come into our lives sometimes very rarely. So, we should all be thankful today for this wonderful and unique man.

I am especially happy that the family wanted me to share this poem “Two Roads” by Robert Frost today. This poem was, of course, Bob’s favorite poem. And I loved reading it.  

I don’t think that Bob’s family knew this when they asked for this poem, but I actually know a lot about poetry. I am a poet—in addition to being a priest. I’ve actually published 13 books of poems. I have a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing. And I’m an Associate Poet Laureate of the state of North Dakota, in addition to being a priest. And I’m also kind of an amateur-expert on Robert Frost. I visited his grave in Bennington, Vermont. I’ve visited many of the places Frost lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire (where Frost actually finished the poem “Two Roads”), Gainesville, Florida and Key West. And I actually know quite a bit about this poem. So, when the family asked for this poem, I said, yeah, I think I can do this.

This poem is an important poem in American literature, of course. And it is seen by so many people as a poem about rebellion. Which is completely correct.

We have a choice in our lives, Frost ponders. We can take the expected road—the well-paved road, the road that is expected of us. Or we can take the other road. The less-traveled road. The one few people travel.

It all sounds romantic, especially to those traveling the well-paved road. The grass is always greener on the other side. But for those travelling the less-traveled road, it is not always so wonderful either. It is a lonely road at times. It is a difficult road. It is, oftentimes, uncharted territory one travels through on that road. It can be frightening.  And it can be uncertain.

The well-paved road is the road most of us travel. We often don’t make that choice. The choice is often made for us. But to travel the less-traveled road, that takes concentration. That takes a concentrated choice. One chooses the less-traveled road.  And not everyone can take it. Most don’t.

So, when one does take the less traveled road, when the difficulties of that less-traveled road happen, there is no one to blame than one’s self. You chose this road, after all. No one else  did it for you. You did. So you are ultimately the one responsible for whatever may come.

Bob knew this road in his life. Bob chose this road.  And Bob would be the first to tell you, it was a hard road at times. It was difficult. It was uncharted territory at times. There were times when he no doubt felt alone on that road. There were no doubt times when he maybe he even regretted it (and that’s all right).

But I know for certain that, in the end, when all was said and done, he would have agreed with Robert Frost. It did make all the difference.

Bob, that perpetual teacher that he is, no doubt, saying that same thing to all of us today.  He is saying us, choose wisely the road you travel. No matter how old you are, no matter where you are right now in your life—choose wisely. And then proceed with purpose and meaning.

That is what we take away from this day and from our memories of Bob Hendricks. Our choices matter. Our choices outlive us.

Bob lived with this sense of memorialization. He knew that things we did and said mattered and would have meaning in the long-run. Yearbooks from our high school years outlive all of us. They are oftentimes our only memorials. Future generations will look at those books and will see those teenagers we were, so full of hope for the future, so full of life, so full of all that could be in life. And that is how many of us will be remembered.

Bob knew that. Bob worked hard to make sure that is what is remembered.  And each of us can thank him for that.  What we do—the choices we make—matter. So chose well.

Yes, it is a sad day today for those of us who knew and loved Bob. But we do have our consolations today. Our consolation today is that all that was good in him, all that was talented and charming and full of life in him—all of that is not lost today. It is here, with us, who remember him and loved him. It is here in all that we learned from him. 

And, for those of who have faith in God and in a life that is beyond this life, we take consolation that all of that goodness now dwells in a place free from pain and hardship.  The consolation we can take away from today is that, all of the difficult things in Bob’s life are over for him.   Thank God! That dementia, that Parkinson’s, that slow deterioration—it is all over for him. All of that has passed away for him and he is now fully and completely himself.  He is whole in this moment.

Of course that doesn’t make any of this any easier for those who knew him and cared for him. Whenever anyone we love dies, we are going to feel pain. That’s just a part of life.  But like the hardship in this life, our feelings of loss are only temporary as well.  They too will pass away.

Realizing that and remembering that fact is what gets us through some of those hard moments of life.  This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. It is a faith that can tell us with a startling reality that every tear we shed—and we all shed our share of tears in this life—every tear will one day be dried and every heartache will disappear. 

It is in a moment like this that I am thankful that I was Bob’s priest. Because even now he still teaches me to understand how important this life is and how important the choices we make are to our lives.

Bob chose the right path. Those of us who are gathered together today can attest to that fact. So, let us be thankful that he did make the right choice in his life.  It did make all the difference.


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