I sat there, second pew from the back, trying to focus on the music. As far as memorials went, I couldn't complain.
I met David in 1990. I was five years old. My mother was a firm believer in the benefits of enrolling her children in music lessons at an early age. By five, I had already taken both violin and recorder lessons for a year each. The recorder was my segue to the flute. It was a condition given to me by my mother before she would invest in purchasing another expensive instrument - play the recorder for a year, and, if I still wanted to switch to the flute after that she would sign me up for lessons. So I served my mandatory sentence, and then I met David.
He would have been twenty-eight at the time, the day of our first lesson. He didn't just teach me how to play the flute; David taught me how to be a good person. He taught me about compassion and patience. He taught me about love and respect. He taught me how the smallest acts can make the biggest difference to someone else. And he taught me that one of the greatest gifts you can give another person is the act of simply being there for them when they need you. Looking back at his notes on all of my music books, David was also frequently trying to teach me to slow down and breathe - advice that is applicable in both flute playing and in life.
Shortly before one of my flute lessons, when I was fourteen, my bird died. As soon as David saw my face that day he knew something was wrong. Instead of going over Minuet or Humoresque or whatever piece we'd been working on, David rubbed my back while I sobbed on his couch in complete and utter heart break.
David was there, again, when I had to put my dog to sleep in 2015. My parents were treating me to takeout from the restaurant of my choice. It just so happened that I wanted burgers from a place that was located across the street from where David was living at the time. My father saw him out on his balcony, called over to him and explained the situation. That day, like so many years before, David hugged me and rubbed my back as I tried my best not to sob in the passenger's seat of my dad's truck.
When my mother told me that David had called, I didn’t need to ask why. I'd known he felt off and was undergoing a few tests at the hospital. There is only one reason why people call me when they are sick: they want to know about hospice.
I didn’t want to return his call that day because returning his call meant acknowledging the reality of the situation: David was dying. I didn’t want David to die. I don’t want anyone to die, but I especially didn’t want David to die. He was 56; how could he be dying?
Why hadn’t I made more effort to catch up with him on a regular basis? Why didn't I stop to say hi to him when I'd seen him walking across campus a few months before? Did he know that he was, hands down, one of the most influential people in my life?
One of the most difficult things I have done in my life was pick up the phone and call him that day, but I did it. I did it because he asked me to, and I would have done anything he asked me to. I followed up with the hospice; I did what I could.
He was thrilled the day he moved to hospice. He'd been in the hospital for a month, sharing a room with three other people. "I had a shower this morning," he beamed at me when I visited the next day. Even with death looming on the horizon, David was nothing but gracious. He didn't complain. He didn't cry, or at least not in my presence. Instead, he was peaceful; he was accepting. "I've lived a good life," he'd explained. "I earned a PhD. I travelled around the world. I helped make good people," he said, as he glanced at a friend who was standing in the corner of the room. "See," he paused, "didn't I tell you I helped make good people?" he asked her, nodding in my direction.
David died on a Monday in December. I cried when they told me. I felt physical pain in my chest.
It was a week and two days after he arrived at hospice. Two and a half days after the last time I saw him, when he'd called me into his room to say goodbye and I'd kissed his forehead as I left.
Instead of a funeral, they held a memorial concert, where friends, family and former students played in his honour. And, as I sat there, in the second last pew of the church that day, I swear I could feel him in the music - smiling and looking around at all the people... Nudging me, saying, "didn't I tell you I helped make some good people?"


Starting off 2018 on the right foot...

"What the hell, you cunt bandit!" I exclaimed (to the cat).