|The Revd C. Leland (Lee) Udell|
Tomorrow, I head to Burlington, VT for the funeral of my CPE (chaplaincy) supervisor, mentor and friend, Lee Udell. The top photo is how I remember Lee in the two back-to-back units (1989 - 1990) I took at what is now Fletcher Allen Medical Center in Burlington. Lee had severe glaucoma and his sight was greatly impaired - but his insight into human lives, particularly at our most vulnerable, was clear and touching. He was a lean, lanky gentle and good man whose joy was infectious. I'm trying to make sense of this - that he's no longer there. He just was. There. I got caught up in ministry in Montreal, and didn't pay too much attention to Lee for a number of years - as in visiting. He was just there in the background of my mind and haert. In the last while, he began to fail physically and I made it a point to journey south an hour and three quarters (no matter the weather, traffic at the border, it worked out to the same time ... ) to see him.
These last times, Sue and Lee were both at The Arbors, a nursing home in Shelburne, so we'd get together in Sue's room and share communion and the Gospel. Gently. Quietly. And I'd try not to remember that Lee had been my supervisor, and wonder if I measuring up. Apparently I did - not that it matters in the large scheme of things - because once he burst out (seeming to have gone inwards) with, "You're awesome!" He was referring to the sharing I was willing to do of my self, my journey, and to connect it to the reality that our ministry doesn't end when we are in nursing homes, blind and/or weak. Lee was still a priest. Lee and Sue both had ministries. And one of the reasons I can say this? Lee taught me well - to respect my gifts and limits, to be creative in ministry (Tuesday School on Baird 5, the pediatric floor where I worked for both CPE units). It's taken many years to hear some of Lee's message - to be able to cry as I am now, for instance. Right now, well - I hope he gives my love to Bonnie, Heidi, Mallory, Val ... and the other children who lived fully in their short lives, and who touched so many of us. And who continue to. I don't know what comes next. Or sometimes, if ... but I choose to believe.
Whatever comes next, you changed lives, Lee. I'm glad I told you that you changed mine. Grief is hard work. It's a choice, too. We don't choose to die - it comes with the life territory. We can choose to grieve and in so doing, to live. Thanks, Lee. You were awesome. You played a significant role in my being able to own my awesome-ness - we're ALL awesome!
You taught me that our families may have had limitations (ok - whose family didn't??) , but that as we mature, we get parts of what we need from many different people. You let me say, "I'm not ready to see an entire autopsy yet," and agreed to my request when I was able to adequately explain. You helped me learn it's ok to be hugged. I'm still learning. Imagine! Well, we all have our little hang-ups and holdovers from childhood. You listened with your heart. I'm not suggesting you were perfect... but perfect wasn't supposed to be what we were after. Vulnerable. Wounded healers. Loving listeners to the silent stories behind walls we humans use to protect ourselves.
You delighted in the stories from Baird 5 - to reactions to Tuesday School and the God stories that we shared. If you see our children, please tell Bonnie thanks for helping me learn to get in touch with my inner brat, and Heidi thanks for the late night chats in the rocking chair when she told me that when we get to heaven everyone will have what they need to eat - including lambs. And tell Val thanks for her mischievous courage and wee Mallory that I always remember her when I see the Adirondacks and that I still call them Mallory's mountains. Tell Bonnie she still isn't allowed to call Lamb "Lambchop" because Lamb still gets scared at the idea. And Kristi - she was the first child I had the courage to share our Lamb puppet with - I can still see her explaining to Lamb how the IV was giving her medicine. And Clare - little light. Their photos are all in my Bible. I need a photo of you to join them.
Lee, journey in peace. I miss you. I really don't want to go to your funeral and admit you aren't there any more. That's the truth. And the other truth is, I will go and I will certainly cry, probably laugh, and give God such thanks for you.