The Celebration of Life memorial for our friend Gary Sparks, who died in an airplane crash on June 28th, was held on Saturday.
There were about 200 attendees in an airplane hangar in Troutdale, OR on the hottest day of this summer. There was a jar of bubbles on every seat and Barbershop Quartet recordings were the music of choice. Gary’s family had arrived from a variety of places, like Texas, and filled the front rows.
Friends from Gary’s years living in Eugene were scattered in the seats but all came together to pay tribute to Gary’s years as part of a Barbershop Quartet and primary player in musical theater productions. I had heard about this part of Gary’s past life, but hadn’t really gotten the flavor until his memorial. He also drew cartoons, and flew helicopters and hang-gliders. Gary had even jumped out of airplanes which is one activity most pilots avoid.
The memorial began with blowing bubbles and revealing Gary’s passion for ice cream. But then there was more, hidden in the stories and memories was a story of a man in search of living life to the full, even if shunned by the leaders and elders of his formative fundamentalist family. Those were his early years, his middle ages included military jobs and musical theater productions. His flying years were defined by his passion for aviation and was represented by the majority of people attending his memorial service.
As a writer, I could hear the deeper backstory of this friend in his sister’s comments about how Gary was never a victim, he was always present in the moment, he held true to his beliefs that he could be happy and make people happy, on his terms. Even his widow Martha was determined to personally express Gary’s devotion to laughter and always feeling lucky to experience the adventures of his life. She was honored to be his partner for decades.
There was determination by every speaker to promote a chuckle or laugh even though it be through tears of loss. The celebration barbecue-pot luck over-loaded almost a dozen tables. Yes, it was a celebration but it was also an opportunity for our individual reassessment – of the worth of living with joy. The story of the day, for those that weren’t paying attention during the years when Gary was alive, was that Gary “got it” and not only lived with joy but was present in it with every student and friend who entered his life.
We left the memorial as the tables and chairs were being loaded into the van. We had another place to be…
The party in process at my sister’s home included seven children, from one to nine years old, celebrating life on a slip-n-slide in the side yard of a historic mansion. The food was also awesome and a new tire swing had been added to the ancient and huge tree in the front yard.
There were only two dozen people at this event, but not one adult had issues with being caught in the crossfire of a child inspired squirt gun fight. Everyone present was savoring the joy of the moment.
It’s an emotional roller coaster to go from a memorial for a life lived, to the vibrancy of lives in process. But the theme remained – joy and adventure is the objective.