Our friend Chris Lucash died yesterday. His protracted battle with ALS is now over.
Chris and his family live next to us, here at the bend in the Moncure Rd. We had a rare Saturday lined up: nothing to do. I was thinking about laying block, or playing tennis, or working in the garden. Then I checked my phone.
He died at 4:00 a.m. in the arms of Alisa, with her sister and his best friend present.
The news hit me with an unpleasant blend of sadness, and relief, and wonder. Once again my brain took a back seat. They set the service for today at 4:00, which meant we had a grave to dig.
I fired up the tractor and headed for the graveyard where Z is buried, getting word on the lane that Chris and Alisa’s children were still sleeping. Word went out not to wake them, so I drove the long way around. I didn’t want my passing tractor to be the first thing they heard on the day they were to get the news that their Dad was dead.
Bob met me at the graveyard and went to fetch a carboy of fuel. Alisa slipped away from the house and showed me the gravesite they had picked out. One with enough space for her to be buried next to him when that time comes.
I started to dig. I’m not as proficient with the backhoe as Arlo, but when I asked him if he wanted to help he refused. Bob showed up with a measuring tape and staked off some targets for the hole.
I was about a third of the way finished when I couldn’t push on. I didn’t hit a root. Or a rock. I hit a wall. It was a solid wall of grief that not even a backhoe could budge. I killed the engine and walked away. My father-in-law, Ed finished the backhoe work, and the hand work was knocked out by Jason and John and Kabui. Apparently Kabui furnished the shovel crew with some Kenyan chants that made the work go easier.
I walked up toward the house, picking up sticks from the shoulder of the driveway, thinking perhaps I could mow—or do something else to help out—something non grave related.
Along the way my tears subsided and I regained my composure. For an instant I thought about how the whole neighborhood would be working together today, and about how satisfying that always is.
Just as I was feeling ready to go, I rounded the corner of Chris and Alisa’s house. There was Alisa, kneeling before her eight year old Eden, giving her the news. Eden had one hand cupped over each ear so as not to be able to hear. The peace I had found clearing sticks was shattered.
Over the past year Eden has been a frequent visitor to our house. She would build towns out of building blocks in the middle of our great room while I sat on the deck with Chris drinking beer.
Joe and Janice arrived. Luke and Hope and their kids pulled in. Carolyn and KJ arrived from Alamance County. In no time the entire property was abuzz. Garbage was collected and hauled away. A new fire circle was constructed. Grass was mowed and poison ivy was eradicated. Parking spots were cleared.
Sparkroot, as their place is known, was transformed. Brooksie and Leif arrived to plan the service. Tami fetched a mountain of food from Angelina’s. Camille organized tasks and ran communications.
Walkways were swept. Litter was picked up. Goats were milked. Porches were cleared. Benches and chairs were delivered. Janice hung a chuppah from some ancient oaks. Bob and Tucker and I fetched some saw horses from the Plant—sturdy metal saw horses to hold the coffin.
From time to time a decision would arise that the work crew could not answer. Often I would be the one to seek the answer. That meant walking through the house, entering Chris and Alisa’s bedroom, and interrupting the conversation. Chris’s body lay peacefully on the bed, and Alisa dispensed decisions for us all.
By nightfall the grounds were as ready as they could be. Chad had finished making the casket, and a group of pall bearers carried Chris from the house to the fire circle. Chris and Alisa’s children, Amie, Noah, and Eden each lit a fire in the greater fire circle that eventually became one for Chris’ final campfire.
Drums emerged. Words were spoken. It was a moving and touching ceremony.
Since today is Camille’s birthday, and the previously scheduled neighborhood celebration will be trumped by Chris’ burial, we went around the circle and enumerated Camille’s charms. She’s essential to keeping all of us on the right track.
Tami and I walked home in the dark, just as the rain started to fall. When my head hit my pillow the mixture of sadness, relief, and confusion was visited by a sense of satisfaction, knowing that we had all worked together, and pulled off another fabulous send off for one of our own…