You could hear the leaves rustling in the trees that Saturday afternoon as we gathered at Orange Cemetery. A barricade of cumulus clouds hung on the horizon beneath a sky of blue, and you felt the end of summer in the air.
One of my best friends had died after years of grappling with the scourge of diabetes, a lot of suffering and a lot of failing health. Despite it all, he continued to fulfill his responsibilities as a deacon in Holy Infant Church during those last few months.
But now it was over, 73 years of life that they tried to summarize, however inadequately, in a few paragraphs of an obituary, which could never capture the true accomplishments of his lifetime and the countless people he touched.
In part, it said, "Deacon Bernard J. Hayden, 73, of Orange, passed away on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, in Yale New Haven Hospital.
"He was the beloved husband [of 19 years] of Mary M. Willi Hayden .Bernard was born in Hartford, the son of the late Raymond and Mary Ellen Murphy Hayden. He served proudly in the United States Army.
"He later worked as Information Technology Director for Yale University, devoting over 33 years of service. At Yale he served as Director of Yale ADS, Director of Yale MIS and Director of Yale RIS, eventually retiring in 1999. Mr. Hayden was a pioneer in his field, serving as project manager for Yale Universitys first computer-based accounting systems."
But there was so much more than that. During the eulogies after Mass, his granddaughter read a poem that said, "When I was young, I used to pray that we would never part, but now I know we havent. I found you in my heart. "
His son Danny wrote, "With a kind warm smile, soft touch and love in your eyes To our dear loving father, we say our final goodbyes."
Later, his brother Tommy stood up and looked at the priest and then the assembled crowed and captured the sorrow of everyone in a few words, "My brother loved his family and friends. He loved them a lot. I miss my brother."
Among the moving tributes were fond recollections from the women who had attended Rachels Vineyard retreats for those who have had abortions or been touched by one.
At a time in their lives, they said, they felt despair and loneliness and thought that even God had abandoned them for what they had done.
And then they went on the retreats, where they met Bernie, who served as the spiritual director. He counseled them and consoled them and, most important of all, he helped them believe that God had never abandoned them, that despite their abortions, he still loved them with a love that was infinite and unconditional.
How many of us at one time in our lives have felt abandoned and desperate, and on those occasions, God had sent us a special person, someone who shares his love and compassion in a special way. Bernie was that person to thousands of lost and lonely people.
Isnt that, after all, the greatest thing that any of us can do? Share the love of God with another person, particularly someone who feels despair and rejection and thinks God can never forgive what theyve done?
A trio of soldiers raised their rifles and fired; the shell casings ejected and then they fired again and again. A bugler played Taps, and the soldiers folded the flag on the coffin and handed it to Bernies widow in recognition of his service during the Korean War and the appreciation of the President of the United States.
I looked at the casket, the flowers, the coffin, the many family members and friends who had gathered, and I realized: He served his country. He served his God. He served his family. He served his friends. What more is there to a life well-lived?
And these are the achievements that you can never capture in an obituary.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.