Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SHERIDAN WATSON BELL, JR. 12/21/08~10/30/82 *

After lunch with his great friend Helen Heisey at the Dodge City steak house, a few blocks from the Harrisburg Arts Council building— where they both served on the council— my Dad, Sherry Bell had a stroke in early June 1982.

I think they took him immediately to the Harrisburg Hospital. By the time I got home from California, he was moved to the Polyclinic. I believe we parked our car in one of the lots that used to be part of the McFarland Rose Gardens.

My sister Julie consulted and researched to find the best surgeon for Dad. We were told it would be preferable to have the surgery done at Temple Hospital in Philadelphia (where Ken Heisey had gone to Dental School). He was given anti-coagulants and told to rest all summer in preparation for surgery on his carotid artery in the fall.

The whole family: Mother, Julie, Sherry, Cynthia and I came to spend several weeks with Dad. We visited him every day. We stayed with Mother’s cousins, George and Bonnie Whiting, in Ambler, a pastoral suburb north of Philadelphia.

I also visited the Philadelphia Art Museum and the wonderful Rodin Gallery. One Sunday I walked from the museum up Broad Street to Temple Hospital. I hadn’t realized the hospital was considerably further north of the university. I was startled by the devastation – block after block of boarded up row houses!

I spent a whole morning with Mother buying fabric to make flags for a show she was putting on at Camp Hill Methodist Church. Why she had to make flags, I’ll never know. Dennis and I have dozens of flags, which we’ve purchased – and some quite reasonably. But we all know how frugal Mother was.

I was with Dad when the news broke about Grace Kelly’s auto accident and tragic death.

Then I returned to San Francisco, since Dad seemed to be doing better, and was going to be released to recuperate at home before undergoing a second operation on his carotid artery on the opposite side.

The night before Dad was to be released from the hospital, Helen gave him the porcelain Lladro Don Quixote she had been saving for a special occasion.

That same night, Friday the 29th of October 1982, Ross and I went to a double feature at the Castro Theatre to see “Victor, Victoria” and “Some Like it Hot.” Ross was in a grumpy mood for some reason, but I had a terrific time, and laughed and laughed …. guffawed out loud.

Very early the next morning, Saturday, October 30th, I got a call from Sherry in Paris. Just before his release from Temple Hospital, Dad’s heart stopped.

I immediately telephoned Helen at Misty Point. She had left him only a few hours before.

I was able to get a red-eye flight into Baltimore. Mother and Julie picked me up at the airport Sunday morning for the drive to Harrisburg. Cynthia asked if I wanted to see Dad before he was cremated. I declined, preferring to remember him as he had been. (Though, years later I took photographs of Mother right after she died.)

I learned that the plan was to have the funeral the next day, Monday, November 1st (All Saints Day) in Woolrich –for just the immediate family.

Halfway to Woolrich, Cynthia suddenly cried out: “Stop the car!” The urn with Dad’s ashes was in the trunk. Lovingly, she carried him in her arms for the remainder of the journey.

I was surprised to see that Mother’s headstone was already in place beside Dad’s. I had seen it before, but had forgotten. It needed only the final date.

After the noon hillside gravesite service, Aunt Katie and Uncle Roz hosted a luncheon for us at their home in Sagamore Hills. Then we drove back to Harrisburg.

Helen turned to plans for a memorial service for Dad at Grace Church set for Wednesday November 3rd. Dad had made Mother promise that the funeral would not be at Grace Church – because of his awkward leaving a few years before. By a technicality, it wasn’t. But as Mother told us children: “Funerals are for the living, not for the dead. And I have to live in this town.”

So we had a memorial service on November 3rd at Grace with Father Bill, Bishop William Keeler (now retired Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore) as the principal eulogist. Almost a thousand people attended. At least, it was a very full church.

Mother asked me if I would like to sing at Dad’s service. I said: “No, I couldn’t possibly.” She reminded me of my promise to sing at hers.

The night before, I had several phone conversations with Helen. Bishop Keeler had wanted the lyrics to “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. That had been one of Dad’s greatest roles at the Harrisburg Community Theater. Since this was before the internet, I called my old octet director, Paul Suerken at the Mercersburg Academy. I recalled that the glee club had sung “The Impossible Dream” back in 1966 or ’67.

A few days later I assisted Mother with her flag show at Camp Hill Methodist. I wore Dad’s Gunn plaid kilt. He had worn it only once – to show Connie Leightner, our next door neighbor— just a few days before his stroke.

It was a good thing I went with Mother. She was a mess. The movie projector didn’t work, or somebody had forgotten to do something. There was no sound. But Mother had slides of various European Cathedrals. I winged it. At times I guess I have a little of Dad’s stage presence. I took the microphone and made extemporaneous comments on slides, when I didn’t even know which one was coming next. I think I performed fairly well. Mother was very appreciative. People, of course, were extremely supportive. The flag parade, however, was a disaster. Nobody knew what Mother wanted. I guess it was a little like the “precision” routines of the Yale Football Band. They just ran helter-skelter into formations.
I spent a few good weeks with Mother before returning to San Francisco.

Sherry Bell was a loving man of conviction, warmth, generosity, passion, impulse, flamboyance, gusto, humor, spontaneity, balance, dedication, support, vocal gifts, drama, wise counsel, compassion and faith: a pastor of people, rather than a great preacher, though occasionally a speaker of profound ideas and natural eloquence. I’m lucky and very proud that he was my Dad.

# # # # # # # # # # # # #

Death is no enemy--
Only fear betrays,
Death is sweet release
From life’s enigma
It is escape from pain
And God’s solicitude
For man who stands alone
And wonders at his place
So small -- so insecure
So fractional
For death reveals the whole
Of life -- not its terror.

Sheridan Watson Bell, Jr.
To his favorite sister, Alice
Before her death 30 August 1957

* The Rev. Dr. Sheridan W. Bell, Jr. welcoming members of the board from Temple Ohev Sholom to Grace Methodist Church after the synagogue was flooded in Hurricaine Agnes in 1972

1 comment:

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)