My friend Dan Snavely made his wife, Stephanie, a promise nearly two decades ago.
They had just gone to dinner and a movie — “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” They were moved by a scene in which John Hannah’s character recites a poem at the funeral of his partner. The haunting verses of “Funeral Blues” by English poet W. H. Auden made an impression on Dan and Stephanie, who found a second-chance love 28 years ago after they’d both gone through divorces.
They finished raising kids, worked, traveled and built a world centered on each other.
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,/ Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone ”
They made a vow in the car on the way home from the movie that night. The survivor would recite the poem at the other’s funeral.
On Sunday, Dan had to pay the debt.
“When we agreed to it, I never thought I would be the one reading it,” Dan said Monday. And he recited it with a slight modification, changing “he” to “she.”
But for more than two years, it’s been apparent that Stephanie, 69, would likely be the first to go. She was diagnosed with papillary serous carcinoma in the summer of 2011.
The cancer was relentless, finally putting Stephanie in the care of Hospice and in a hospital bed set up in the couple’s living room more than two months ago.
Last Tuesday, it was obvious Stephanie was near the end. She could not communicate with words, but she was trying to tell Dan something. He figured it out.
Two days before she died, he stood at the foot of her bed and recited Auden’s poem.
“ Silence the pianos and with muffled drum;/ Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. ”
He knew the words by heart, preparing for this moment.
When it came time to fulfill the promise Sunday afternoon in a packed chapel at Striffler-Hamby Mortuary in Columbus, he spoke without notes.
He stood in front of friends, family and colleagues and honored his wife’s memory in a way that was difficult to watch — and incredibly inspiring at the same time.
Your could hear the love, respect and pain in his voice and Auden’s words.
“ She was my North, my South, my East and West;/ My working week and my Sunday rest;/ My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;/ I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong. ”
Word after word, you could tell what Stephanie meant to him.
It was the most emotional of tributes — deeply personal and meaningful.
Dan has lived a full life. He was a Navy carrier pilot, flying nearly 80 missions over North Vietnam in 1967. He is a home builder who has ridden the economic wave that builders ride.
But, he would later say, reciting that poem was as difficult as anything he has ever done.
“The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;/ Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;/ Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;/ For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t.
When he finished, Dan started to walk away, but abruptly turned around.
He then used the words of a friend, who awhile back expressed his feelings after losing his wife.
“He told me she was my fussing buddy, my drinking buddy and she was my best friend,” Dan said.
We should all be so lucky to find what Dan and Stephanie shared.