Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 25, 2009 - Farrah, Jane and "Let It Be"

News has just come through, today, of the death of actor and model Farrah Fawcett. I wrote about her cancer struggle in my May 16th blog entry. Her television documentary, Farrah’s Story, was a graphic account of the last months of her life.

While the film attracted some negative comments from critics, who branded it as reality-show exploitation, I saw it differently. It seemed to me a courageous (although rough-around-the-edges) statement from a dying woman whose deepest desire was to “not go gentle into that good night.”

Sure, Farrah’s story was hardly typical. She was an enormously wealthy woman with the means to jet all over the world seeking alternative cancer treatments. She was also more vocal than some about the problem of how cancer was affecting her physical beauty (hardly surprising in a woman who, in her prime, was a fashion icon). Yet, whose cancer story is ever typical, anyway? We’re all individuals, and in our respective responses to this disease we each display our own interior beauty.

This morning I walked across the street to St. Mary’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church to attend the funeral of a neighbor, Jane, who died at mid-life after having been diagnosed about a year ago with a pretty-much untreatable form of cancer. She left behind two teenage daughters and a whole churchful of friends.

Jane designed the funeral service herself, down to every last detail. While it wove in and out of the Book of Common Prayer liturgy, the musical selections and personal testimonies were hardly typical funeral fare. We sang along with the choir to Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” and listened to a talented guitarist sing the jaunty medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (as styled by the by the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) and “What a Wonderful World” that’s been making the rounds of indie singers.

We finished by singing the Beatles’ “Let It Be” – a baby boomer anthem if ever there was one. I’ve always heard the song’s mention of “mother Mary” was inspired by a dream Paul McCartney had of his own mother, whose name was Mary. After checking it out on Wikipedia, I learned his mother died when he was 14, of cancer. As she came to Paul in the dream, he was blessed with an overwhelming feeling of comfort and peace. According to Wikipedia, he later told an interviewer: “It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing ‘Let It Be’.” Speaking to another interviewer, he shared how in the dream his mother had comforted him: “It will be all right, just let it be.”

Some have assumed, I know, that “mother Mary” in the song must surely be Mary, the mother of Jesus, but of course that’s not the case. So, it doesn’t make sense, as some have done, to sing it in church as a celebration of that Mary. It turns out, though, in this context, “Let It Be” has a compelling personal (if not exactly liturgical) rightness.

From what I know of Jane – a deep-thinking, highly organized person – it’s likely she knew this story, and included it in the service for that reason. It’s the message she would have wanted her own daughters to take away from the experience of losing their mother:

“And when the night is cloudy,
there is still a light, that shines on me,
shine until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”


Ronni Gordon said...

Beautiful post, Carl.

Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the deaths of these women, and for the backstory on "Let it Be."

On a day of personal happiness (, I appreciate being reminded of today's sadness. Birth and death, beginnings and endings. They are all part of a beautiful, glorious whole we call life.

With hope, Wendy