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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

The Reverend David Arthur Traies Fuller

28 February 1960 – 21 November 2020

David Arthur Traies Fuller was a flawed man. He was the first to tell you that, and yet he cared deeply, often too deeply, about how he was seen. His reputation was important to him. He believed in the Book of Judgment, and would often lament that he was certain, at the end of his life, God would examine him, and he’d be found wanting. The past two years have not been good for him – health-wise; both physically and mentally.

I met David Fuller at my first Clergy Conference in 2007. I made the mistake of wandering into the hospitality room, and didn’t know a single person there. I looked around the room for a friendly face and was feeling more and more anxious. I went to the bar and bought a beer, then found a place to stand along a wall. I heard a baritone voice “Excuse me, would you like to sit here?” And there he was, larger than life, gesturing to the opposite end of the couch on which he sat. I gratefully accepted, he stood as I approached and he waited for me to sit before he did so as well. He offered to buy me a drink, which I politely declined, as I’d just bought one, and we then talked for what turned out to be hours. And so a friendship was born.

I intentionally chose the reading from Isaiah. The heavenly banquet, “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear”. (Isaiah 25.6, NRSV) David loved to eat. Watching him prepare to eat a steak was an adventure. He’d ask for a steak cooked medium, baked potato and cremated onions. He didn’t want them just grilled, he wanted them black. Not once, in all the meals we had together, did he ever get cremated onions, they were always returned to the table before they were fully blackened.

They way he ate reflected how he lived. With gusto. He would cut a small piece of steak, then carefully add the onions, some potato, a bit of steak sauce, and pop it in his mouth. His eyes would roll back in his head, he’d place his utensils at attention and he’d groan with ecstasy, unless the steak wasn’t cooked properly, then the wait staff would receive a gesture and things would be put right.

He loved being a priest and he was an excellent priest. He also loved being a teacher, and when he left the classroom and returned to Parish Ministry, the time he spent on the Postulancy Board, with the exception of the last couple of years, was time he truly enjoyed. He relished in the task of walking with candidates for Ordination. He enjoyed challenging them. He would tell every student, at the beginning of their summer, that he was trusting them with his flock. If they messed with his flock, he would mess with them. But with stronger language. To him Parish Ministry was all about establishing and maintaining relationships.

Every Christmas, after his last service, he would come home, open a bag of Lay’s ridged chips, some French Onion dip, a bottle of Pepsi, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”. His favourite scene was when Zuzu saw a bell ringing on the Christmas tree. “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets it’s wings”. I quoted that once to him, complete with Zuzu’s voice and he said “don’t ever do that again.”

David Fuller could swear, especially when he was worked up. He and I once got into an argument about something theological and both ended up red-faced, cursing and about an inch away from each other’s nose. Then he started laughing. “You’re cute when you’re angry” he said. I said bad words.

He would often tell me of his children Sarah and Matthew and how, when they were born, it was important to him that they both receive the name Traies as well as Fuller.

He was proud of his heritage, he was proud of his family. He was awed by his father Doug’s gifts of ministry, and yet would often question his motivation, particularly when it came to being ornery with Bishops. How ironic that in the last two to three, okay, dozen years, he’s become ornery with his Bishops.

He talked of visits to London to visit with his brother’s Keith and Terry or “The Guys” and how they’d eat dinner together, then doze off in front of the TV with the game still playing. He loved reminiscing about “the good old days”, of times gone by, when the world seemed a simpler and kinder place.

He would talk about his childhood, growing up on military bases and how he intended to go into the military, not the priesthood. God had other ideas. It was on the top of a hill in Chilliwack, BC, during his basic training, when he watched a sunrise so spectacular, it caused him physical pain. He knew it was a call from God, but he wasn’t yet ready to answer that call. When he finally did answer that call, he talked to his C.O., then called his parents from a payphone and told them he was coming home…and going into the other family business – the priesthood.

In the last couple of years David would talk about his children with such love. Sarah Christine Traies Fuller, he was so impressed with your gumption. Your dad loved watching you eat. I see you as embodying your Dad’s best traits. You won’t be silent in the face of injustice. You speak up, even if you’re the only one speaking. You give with all you have, and you can swear like a trucker.

Matthew Christopher Traies Fuller is the creative one in the family. Your dad loved watching you on stage. He admired your fearlessness. Your desire to travel, to see the world, and when you met and married Marco, he was so very pleased that you found your true love. While I haven’t heard it because I haven’t spent a lot of time with Matthew, I expect he can swear when the occasion calls for it.

David played his cards close to his chest. He didn’t let many people in, and when he let you in, you knew you were in the presence of the sacred. Whenever we would attend a Clergy Education Day, he and I would arrange to gather afterwards, for dinner and a chat to discuss whatever it was we learned that day, and then how we would never get that time back…sorry Bishop.

He didn’t trust many people. He had many acquaintances, yet not many friends. And to be his friend was to feel special. When I would visit, especially before I moved West, we would walk by the waterfront, always with him on the outside, and with my arm tucked firmly under his. Always a gentleman, he would open the door, hold my seat and insist on sitting where he could see the door.

He is one of the few people with whom I always felt completely safe.

David took his mother Phyllis’s death in 2015, very hard. It was unexpected as his father Doug had been in and out of hospital. He and I talked about his Mum’s funeral, and whether he should preside. My Dad had died three years earlier and I had presided his funeral. David understood that I was the only one that would do it correctly – that would be able to do what my Dad wanted. So it was no question, he would preside Phyllis’s funeral. It nearly broke him, but he did it.

When I lived in Dorchester, I used to pick my mother up from the care home where she lived and still lives in Innisfil. David offered to drive with me so he could visit with Sarah. My mother adored David. And funnily enough, could never remember his name, even though her only son has he same name – David. When we would stop for smoke breaks, David would stand outside with my Mam, as she lit a cigarette, while I would go and fetch coffee. On one such smoke break I could see his face turning crimson. I came over in time to hear my Mam say “I like you, she should have married you.” It was the first and only time I saw him speechless.

When I made the decision to move West he was angry with me, but didn’t tell me until about a week before I left. We met for dinner and he told me not to go…plans had already been made, I’d accepted a post with Christ Church in Fernie and I’d left St. Peter’s, Dorchester. “You’re my best friend”, he said. I told him I’d still be his best friend, even on the other side of the country. I promised whenever I came back to Ontario, I would visit him. And I did. Every August I would venture back to Ontario, except this year.

In August of 2019 I was waiting on cancer test results, and he knew I was worried. I asked if I could come to Church and he picked me up at the hotel where I was staying in Chatham and took me to all three services. At the second service in Blenheim, he asked me to stand up and asked the congregation to surround me. He and they, laid their hands on me and he prayed for me. I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do remember feeling as though I was being enveloped in love. That was the first and only time he saw me speechless.

David was loved by many parishioners over his 32 years of parish ministry. He loved his flock in the Parish of Rondeau Bay. The folks from Trinity Blenheim, St. Paul’s Erieau, and Grace Church at Rondeau Park. He was fond of boasting that it was the only Anglican Church inside a provincial park. He and the congregation at Grace Church, helped in the formation of many good priests in the Diocese of Huron. He was quite proud of the cherry pie baking ladies, and enjoyed the Christmas bazaars and Parish suppers.

The last time I saw David was in November of 2019 when we spent a week together on retreat. He had come through a hospital stay about three weeks before and wasn’t well while we were together. We talked about the end of life. I asked him how he wanted to be remembered, and his reply surprised me. He didn’t want to be remembered as a fabulous preacher or incredible liturgist. He wanted to be remembered as someone who was generous. And whether it was giving advice, going out for a meal, or spending time with you, he was always incredibly generous.

We discussed our wishes for our funerals. He told me what he wanted, who he wanted, and where he wanted it. And he asked me, as he had done in 2010, if I would preach at his funeral. I agreed. I simply never imagined it would be this soon. When he dropped me off at the airport to fly back home, I hugged him and said “I’m not ready to stop loving you.” And he said “Oh come on now, knock it off.”

The gospel today is one David and I discussed often, as we both carry burdens that we don’t need to. It’s an occupational hazard as a Priest and as an Empath. The last two years and especially, the last nine months David struggled. He struggled with his priest-craft. He continually doubted that he was doing enough during the pandemic. He loved and worried so much for his people, that he gave himself away, often to his own physical and mental detriment.

From Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11.29-30, NRSV)

David carried massive burdens, which were compounded with some parishioners questioning if he should be receiving a full stipend, because the Church was closed and how much was he really working? When he shared that with me, I was angry and disappointed. He believed that he was doing an adequate job, but it wasn’t enough. He called through the parish list, one at a time, over and over again. He was checking on his people, ensuring they had his support and prayers.

He prayed for his flock, and after lock-down began, every Sunday, with the exception of two, he went to Church and did the three services, alone, save for the presence of the Divine. He would use the Great Litany. He would sometimes chant “O Gracious Light”. He would pray. And often, he would cry. He missed weekly worship, he missed his flock, and he missed the Eucharist.

David started a weekly email reflection in July, and every Saturday night he would call and we would compare notes. He’d read me his reflection and I’d read him my sermon. Sometimes we were in lock-step and other times we wondered if one of us had the wrong readings for that Sunday.

Friday the 20th of November we talked through the day. He wasn’t feeling well. He said he was going to go to bed early, and he’d call me the following day. It was the next day, Saturday the 21st of November that he died.

At 9:10 am on Sunday 22nd November, his Archdeacon and my friend Kristen Aikman called me. I must have asked her to repeat herself a half dozen times. And then I said bad words.

It still doesn’t feel real. Writing this has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and yet it is a labour of love. It is keeping a promise I made my best friend. Someone I loved, and from whom, was honoured to receive love. I miss his laughter. I miss his hugs. When David Fuller hugged you, you knew you had been hugged.

David Fuller was a flawed man. He didn’t properly care for himself, and was too proud and private to let anyone else care for him. His diabetes and depression had been escalating. He told me in March that he didn’t expect to survive the pandemic; not that he was afraid of contracting COVID-19. Whether it was foreshadowing or a self-fulfilling prophecy, we’ll never know. He was right. He didn’t survive the pandemic.

He may have died feeling he had not done his best, yet I am certain, when he arrived before his God, and the Book of Judgment was opened; the gates of heaven opened wide and he heard “Well done, good and faithful servant.” From Isaiah “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever.” “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken”. (Isaiah 25.7-8, NRSV)

We now have a job. To remember our David. At his best, of course. Each of us has a thread, a thread of different colours. And as we share our stories of him, and in doing so remember him, we weave together a tapestry that will resemble him; not in a portrait, but as a rendering of him and the things that were important to him.

His children, his family, his flock, his friends. Winning a cap badge at auction on e-bay. Finding a special something that reminded him of someone and gifting it to them. Meeting a friend for a meal, or a cup of coffee, and setting the world to rights. Debating theology, U.S. Politics or Church History.

Walking with a grieving family and ensuring that they felt supported in their grief. Now it is time for us to grieve him. And this grief will last for the rest of our lives. It won’t always feel this strong, with time it will fade, but it will always be there. You see, when someone you love dies, the pain you feel is matched only by the love you shared.

And as we don’t ever want to stop loving him, we will never stop feeling this pain. It will lessen, then all of a sudden we will remember him; watching a murmuration of birds, hearing the waves lapping the shore, watching a funny YouTube clip, going for a drive on a perfect Spring afternoon, or hearing a song by the Alan Parsons Project. It will feel like a shot to the solar plexus and we will be transported back to the day we found out he had died.

David asked that “Old and Wise” by the Alan Parsons Project, be played at this funeral. To quote some of the lyrics, “And to those I leave behind/I want you all to know/You’ve always shared my darkest hours/I’ll miss you when I go” and “When they ask you if you knew me/Remember that you were a friend of mine” (Old and Wise, Written by Parsons/Woolfson)

The Reverend David Arthur Traies Fuller, or “Dave” as he preferred to be called. To a select few he was David. Beloved son, father, nephew, uncle, priest, prophet, lover, friend. You will be remembered. Rest well beloved David. You have earned it.

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can be really difficult. Growing up I was allowed to be happy and, within reason, sad. Never angry. One of the “fun” side effects of that kind of upbringing is that I never learned how to identify the majority of emotions.

I know happy, sad, angry, sarcastic and frustrated relatively easily. Nuances beyond those are often difficult for me to pick up on. *shrug* It is what it is.

My emotions have been all over the map this past few weeks. I was doing really well…eating well, taking care of myself, working smarter rather than harder. Getting back to full speed after surgery and the subsequent recovery.

And then a virus was discovered in Wuhan, China. Which then made it’s way…well…everywhere. I watched in fear as it seemed unstoppable. Surely it wouldn’t get to Canada, not to my small corner of creation, would it?

Surely we’d be able to continue gathering as Church?!?

Two weeks ago I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. I was inundated with information…on the news…by email…from the denominational head offices, concerned parishioners, family and friends.

There was so much information, but how much was accurate? What was I supposed to share? What was I allowed to share?

And the decisions to be made…are we allowed to gather? If so, under what circumstances? How do we get this information out quickly, appropriately and calmly. Then I got a tension headache that made it difficult to think, never mind do anything.

Then I lost the ability to sleep.

I was feeling as though I was running as fast as I could…but getting nowhere. I was frantic. And I couldn’t figure out the emotions.

Turns out, it was a combination of grief, of anger, of frustration, of sadness. It was churning my insides and making me ill. So I made a decision.

I sat down with my day planner and looked at all the Zoom calls I was expected to attend. I made a list of all the ways I need to communicate with my congregation and community. I unclenched my jaw. I drank more water. I went for a walk. And I took a nap.

Friday I had to run an errand at a local hardware store. Keeping physical distance has made me afraid of crowds – well, that’s not exactly true, I’ve always been uncomfortable in crowds, NOW it’s reinforced. Red lines delineate where to stand while waiting.

I picked up the two items I needed and saw the most beautiful dog and his person. I commented on the beautiful pooch and lamented that I couldn’t say hello. The dog’s person said “Why not?” and gestured for me to walk to the other end of the aisle. Which I did. He then called the dog to sit and took off the lead, telling him to “go say hello”. I knelt down and this magnificent beast walked towards me, wagging his nub of a tail. He put his head against my chest and I gave his neck and ears some loving.

He looked up at me with these huge, beautiful brown eyes and my heart broke into a million pieces. I started to cry. He licked my tears away. Eventually I settled and stood up. I patted his head and back and thanked his person who said “You’re most welcome”, and called his dog to him.

Through tears I made my way to the checkout, paid for my purchases and walked to my car. I let the welled up grief out and cried for what felt like a very long time. When I was finished my head felt much better.

I’m doing the best I can. I am reaching out as I am able to everyone I can. I can’t do it alone and I have a wonderful group of folks who are checking in on each other and checking in on me. There was no course for this at Seminary. Yet I expect there soon may be.

I’m seeing lots of posts on social media about “being happy”. And of “bucking up and making the best of things.” And I’m tired of it.

A friend of mine is going through a really difficult time. She said she needs to stop crying and smile. I told her to feel her feelings for as long as she needs to feel them. Because when you swallow them; when you push them down they will build up until you end up on your knees in a hardware store, with a stranger’s dog licking your face.

I’m making this up as I go. I’m doing the best that I can. This is all uncharted territory. And I need to give myself the grace that most everyone else has offered.

So, I will feel those feelings. I will do my best. I will be the best I can be. And the rest will sort itself out. Priorities will continue to change. People will continue to challenge me. I will continue to hang on and do what I can every day. I will take time for me, every single day. I will take days off.

Without guilt. Without shame.

I’m just going to feel the feelings, and try to figure out exactly what they are.

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A common thing to do this time of year…where have I have been…and where I think/hope I’m going to…

This time last year I knew there was going to be a significant change in my ministry, yet wasn’t quite sure what that was going to be.

I was experiencing a significant emotional and spiritual crisis and thankfully there are terrific mental health services for me to tap into which got me through the “holiday” season and referred to receive help in a timely fashion. I started working with a counsellor, changed my antidepressant and eventually worked with a group on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

It was good to be a in a room with people who understood what I was feeling. It was good to be in a place where I didn’t feel it necessary to pretend how I was feeling. I could be honest and every one understood how I was feeling, and not try to fix it.

I finished the class, and brought the reference materials home, which I referred to from time to time. I continued working on my mental health, my physical health and my emotional health.

We moved through the Season of Lent, then Holy Week, then Easter. All this time there were discussions about entering into shared ministry with our local United Church. It was exciting and terrifying. There were meetings, conversations, committees, sub-committees and lots and lots of prayer.

Eventually a vote was held in both congregations and it was decided that we would step out in shared ministry and that I would be appointed for a two year term. Joy and terror filled my life. Mostly joy.

And as we entered summer there were teleconferences, meetings, conversations, sermons, laughter and tears as we ventured into the unknown with great hope, expectation and fear.

As I reflect back on the past three months, it’s been a time of great professional and personal growth. The Congregations are beginning to see that there are new ways of entering into ministry. One of the congregations is experiencing growth and great hope. The other is experiencing grief.

To be honest it did not occur to me that there would be grief because I’m still with the congregation…but I’m not there as much. I may not be as available. Yet I’m still here.

So as we move into 2020 I’m going to spend more time listening and asking questions, to see if there is a way we can work through the grieving into something tangible and meaningful. To see if we can move through grief and loss into resurrection.

It will take time. And we have time. This is a season of joy and celebration; Epiphany, which will then be replaced by the season of preparation and anticipation; Lent.

We will walk through this together, with my deepest desire being a greater understanding of who we are; individually, as two Congregations and as a Parish. With a greater understanding of Who’s we are. And who we are to each other.

Thanks be to God.

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