Tag Archives: remembering


In this word of ttyl, imho, and other acronyms yhtbt might not seem all that surprising.

But yhtbt has actually been in my life far longer than even my cell phone number, which, crazy as it may seem, has been the same for over 20 years since I got my first ‘bag phone’ (literally in its own sort of mini suitcase) for emergency use only.

Yhtbt. It was one of my dad’s favorite phrases–my dad who passed away eight years ago, but who was far ahead of his time in terms of texting lingo–dwind (recited letter by letter, not pronounced), ‘Dad’s work is never done’ was another of his favorites, as was MRA, moving right along–what he liked to say to my mom when he was ready to leave a party or thought it was time for her to be done chit-chatting with friends.

But of all of my dad’s shortened phrases, yhtbt is my definite favorite.  Yhtbt. You had to be there.

The usage could vary–perhaps it would be, in recounting a story, a shorthand way of saying ‘well, you’re not really going to get this since you weren’t at the event, yhtbt.’ Or it would be a way of sharing the moment with someone who was there–yhtbt, and we were.

But what I think I love most about it is this idea that, to really experience something, to really know it, you had to be there. But somehow, that needing to be there did not preclude the equal need to share the story about it even if you were not. There’s no substitute for ‘being there’ but, knowing that, I’m still going to tell you the story, I’m still going to remember…

Remembering is exactly what we, as a nation and as Americans, have ritualized onto this day, today, September 11.

For me, the ‘remembering’ actually begins a day early, on September 10, as that is the day my dad, the author of yhtbt, at least in the bodily physical sense, no longer was. He died at home, surrounded by close family friends, and with my mom and me by his side. We watched him breathe his last breath, and were there for what seemed to be a literal seeing his ‘spirit’ leave his body. We breathed that moment together. It was sacred and beautiful and unbelievably painful, all at the same time. yhtbt.

I too remember where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001. A student at Princeton Theological Seminary, I had decided to go to the darkroom early that morning to develop some film and print some images. I don’t remember why I took a break from my work, only that I did, with apron on and with eyes still adjusting to the light, I got in the basement elevator. There was someone else in the elevator, and she was crying. I asked her what was wrong, if she was okay. “I just have such a hard time with things like this,” she answered. I tried to be comforting, but had no idea what she was talking about.

That is, until I got out of the elevator and saw the others who had gathered in front of a tv screen in the lobby of Templeton Hall. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, as I had happened upon the events as they had already begun to unfold. It was, in a word, surreal. I quickly left the building to call my parents, a three hour time zone away, traveling through Seattle in their motor home. My call woke them up as I gave them the news of what had happened, and let them know that, though I had been in the city only three days before, on the Staten Island Ferry with the twin towers in the background of my group photo,  I was okay. It was a day of many phone calls, many such stories, many, of course, that were sacred, beautiful, and unbelievably painful, all at the same time. yhtbt.

Remembering matters. Telling and retelling the stories of our lives matters.

That is the beauty of ritual in religious traditions such as Judaism, which, in a few days, will enter into such a time of remembering beginning with Rosh Hashanah and culminating in Yom Kippur. In the Christian tradition we remember, or re-member, every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper–the Eucharist, a communion, a coming together as one body. It is a sacrament–a visible sign of that which is invisible. We remember. yhtbt.

It can be easy, perhaps, to wonder why we need to ‘rehash’ events that have passed–we tend, in our society, to live at a pace that often suggest that we should just ‘get over’ that which has been and move on. MRA, as my dad would have said it.

But I think we need to take the time and the space for the ‘yhtbt’ as well. You had to be there. But let me tell you again, what it was like… Let me tell you again, about the time… Let me tell you about the one who I lost… Let me tell you about where I was, who I was with… And in doing so, let us help one another to re-member, to find healing, wholeness, as we share the journeys of our lives.

yhtbt. and i was.

Chili peppers, spreadsheets and a toy telephone

Today I wanted to write to remember the one-year anniversary of the death of Jack McClarty, a close family friend, who died November 7, 2007.Jack

My life is forever changed for having had Jack a part of it, and for that, I am grateful. I was honored to share a few “words of remembrance” at his Memorial Service, and in his memory, I share them with you. One thing I realized, in trying to decide what to share, was the difficulty in summing up a life. I realized that I needed something tangible, and maybe it is the photographer in me, but I needed something I could see, not just words. Because of that, I turned to three props: a bag if chili peppers, a hand-drawn spreadsheet, and an aging toy telephone…


I have known Jack McClarty all my life. That’s approximately 19,130,400 minutes. As an engineer, Jack loved precision. Now, I’m no engineer, but as I calculate it, in order to cover that many years I have to cover approximately five years per minute, approximately one month per second in these “words of remembrance.” I can hear Jack asking, “Erin, what exactly is the difference between a eulogy and ‘words of remembrance?” And me responding, “Well, Jack, would that be ‘a eulogy’ or ‘an eulogy?” As I thought of what I would say, I began to ponder, how do I remember Jack? I ask the same of you—how do you remember Jack?
What came over me, in pondering this, was not so much a thought or an idea, but a feeling. When I remember Jack what comes over me is a sense of constant presence—and usually sitting there in his spot on the end of the couch, often with his feet up on a stool. Never flashy, never the center of attention, never a lot of fanfare, but always there…And I realized, in the midst of this pondering, that I needed something tangible, some representation of who Jack was in my life and in our lives. I needed something that I could grasp in order to communicate this sense of constant presence.
Luckily at that point I remembered that though I have been surrounded by engineers my entire life, my training is not in engineering, but in seminary. If there is one thing that they teach in seminary it is the three-point sermon. I also remember learning that a sacrament is a “visible sign of an invisible reality.” Both seemed appropriate to the situation, so I came up with three things, reminders, signs for me of who Jack was and who he will continue to be in my life. Allow me to share three “sacraments” with you, three visible signs that are my tangible way of remembering the life of Jack McClarty.

Point Number 1: Hot Peppers
Jack loved spicy food. The spicier the better. But to me these hot peppers also represent Jack’s love for cooking good food, and enjoyment of providing that for family and friends. He was an incredible chef, cooking everything from deep fried catfish (and hush puppies) to Thanksgiving turkey on the BBQ (the oven in Mexico, where we used to celebrate Thanksgiving, was not big enough to fit a turkey initially, but when we had a large enough oven it was too late—the turkey on the BBQ tradition had stuck) to the most amazing filet of beef ever this past Christmas.
These particular Serrano peppers are from the garden in the McClartys’ back yard. Tommy and I planted them this summer. The garden became a symbol of growth and new life in the midst of what were increasingly difficult days. Jack never failed to give me the report on the garden, as the summer progressed. “The pumpkins are looking great!” “I think we’ve got the morning glory that is going to take over the neighborhood” And just a few days before he died, “Guess what? The garlic has started to come up!”
These hot peppers are to me a reminder of Jack’s enjoyment of life–from good food and good wine to the good friends with who enjoyed them.

Point Number 2: Spreadsheets
If it is true that life is lived in the details, then Jack lived life to the fullest, and could document it thoroughly. This spreadsheet is for me a reminder that Jack was a man of order and detail. There was nothing in life that could not be made better by documenting it thoroughly on a spreadsheet! He had spreadsheets for motor home trips and for ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner—I think that one even had the aisle numbers where to find things, until they rearranged the grocery store. Everything had its place, and there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be documented and calculated better by putting it in a spreadsheet.
This particular spreadsheet he made for me just days before he died, plotting my progress as I ran the New York City Marathon, then recording it on a graph to show my pace per mile and per kilometer for the duration of the race. When he called me to congratulate me on finishing he also noted, “It seems like you slowed down quite a bit at the end! We’ll have to discuss that when you get home.”
A spreadsheet, for me, is a symbol of Jack as an engineer, orderly and detailed, who liked to have things thought through and knew that the details in life mattered.

Point Number 3: The Telephone
Now, for those of you who have followed me up to this point you may be a bit confused by this last item. This little plastic telephone was a birthday gift to Jack one year when I was a young girl. This phone was for him to take backpacking, so that he could always be in touch. He noticed that I admired the phone, so he gave it to me. When the novelty of it had worn off I returned it to him, since it was, after all, his birthday present. The next occasion that rolled around I received it back, wrapped up all pretty as a gift. Thus began 30 years of giving this silly little plastic phone back and forth, trying to disguise it as a real gift, or catching the other off guard so that the true contents would not be known until the gift was opened.
This phone, though perhaps the most unusual of my three symbols of Jack, is, I think, the most special to me. For me it represents a lifetime of relationship. It’s not about the phone—it never was. It is about the fun of giving it back and forth, of trying to pass it off as a normal present, of wondering when you might get it back and thinking of the perfect occasion on which to present it. It’s about the history it represents and the shared memories it conjures up. . It represents the enduring, loving relationship of presence over these many years, for which I am so thankful.

We are gathered together today to remember Jack McClarty. He was a loving husband to Martha, a caring father to Trisha and Melissa, and a very, very proud grandfather to Jack, Alison and Tommy. Just this morning Martha received a note from a work colleague of Jack’s. I think its sentiment speaks well to his life and his memory:
I was shocked and saddened by your note. I had an email from Jack only four days earlier and had no idea he was having any health problems. Jack hired me into Ford Aerospace in 1982 and I had a professional and personal relationship with him since that time. I have always been grateful to Jack for giving me the opportunity to start a new career after coming out of the military He was always a gentleman, always honest and just a great person to work for. Customers we did business with in the early days still ask me how Jack is doing, I think this is a real tribute to his character and his ability to establish long term personal relations.
The last time I spoke with Jack, it was over the phone. At the end of the conversation I asked him how he was doing and he dismissed the question, choosing not to focus on himself. Instead he said, “We love you and we’re proud of you, and we can’t wait to see you when you get home.”

But as it happened, Jack made it home first.

Jack, we love you, we’re proud of you, and we can’t wait to see you when we get home.


Remembering, four years later

DadToday is the 4th anniversary of my father’s death. It was my great honor to preach at his Memorial Service, a request that he had made of me the week before he died. Though four years have passed, I still miss him.

He was always fond of an acronym (WHTBT–You Had To Be There, DWIND–Dad’s Work Is Never Done) so IMHO (In My Humble Opinion)  he would have embraced a ‘texting world.’ 🙂 Though I have to say, it’s probably better that he did not live to see an “Obama ’08” sign hanging on his garage door, even if it does retain the qualifier “Erin 4” preceding it.

My attempt in this sermon, knowing that many who were stepping into the church  would not normally do so, was to offer something that would be honoring to them, to my Dad, and ultimately to the One who welcomes us all home when we have reached our journey’s end.


In Memory of George “Pat” Dunigan
Luke 10:38 -42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distractedby many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone…

It was Saturday night, of course. About 7:30. There we were, at 336 Snug Harbor Road, seated around the breakfast room table, plates filled with flank steak, baked potatoes, and a green salad, gathered together as a family, my dad, my mom, me, and Garrison Keilor. It was a tradition, this Saturday night dinner together. There wasn’t much that went on in our family that was not a tradition, but that’s beside the point. With apologies to the ministers in the room, the sermons on Saturday nights, my dad often said, were often as poignant as those on Sunday mornings.

The thing about Lake Woebegone is, it never really was a quiet week…there was always something going on, whether it be the ‘exiles’ (those who had left Lake Woebegone) returning home at Christmas, a dry stewardship sermon by pastor Ingqvist that inspires a dramatic repentance, or the fourteen year old girl who, just before her confirmation at Lake Woebegone Lutheran Church, decides she may have lost her faith. But these are not the type of things one would notice, speeding past on the Interstate. No, these are the type of stories that only unfold if you travel the Blue Highways, the back roads that go through the small, forgotten towns, the Lake Woebegones…

Now, as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home…

This story from the Bible is so simple, you might almost be tempted to skip right over it, to get to what’s next, to get to the good part, to get to where the real action is…but Jesus was not in such a hurry to get to where he was going that he wasn’t able to stop along the way.

Pat Dunigan, my dad, liked to travel the Blue Highways…that, of course, is how I know about them. Left to my own devices I have a tendency to take the quickest route, a straight line, the shortest distance between two points. But not my dad. Though as an engineer he could calculate the shortest distance from point A to point B, he chose, instead, to meander, sure that there was as much to be enjoyed in the journey as in the final destination. Not that this meandering was aimless—oh no, these meanderings were thoroughly planned out beforehand, many months beforehand, on intricately detailed spreadsheet itineraries.

Martha had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.

Now if you’ll remember, it was Martha who invited Jesus to her home. But upon inviting him in, she quickly went about her business, attending to the many things on her to do list. She had to get dinner ready, didn’t she? She was doing all this for him, by the way. Somebody had to get things done around here…

It was a Saturday night, this time many years later. It was Saturday September 4, 2004, to be exact. Based on my request, we were to have flank steak for dinner, with corn on the cob this time, since it was summer, and of course, the requisite green salad. The address had changed, and this table was out on the patio, instead of inside that breakfast room. The radio had to be brought from inside, and plugged in out on the patio. But we were to gather, in the tradition of Saturday nights, eat dinner together and listen to the News from Lake Woebegone. It had been a busy evening—I had gone for a run, and then was trying to organize the garage so that all that needed to could fit into it. Almost by accident I wandered out on to the patio where my dad was sitting, in his wheelchair now, enjoying the waning evening, and just then I heard Garrison Keilor’s opening words…It was a quiet week in Lake Woebegone… I called to my mom, who came out and joined us, and thought to myself, I almost missed it.

DWIND is what he called it. Dad’s work is never done. It was always said in a sort of mock seriousness, as, truth be told, he loved to be involved in his many projects. In fact, I can’t remember a time when he was not involved in some sort of a project.

They were varied in nature, from the remodeling of our old house on Snug Harbor, to the building of a wooden kayak, needle pointing beautifully intricate Christmas stockings for Jack, Alison, and Tommy Hanle, baking bread with Carol Kerr, putting in a new stairway with my grandpa and uncle Fritz at the cottage on Lake Otsego, and ‘rushing’ the seats on the rocking chairs there this summer, when he was no longer able to walk down the stairway that he had helped to build. More recently he and I were in the garage together, working on the latest project, cherry wood salad serving utensils, which he had been intending to make for my mom and me.

In his last days during one conversation I asked him about knowing that he didn’t have much time left—how did he feel about that? His response? Dunigan through and through… “I just wish that I had gotten a chance to finish the front patio.” Now, if the truth be known, that wish was based on the desire, I am sure, to finish the work that he had started and to leave it nice for my mom and me, but it was also based on the firm belief that if it was to be done right, he would need to do it himself!

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.

Often this story from the Bible is told as one in which Martha did something and Mary did nothing. But don’t be misled…the distinction between Martha and Mary is not one between doing something and doing nothing. For that would be the same fallacy that would lead us to believe that it really was a quiet week in Lake Woebegone. The distinction here is not one between activity and inactivity, but rather a distinction between living a life that is distracted and living a life that pays attention.

It was a Thursday night this time. It was Thursday September 9, 2004, to be exact. After a rather pain-filled day and with some difficulty my mom and I got my dad out of bed, into his wheelchair and out onto the patio for dinner. This time it was a pesto pasta, as flank steak is Saturday night food. After dinner, and what had become a nightly tradition of dessert, my dad seemed quite tired so we asked him if he was ready to go to bed. “No,” he said, “just a little while longer. I want to keep enjoying it while I am enjoying it.”

It was this desire, this drive really, to enjoy life a while longer that carried my dad throughout his life and most especially through the past two and a half years. In that time his desire to live life took him on trips to Princeton for my graduation, Port Townsend to the Wooden Boat Festival, Cleveland Ohio for my grandmother’s 90th birthday, Lake Otsego to spend time with family, and even across the pond to Scotland where he fell in love with the small town of St. Andrews but more importantly, the sticky toffee pudding at the Russell Hotel!

Especially in the last weeks, his time was spent simply “being with”—whether it be working with Jack McClarty to build wooden wheel chair ramps for getting in and out of the house, breakfast with the Webbs at Wilma’s on Balboa Island, nightly martinis and game of rummy on the patio with my mom, or teaching me how to bake bread…I am sure it was all included on the spreadsheet itinerary of his life, attempting to enjoy as much of the journey as possible, before arriving at the final destination.

In the days before he passed away I asked my dad if he was afraid to die. I am not sure what I expected in asking that question, but I can tell you that his answer both startled me and yet struck me, for it was so him. Without hesitating he said, “No, I am not afraid to die. I never have been. I know where I am going and I know that it is a better place. I have always known.” And there he paused for a moment. “I’ve never needed toe crossings or altar calls or to put my hands up in the air when I sing songs in church. Some people do that, and that’s okay. But I don’t need that. It’s not for me. I just know, and I have always known.”

This is the life that God offers to us all, calling us to enjoy the journey along the way, and then welcoming us home when we reach the final destination.

And that’s the news from Lake Woebegone, where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.


More…(photos, prayers and remembrances)