Saying goodbye, part 2

I should begin by explaining where I knew Tom from. I used to work at Christian Horizons, providing support for people with developmental challenges. Tom was our behavioural consultant:  he would come to the residence once or twice per month to help us devise a strategy for responding to problem behaviours.

Tom wasn’t conventionally religious. He described himself as a spiritual person, but he didn’t believe in God.

Nonetheless, allow me to use a verse from the Bible as a framework for my thoughts. As I talk about it, it will become clear why I think it’s a suitable way to express my respect for Tom.

The verse is, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”.

Tom was a problem solver and a peacemaker. At Christian Horizons, people would sometimes get upset over everyday, routine things. Taking a bath, getting dressed, getting into the van to leave for day program — those sorts of things could be very upsetting.

It was upsetting for everybody. It was stressful for staff, but it was also stressful for the individual involved. They weren’t happy. They were frustrated or angry or otherwise miserable. So we needed to find a solution for everyone’s sake.

Tom had an arsenal of professional skills that he could bring to bear on the problem. With his help, we would carefully analyze the behaviour to identify its precise trigger and come up with a strategy to manage it better and avoid conflict.

I think I can honestly say that Tom’s intervention made a difference every time. No matter how challenging the problem was, Tom was able to effect an improvement.

It wasn’t just a matter of professional training:  it was who Tom was. People don’t go into this line of work to get rich. They go into it because it reflects their values, their temperament. And you could see that with Tom:  he was soft-spoken, patient, quick to laugh, a good listener.

He was a problem solver and a peacemaker, as in the verse I quoted above.

Let me interpret the second half of the verse for you. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God“.

Jesus is referring to a family resemblance here. It’s like a newborn baby, when people look at it and they say, “He’s got his father’s chin”:  or “She’s got her mother’s nose”. Even though the baby is only a few days old, people can already see a family resemblance.

No one has a physical resemblance to God; but we can have a spiritual resemblance to God. And that’s what Jesus is referring to here. God is a peacemaker; Tom was a peacemaker. You can see a spiritual resemblance between the two of them, a family resemblance.

But that’s not how Tom would put it, I know. Tom didn’t believe in a personal God. So let’s think about this concept in a way that Tom would be comfortable with.

Tom believed that the fundamental principles (or forces) of the universe were positive. In particular, he believed that love and peace are the core realities of the cosmos.

It takes a kind of faith to look at things that way. If we look at the universe from one perspective, we see a lot of ugliness. We see conflict, violence, misery, and death. Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of 9/11. You could be excused for thinking that ugliness and darkness is at the core of the universe.

But Tom didn’t see it that way. He looked at things from a different perspective:  a perspective that appreciates the sublime beauty of a song sung in four-part harmony, or a convivial evening spent with friends in the local pub, or a hockey game played at the local arena.

Tom was a big Beatles fan. We were reminded of that last night:  when we got together there was Beatles music playing. And what did the Beatles sing about? Everyone knows the answer to that question:  the Beatles sang about love more than they sang about anything else.

Later in his career, John Lennon turned his attention to the cause of peace — he used his celebrity to wage a campaign to promote peace.

Those were Tom’s values, too. He believed that love and peace are the fundamental principles of the universe. That’s why Tom was a problem solver and a peacemaker. He aligned himself with those positive, fundamental forces.

I began with a verse from scripture. Perhaps it would be fitting to conclude with a few lines from a Beatles song (a poem, really):

Limitless undying love
which shines around me
like a million suns,
It calls me
on and on
across the universe.


Tom died of cancer last week, at 56 years of age. I’ll be speaking at his funeral this afternoon.

The original “Saying goodbye” post, remembering my sister Kathy, is here.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MaryP
    Sep 11, 2007 @ 21:24:29


    I think Tom would approve.


  2. Jack
    Sep 11, 2007 @ 22:47:59

    He sounds like he was quite a man.


  3. mike (a.k.a snaars)
    Sep 11, 2007 @ 22:59:21

    … he was soft-spoken, patient, quick to laugh, a good listener.

    Qualities that I try to cultivate for myself. It sounds like he was quite a fellow.

    I’m sorry for your loss.


  4. Stephen
    Sep 12, 2007 @ 11:27:32

    People always speak well of the dead, of course, but Tom really was an exceptionally admirable person. The funeral home was packed with people whose lives Tom had touched.

    Having participated in the service, I now understand that Tom comes from a family of exceptional people. His two teenaged sons played the guitar and sang four songs in Tom’s memory. (Tom was a capable guitarist.) Both of the sons then delivered eulogies; so did Tom’s brother and his sister.

    It takes a lot of emotional strength for an immediate family member to deliver a eulogy. I was amazed by how well those four held it together, in their determination to do right by Tom.


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