Tag Archives: memorial service

Painter Partner: Eben Drake, RIP

Painter: n. a person who applies colored pigments (paint) to walls

Partner: n. a person associated with another in some activity of common interest

Over the course of my life I’ve done a lot of painting. Not the artistic kind–the home decorating kind. Color is like therapy to me. Each room in my house has a mood that is set by the color on the walls, and as my life changes so do my wall colors.

For the last fifteen years, I’ve finally acknowledged that I’m a shitty painter and I’ve hired someone. That someone was Eben (Ed) Drake.  Around here painters are usually known for being flaky and unreliable, a kind of minimally skilled worker who couldn’t do anything else and who maybe spent too much time sniffing paint fumes.

Not Ed. With his CarTalk guys Boston accent, sense of humor, and craftsmanlike skill, he was the favorite painter of everyone I knew. He painted two houses of mine, outside and in, some rooms more than once.

Back when he first painted for me he was accustomed to the local penchant for walls of white or beige. So when I handed him the chips for rooms in cerulean blue, deep green, red, and gold, he was non-plussed for a couple of days.

But as we worked together over the years he began looking forward to my wild color experiments, working with me and the folks at Rodda Paint to get the shade just right. (Chartreuse is the hardest to get right… not too yellow, not too bright, not too green.)  My skill picking the right shade the first time got better and his faith in me grew.

Every couple of days he’d bring his wife by so she could follow the project’s progress, and occasionally his son or grand-daughter (he adored his family) came too.

Whenever he finished a job, he’d say, “OK. After we have a couple shots of Jack Daniels, you can inspect the work.”  Not that he drank, but it was his little self-deprecating joke. I never found a boo-boo of his, though he fixed up a number of ones I made in my amateurish attempts.

He painted for some of my feng shui clients, and they came to love him too. He set me up at Rodda to get a professional discount and introduced me to Fred, who became my personal color mixer there. He would stop by the house every few months just to say hi and catch up on family news.

Early this summer he repainted my bedroom (photos of the “after” don’t do it justice), and he also painted the stairwell wall that overlooks the living room with some of the leftover chartreuse paint from the laundry room(still good after five years).

Ed had a consistently sunny personality, and worked without complaint thru heat, bronchitis, back injuries. But this time he was dragging. He said he was having trouble eating and had what he thought was pretty bad acid reflux. Serious enough that he had his assistant paint anything where he would have had to lean over.

I kept telling him he needed to see a doctor.  By the time he did, a few weeks later, it was already the beginning of the end. Metastacized stomach cancer.

He told the docs to sock it to him, whatever treatments they had – he’d do ’em all at once if necessary. It was a miserable way to go. And Monday he went, surrounded by his beloved family.

At the service this afternoon, so many people showed up to tell similar stories of this lovely man. I will truly miss him – but at least his memory is there in every room of my house. Especially I think of him when I pull into my sunny garage, which was once a dismal hell hole and he transformed with a bunch of my leftover paint.



Linda, a woman I knew only slightly (from an exercise class we both attended a few years ago) died last week after a two year fight against lung cancer. She called it “passing” and towards the end she was looking forward to being in an eternally better place.

She was a gal whose life had been challenging from the git-go. Poverty, bad marriages, poor health, kids with drug problems, grandkids who needed her care – on and on. Her siblings weren’t much better off.

In 2001 she began working in the accounting office at the YWCA– a local social services agency with a big heart – and finally felt safe and appreciated. When she got sick they kept her on through her many treatments. When she died they were the ones who offered to put together the memorial service because they knew the family couldn’t pull it off.

This was where I came in. My friends at the Y knew I had conducted several marriage ceremonies and assumed it would be no big deal to officiate at a memorial service. I had attended a number of Unitarian memorial services (something, by the way, that they do more meaningfully than any other religious organization) but her folks were a mix of unchurched and fundamentalist Christian… how would I pull that off?

Internet to the rescue. Found some great readings and some ideas for organizing the order of service while the Y staff pulled together the food and flowers. The service was yesterday afternoon.

I delivered my opening words, sniveling into my hankie every couple of sentences (not exactly professional!) but the effect of having the minister so weepy must have given the family members permission to come up to the mike without worrying about weeping themselves, because speak and weep they did.

For a group that hadn’t wanted to do anything, didn’t want to say anything, they truly opened up. By the end of the hour this sprawling brawling family had really come together through their mourning, their stories and their memories of Linda.

Her sister said, “I only wish Linda didn’t have to pass in order for us to get together like this. She would have loved this.”

For me the takeaway is that memorial services (or celebrations of life, as I prefer to call them) are REALLY important. It’s a tremendous opportunity for telling the stories that allow for grieving, healing and community building. Even if the dying person says “I don’t want a service,” it’s not for them; it’s for the folks who are left behind.