On April 24, 2012, I got an email with the news that my long-time friend, TQ, has passed away. He was 83 years old, and had been sick for a little while. But, from a previous email I had gotten a few weeks earlier, I was led to believe that he was "improving". Sadly, no one ever really explained to me just what "improving" meant.
He would have never left the nursing home he was convalescing in...never.
So, I think that he knew this, and with that knowledge, he decided, the day after making his 83rd birthday, that he was all done now. He passed away during the night, in his sleep...
Would that we could all be so blessed.
I have known TQ...Rev. Thomas J. Quinlan...for 44 years.
He became the pastor of the parish we were a part of at that time...St. Vincent's Catholic Church in downtown Newport News, Virginia.
He was full of fire and controversy and a new Way of thinking about religion...and a new Way of living it.
My mother thought he was scandalous, and wonderful...her view was shared, for the first few months, by many people in the parish.
But TQ had a knack for either winning your heart, or sending you out the door of the church, screaming he was the Anti Christ.
We stayed at St. Vinnie's...he had won.
Over the years that he was there, all things Catholic and church and religion took on new and exciting meanings. That's what happens when you really begin to LIVE what your faith teaches, instead of just getting by with "believing it".
There were grand and glorious Easter Processionals around the city block, with flowers and palms and bright colors.
There was the Folk Mass, and the Folk Group, of which I was a part for several years.
There was the Summer Program at St. Alphonsus Church...the first Black Catholic parish in Virginia.
There was the generosity of TQ...he had the parish pay my school tuition from 8th grade through 12th and graduation, because, even though we lived right next door to my grand parents, we(me and my sister, Deidre) were a single-Mom household.
And there were fantastic Midnight Mass productions for Christmas...and splendid Easter services...and there were Sunday sermons that made us think...and there were even more sermons that made us DO...ACT...take our roles in the community and the World quite seriously.
These things...this man...helped me get through high school without falling to the "Dark Side".
He was always there when I needed him to talk to...always.
And although we went our very separate ways over the years, he never stopped being there.
When I learned that he had crossed over, I knew I had to go to his funeral...his final Send Off...his Going Away Party.
So, off to Virginia Beach I went.
I believe that funerals...Send Offs...Good Bye Parties...are for the living, for closure...and they tend to bring out the best, and the worst, in those that are there.
Enough on that...
I saw several "old friends"...and yes, I went up and saw TQ, in his simple, beautiful plain wooden coffin.
He was ready for his upcoming Journey...Driver's License in one hand, and a Statement of Sanity in the other.
(I leaned over and told him that the Statement of Sanity was going to fool anybody.)
But, contrary to what I was assured by far too many attending that Party, he did NOT look "excellent"...he looked DEAD.
And THAT was the part that I couldn't wrap my Heart around.
THANK YOU, Michael, for being there...
So, there I am, standing in reception area, at the door to the interior of the church, watching the show that was taking place.
I felt him there, too...at times laughing, and at other times, not so happy about it all.
I went to Communion and the church rafters did NOT shake !
Then, during the Meditation time in the Mass, a woman from the choir gets up and sings MEMORIES, from the musical CATS.
And that was all it took.
I spent the next few minutes in the ladies' room...
After the Mass was over, and everyone began to mingle, I overheard someone say that TQ personally chose MEMORIES, and that it was "something that Patrice would like...".
And with that knowledge, the whole Send Off took on a new meaning, a new LIGHT.
I got back to my hotel, and I allowed myself to cry...really, really, cry...for the first time since I had learned of TQ's passing.
And when I was done, I knew it was enough...that while he was no longer in this "Material World", he would always be with me.
Maybe not in spirit form, but within MY SPIRIT.
For, through the decades of our friendship and sharings, he gave me something that will never go away...the knowledge that QUESTIONING and CHALLENGING and THINKING are not only OK, but are mandatory !! Those very values are the core of who I AM.
And while I no longer ascribe to any organized religion...sorry, Old Man, but I gotta be ME...I know that The Universe is ever-present, listening and knowing.
And maybe It doesn't do the things WE mere Humans ask of It when WE want It to, but I know that The Universe is very much a part of my life...and I am very much a part of IT'S LIFE, as well.
So, THANK YOU, Thomas J. Quinlan, for having been a part of this World...and for being a part of my Life.
You and your glorious friendship will always be part of my greatest treasures.