Too Much Death (Rachel Bissex has died. So has my next-door neighbor)

I was planning to blog a little about my quick trip to Austin last week. But other stuff has been happening that has sort of pushed that aside. I find that, during the past few weeks, a lot of folks I know, one way or another, have died. More than usual.

A couple of weeks ago, the Mom of a very old friend. Last Thursday, our next-door-neighbor, Mr. Cooper. He had cancer, but he died of pnuemonia. I saw him a the hospital a couple of days before he died, and he actually looked like a guy on the road to recovery…at least temporarily… certainly not like someone who’d be dead two days later.

Friday, after I got back from my trip to Austin, I went back by his room to see if he was there, and he wasn’t. And I just assumed that meant he was able to go home and rest. I saw Mrs. Cooper the next morning, and she told me the news. Just shocking.

Then I was leaving the hospital last Friday, on that same trip to see Mr. Cooper, I just
happened to bump into the director of the preschool at our church, and her husband. He’s also been suffering from cancer. They were in for a routine pain management treatment, that was so non-invasive that it’s sometimes done in an “outpatient” setting. I shook his hand, and his grip was firm and strong. I thought, yes, he may have cancer, but he’s got some time left too.

Yesterday morning, Sunday, I got the word that he had died just a few hours after that. Cardiac arrest, coming out of the “minor” proceedure.

Both those deaths were shocking enough. But this morning, I woke to an email that says Rachel Bissex has died. Rachel was a wonderful human being, and a great, great musician. She had a fantastically giving personal spirit. She had cancer a few years back, and had had to take a lot of time off the road. I remember seeing her at the South Florida Folk Festival last January. It was one of the first gigs she was playing since returning from beating the cancer. (In fact, we shared the mainstage Friday night, at the pre-festival concert…) Her hair was growing back in grey and wirey. But I thought to myself that she looked like she’d beat it.

It was shortlived. Sometime last Fall, it came back again, with a vengeance.

Most of the folk music folks I know can tell you a lot of stories about Rachel, and about what a great person she is. I remember times in song circles with her at Kerrville, and at SWRFA…. sometimes circles that would go until very late at night, with just a few of us sitting around trading songs. She seemed to never tire of trading songs. When she gave you her attention, she gave her FULL attention and care and you felt like she was listening to you and you alone.

The time I remember most was when she came through town back in 2002, and did some recording for my CD, and I was her roadie for a gig in Fort Worth. She was in and around town for about a week, and so I asked her if she’d do some recording. She was incredibly grascious with her time, and drove with me over to the studio where I was recording. She did a harmony vocal on “Free My Hands,” and “Love Song That’s True.” Both songs are still waiting to be released on my CD whenever it gets done…you can listen to the clips here.

She was an especially good trouper since, when we got to the studio, one of the secretaries had a cold that no one had told us about. Sure enough, Rachel caught it!! But she never once complained, even though, if I had been her, I would have been pissed.

I lent her my sound system and drove her to a gig she had in Fort Worth later that week. (At the Flying Saucer, I think…). After the gig, we caught a beer at at Fort Worth Stockyard place that had some guy playing old country songs. Rachel seemed fascinated by the whole cowtown thing.

We had a good time, just driving and talking the 60 mile round trip. She was very proud of her kids. But I know she also worried about them a lot. She was really honored to finally be getting some major recognition for her music (she’d won Wildflower and Kerrville the year before…) I remember she said she might do some theater down the road, because her husband was into that. (I noticed her obit said she’d directed a play in 2004). Most of all, she had a great way of putting people at ease, and of not taking herself too seriously.

I feel honored to have known her, and I’m terribly sad and shocked that she’s gone.


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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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