It’s been a strange couple of days filled with life and death. My Treo says that today I’m having lunch with Russ Noland. I plan to be there. I’m having a hard time believing he won’t.
In the midst of that sadness, a beautiful story of the beginning of new life and hope. August 13 was Dan Fogelberg’s birthday, and the story below comes from his wife Jean. Since his death, she’s written several moving emails to his fans about Dan’s legacy, music, and the honest struggles she’s going through coping with his death.
I will note that this email was written on the day Russ died. Which she could not have known, of course. Everyone who loves Connections cannot not help but note it. “The Reach” has become one of our favorite Dan Fogelberg songs in our live tribute to him. It’s the next-to-last song before the obligatory “Gambler.” It features just about the whole band, and you can hear our version below, as you read this beautiful story from Jean Fogelberg.
Well, I’m sitting here in Maine on another overcast, cold day. This summer has been an unusually wet one, with widespread power outages, flooding, and dampness-caused damage to hay crops as well as small fruits and vegetables. The last week has been especially rainy, with the exception of yesterday. And that’s the day I’m writing to tell you about.
It had been a difficult few weeks for me. Going through hundreds of photos of Dan while laying out the “Love In Time” CD package was taking an emotional toll on me. But when I looked out the window yesterday morning and saw the beginnings of a glorious sunny day, I felt happiness well up inside of me. I thought: “This is the day”. I knew that you would all be holding Dan in your hearts, so it would be the perfect day to fulfill a special promise I’d made to him.
Dan had asked me to pick a beautiful day in late summer, go out with our friends Jon and Sherry on their boat “Free Spirit”, and scatter his ashes on the Reach. He wanted me to do it just before sunset, at the marker where he would turn at the end of the day to return to the cove, and home.
I had arranged everything tentatively with Jon and Sherry for his birthday, but with the understanding that we would re-schedule if the weather was too bad. No need. The hard rain the day before had scrubbed the air crystal clear, and they were calling for temperatures in the 70’s.
We left the dock at 5:00 pm, the four of us: me, Jon and Sherry, and our good friend Jean, and just sailed and drifted around the Reach. They had brought crackers, veggies, fruit, shrimp, and dips, and I brought the champagne. We talked and laughed and reminisced, just as we would have if Dan were there with us physically. There was no moroseness, no awkward silences, no sniffling, and they had packed napkins and glasses for 5, so he was included.
I was wearing Dan’s favorite blue sweater and the first necklace he’d ever given me, and had my hair in a braid (he loved my long blonde hair, especially in a braid). Jon and Sherry and Jean each had on one of Dan’s sailing vests, and we all had our “Quest” pins on. I had my arm around the antique brown widemouth jar holding Dan’s ashes sitting next to me. Dan and I had saved Buckaroo’s ashes (the amazing Maine Coon cat, “Remington Buckaroo Boone”, often credited on Dan’s albums) all these years, and these too were in the jar, and the night before I had cut 5 inches off of my hair and snipped it into tiny strands and put them in the jar as well. The wind was perfect for drifting about aimlessly. But at 6:15 we started the engine and headed for the marker: a green “can” that marks the edge of a ledge. Amazingly, at this point we had the Reach to ourselves… not another boat in sight.
Jon cut the engine and let the sails take us quietly the rest of the way. We toasted Dan with champagne, and at 6:25 we brought up the boombox and put “The Reach” on and I carried the jar forward to the bow of the boat. We were heading directly toward the sun, which was brilliant white gold reflecting on the water. A Cormorant sat on the green can watching us. There was a gentle northerly breeze, and as I took Dan’s ashes, a handful at a time, and slowly let them sift through my fingers, they swirled and danced away from me, sparkling in the sun before landing on the water and drifting with the tide, out into the Reach. I could hear Jon, Sherry and Jean crying out in astonishment as (they would later tell me) they watched Dan’s ashes swirling and glowing with the sun shining through them.
I knew that at that very moment, as we were playing “The Reach” and honoring Dan here on the east coast, out on the west coast of California our friends Charlie and Suzie were playing “The Reach” as well, and ringing the original bell used in that recording. And around the world, people were honoring Dan in their own way, and playing their own favorite songs. It was a powerful moment.
We came alongside the marker and Jon gently rounded it and steered us toward the cove, and Reach Haven. As I let the last of Dan’s ashes leave my fingers I was so filled with gratitude, wonder, and amazement that, like his passing, a moment that would always be a painful memory for me would also have so many elements of beauty and magic.
“The Reach” ended, and I came back to the stern of the boat, where my three shipmates were wiping their eyes with napkins. We all hugged and then sat for a moment of silence, mentally holding hands with everyone else who was sharing this special moment with us. I threw the flowers Dan’s family had sent off the back of the boat one at at time, where they followed his ashes, and we each took a lavender rose picked from Jean’s garden, said our last farewells, and tossed them into the Reach.
We turned “Free Spirit” around and headed back across the Reach to her mooring, our hearts filled with emotion, and everyone recounting the incredible beauty of what we’d just experienced. As we neared the mooring, we sang “Happy Birthday” to Dan. The sun had dropped behind a bank of clouds on the horizon, lining them in red and gold.
Dan was so many things: passionate sailor, incredible musician, loving husband, true friend, and a wonderful and unique human being. It was the end of a truly perfect day for honoring him and I hope you feel you were a part of it.