Remembering J. Peter Kohl - November 22, 1925 - December 27, 2007

A memorial service, presided over by Rev. Diane Rollert, was held Jan. 2, 2008 for Peter Kohl.

We gather this afternoon to say goodbye to Peter Kohl, a man so many of us admired and loved. We gather to say goodbye too soon. It is too recent and too raw for us to fathom the depth and the breadth of his loss.

Yet he would have wanted us to celebrate his life, as he celebrated and treasured the gift of living to the very end. He would have wanted his family and his friends to laugh and to sing on this day. 

And so we will. We will cherish the memories of the spark and spirit that he was.

But we will also give ourselves permission to cry and to mourn. No loss so great and so beloved can be easily surrendered. 

We begin with a reading from John Burroughs. Peter’s son Jeff said that it was as if his father had led him to this poem the other day, as the pages of his book instantly fell open to these words that truly capture Peter’s essence.

I am in love with this world.
I have nestled lovingly in it.
I have climbed its mountains,
roamed its forests,
sailed its waters,
crossed its deserts,
felt the sting of its frosts,
the oppression of its heats,
the drench of its rains,
the fury of its winds,
and always have beauty and joy waited
upon my goings and comings.

I’d like to invite Peter’s two grandsons, Devin and Emmett
to come forward to light our chalice to symbolize the flame of community that holds us together – family, friends and this congregation – as one community of love and support in this hour.

Will you please join me in a litany of memory:
Please respond to each line that I read with the words,
“We will remember him.”

In the rising of the sun and in its going down...
We will remember him.
In the blowing of the wind and the chill of winter...
We will remember him.
In the opening of buds and the rebirth of spring...
We will remember him.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer...
We will remember him.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn...
We will remember him.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends...
We will remember him.
When we are weary and in need of strength...
We will remember him.
When we are lost and sick at heart...
We will remember him.
When we have joys we yearn to share...
We will remember him.
So long as we live, all those we have loved and lost shall live,
for they are now a part of us,
as we remember them.
Amen.

One thing you will learn about Peter today, if you didn’t know already, is that he raised three kind and thoughtful children who are also excellent musicians. So, I invite you to stand as you are able to support them with your own voices in song and harmony, by singing together “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.”

Remembrance  (Rev. Diane Rollert)

It is hard to believe that I only met Peter a little more than a year ago. He and Diane and I all arrived in Montreal around the same time in 2006. 

While I was new here, they were returning to a place where they had lived happily for 20 years before moving to Ontario and then to the Eastern Townships.
“We were members of the church thirty years ago,” Peter told me. “Will you take us back?” 

Despite their years of previous experience as Unitarians, they insisted upon joining my very first new member orientation class. It was a delight to have them.
 
I vividly remember Peter’s response as the group shared their dreams. His eyes sparkled with intensity when talk of social justice came up. “We should do something practical,” he said. “Adopt a school or a village, or something like that.” 

I remember making a mental note, “Now here’s someone to tap for the next big project.”

As fate would have it, Peter did get quickly engaged in congregational life, despite the number of years he had been away.

It is thanks to Peter that we have a whole cadre of people he dubbed “Fresh Air Ambassadors,” volunteers who are reclaiming our outdoor entry and making it place of warmth and welcome on Sunday mornings.

In the past week, I’ve learned that was just typical Peter.

Diane says that from the first time she heard his voice, she had a full measure of the man he was. He was kind, and outgoing. He had his feet on the ground, and always saw the positive in everything.
 
Peter knew success in life. He’d gone from working on his father’s farm in Guelph, to completing an MBA at Harvard, to becoming Deputy Director of Operation at Expo 67, General Manager at the Gazette, and Publisher of newspapers in Thunderbay and Guelph.
 
But family always came before work. He shared his passion for the environment with his children and taught them with his silent awe of nature. He took them skiing, hiking and taught them how to swim and sail.

His children tell stories of his openness and generosity. If Andrea’s hockey team was failing,
Peter was there to raise funds and bail them out. If Laurie’s friend didn’t have family who could send her to drama school, Peter said, “I can do it.”  Jeff says you always knew you had Peter there as your number one biggest fan.

His humour and his irreverence were fun and infectious, and he was persistent.

When Lake Memphramagog was dying from pollution in the 1960s, Peter rolled up his sleeves and joined with a friend to set up one of the earliest and most powerful grassroots environmentalist organizations in North America. Together, they saved the lake.

When Peter got a hold of something, he didn’t let it go, until he’d followed it through to the end. That is what makes his last weeks of life all the more remarkable, because when the time came, he had a courage that his doctors said they had never seen before.

It amazes me as I think of what he taught his family, his nurses, his doctors and all of us about dying.
He knew how to let go with grace.
 
Four years ago Peter was diagnosed with an illness that compromised his white blood cells
and would have sent most of us home to shelter ourselves from any possible infection.

Instead, he traveled with family to Cambodia and Thailand, enjoying the adventure with gusto.
Hardly a week or two before he died, he and Diane traveled to Quebec City to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

He knew he was sick, yet he loved each moment of the trip, marveling as they rode by train
through that major December snowstorm.
“We’re living a Quebec winter scene,” he kept saying to Diane with joyful wonder.

On Christmas the whole family gathered by his side in the hospital, with hats and singing, and Christmas crackers brought by grandson Devin who knew that “Grandpaw” wouldn’t feel it was Christmas without them.

Then, when the time came, not but a day later, Peter made the choice to let go of life, to die with dignity, to die surrounded by his family, still lucid, still making puns and telling jokes.

“So let me die laughing,” writes Mark Morrison-Reed, “Savouring one of life’s crazy moments. Let me die holding the hand of one I love, and recalling that I tried to love and was loved in return.”

Peter often said, “Be big in small ways.”
That’s how he chose to live his life. Yet there was nothing small in the way he loved or was loved.
Peter, we will miss you.  

Song  Wanting Memories (Jeff, Andrea, Laurie)

Remembrances  Bob Keefler, Johnpeter Weldon

Song  Pocket Full of Rye  (Jeff)

Reading  Wild Geese

Remembrances Jeff, Andrea

Meditation

Spirit of Life
Source of Love in which we live and breathe and move,
We give thanks for the life that Peter lived so well, and for the gifts he has given to his family and friends, even in his death.
We give thanks for the unconditional love of a husband, father, grandfather, uncle and dear friend.
We give thanks, even as his wondering, generous and optimistic zest for life has faded,
Even as death has taken his body and his breath.
We name in our hearts all who grieve his loss, especially Diane who shared fifty loving years of her life with Peter.
We name Jeff, Andrea and Laurie who will miss their father’s support and loving touch,
We name Devin and Emmett who will miss the blessing of a grandfather,
We name all the extended family who have gathered today and those far away,
whose lives have been deeply touched by this one man.
In the quiet stillness of loss, we know that there is never enough time for goodbye.
Wherever there lingers any regret, may there be the healing of forgiveness.
Wherever there has been warmth and love, may there be the healing of gratitude.
We give thanks for Peter’s loving spirit and for the legacy he leaves in this world, for the small things he gave to each of us, the blessings that were so vast and so grand.
We give thanks for the light of love that persists through death and lives in human hearts.
Amen.

Closing Song  An Irish Blessing (Jeff, Andrea, Laurie)

Closing Words From Mary Oliver
To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal,
to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;
and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
May your precious memories of Peter, his spirit and his legacy,
be ever with you.
Amen.