The world is short of interesting men. This makes it sad to lose one. Jeff Stamps,a particularly interesting man, died on June 11, 2011 after living with pancreatic cancer for just over a year. I went to his memorial service at the First Unitarian Society of Newton MA. I don’t know anything about first or subsequent Unitarians but they do seem much more jolly than was originally suggested by the gothic gargoyles, dark wood pews and stained glass windows of what looked at first like an old Anglican church.
Om Mani Padme Hum, one of Jeff’s favorite Buddhist chants played as we took our seats. The service opened with a prayer from a Buddhist monk with a prayer wheel and another with respiratory problems. The poor man didn’t have enough air in his chanters to sustain a really good wail.
Through hospice care, Jeff met a music therapist who works with the dying to help them write songs to leave with the ones they love, and (I am making an assumption here) to sing and play music that has meant a lot to them in life. At Jeff’s service, Evelyn Potter sang Fields of Gold and performed Jeff’s version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, rewritten for his twin infant grandsons and other grandchildren who won’t have the chance to know him the way Lake and Finn do.
The fabulous Jessica Lipnack, Jeff’s wife of more than 40 years, is Jewish. Jeff was cremated, which is not the Jewish way, but nonetheless Jessica had a friend lead us in the Kaddish at the cemetery in Newton and mourners were invited to fill in the earth above Jeff’s urn as Jessica and her beautiful daughters walked between rows of their friends committed to love them and help them in the days, weeks, months and years when they will come to terms their loss. Jeff will be remembered in a spot beside a lake with a fountain and a picture perfect bridge.The sun shone as men folded yamulkas into pockets and women picked their way across the grass in unsuitable shoes.
Most of the people who spoke at Jeff’s memorial were men. I suppose this is not unusual but there was something about the quality of their remarks on this occasion that was truly out of the ordinary. Room mates from college and neighbors from the book club spoke of a man who often lived inside his clever head, but whose heart they had come to know. Like Jeff, these speakers were erudite, but they spoke simply of real love and loss. Miranda’s husband told of the father-in-law who had allowed him in to his foursquare family and made him welcome for walks and boat trips at the family retreat. Jeff had unrivalled prowess when it came to packing the car. Back at the house, Eliza’s boyfriend revealed that Jeff, in the last week of his life, had been concerned about a tree limb overhanging the back porch. Despite Ethan’s protestations, Jeff, his morphine bag flipped over his shoulder, had climbed out the second floor window on to the porch roof to attack it with a chainsaw, making sure the house was safe for the ages to come.
Lifelong friends of Jeff say he was hard to get to know. I met him only once or twice in the last couple of years of his life, but immediately he was someone I wanted very much to make a friend, and I am sorry that I never had the chance. It didn’t hurt that he was very beautiful, of course. Through his memorial I understand that he was a rare mix of the clear-headed and warm-hearted; that he had physical grace and form combined with super smarts; that he was logical, analytical and precise but also mystical, philosophical and spiritual.He was wholeheartedly proud of and committed to his family, loyal to his friends and passionate about his work. Born with badly impaired hearing, he could tune into the essence of people and hear their hum.
Photo of Jeff Stamps by Ray Elman