The news of Dan Fogelberg’s death at age 56 was a real blow to me. Admittedly, although I love music, I’m not a real devotee of any person (I get close with Michael Card). I confess, I owned only one album and it was a “greatest hits” compilation.
Still, certain of his songs I absolutely love. My favorite (one I learned to play on the guitar) is “Leader of the Band.” It makes me think of my father, who was a Methodist/United Methodist preacher, an old school cowboy from western Kansas. I became a United Methodist preacher and I learned a lot from Dad. I’ve long felt something of a parallel, then, between Fogelberg’s relationship to his father – assuming that the song reflects real family relationship – and mine with my dad. When I began learning the song, I had to sing it about fifty times before I could make it through without crying. My father had died back in the early 1980s.
And now, Dan’s music has stopped. He was so young and, worse, he died of a cancer that is one of the more curable kinds. I’m mourning.
I surfed the net for awhile after hearing of his death and read some of the reports. They say how he died – gracefully, full of appreciation and wonder for the fans who loved his music. His wife talked of his peace and courage through the horrible suffering.
The old Methodists used to talk of dying a good death. Doing so was a particularly difficult challenge, because death could take a long time and the suffering could become unbelievably intense, with little in the way of palliative medicine available back then. To put it bluntly, in dying, people just had to gut it out. And Methodists wanted to die well.
Dying well for them meant that one could give testimony to the witness of the Spirit right up to the point of death. One could honestly say that God was one’s all, that one had assurance, that no doubt or fear of death troubled. These testimonies were powerful witnesses to the living of the goodness and power of God, even in the momentum extremis.
By the accounts I read, Dan Fogelberg died a good death. I know nothing of his faith in Christ or otherwise and I won’t presume to draw personal inferences. Whatever else one might consider, this death shows that God’s heart is clearly good, full of mercy and love. God gave Dan the grace to die well. That is a comfort.
I want to die a good death. And in the meantime, I want to live – in the full Christian sense of that word – a good life. God give me grace.