I didn’t want to get out of bed the morning of November 1, the day of the memorial honoring Kay Covert.
By Dan Haag
Despite the fact that I had volunteered to help set up chairs in the morning and usher during the event, I was looking for excuses not to go.
Maybe, just maybe, if I didn’t attend, than none of this ever happened. Perhaps if I stayed in bed, locked in my house, I could pretend that it had all been a terrible dream and Kay was still with us.
As they say, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.
The more I laid there with the covers over my head, the more I realized that I was being a coward. I realized that there were certainly others like me, others who would rather imagine a world that still boasted Kay Covert rather than accept she was gone. It was selfish to imagine I was alone.
How did sticking my head in the sand honor Kay, especially on her birthday? How did it honor Walt Covert? How did it honor the community that had pulled together to organize this celebration?
Quite simply, it didn’t. I got out of bed.
As I walked through the doors of the NCRD gymnasium around 9 am to help set up, I was struck by the unity of spirit and camaraderie that greeted me. People were bustling around, setting up tables and chairs and preparing for a packed house. Pictures of Kay and her life were being placed on a table to greet attendees, flowers were being beautifully arranged, and food and wine was being set up for a reception at the nearby kitchen and gallery.
All morning, there were handshakes, hugs, laughter and smiles, along with a subtle joy in the air that I had not expected. This gathering wasn’t going to be about about self-pity and despair; it was about love, community and unity, three of the things that always seem to spring to mind when Kay’s name is mentioned.
The details that went into the planning began the day the news of Kay’s passing broke. “It came together like a ground swell in response to heartbreaking news,” said Claudia Johnson, one of the events’ many dedicated organizers. “Dana Zia and I worked on a daily basis making lists until every detail was – we hoped – covered and up to Walt’s and our standards and wishes.”
A longtime friend and neighbor of mine commented “I hope when I’m gone, someone thinks enough of me to put together something like this.”
Truly, we should all be so lucky.
The doors opened for the memorial at 4:30. Climbing the stairs from the rapidly-filling parking lot, I could see car after car lining the streets around NCRD. At the top of the stairs, dozens of people were filing through the doors. In all, over 200 people would attend. It was breathtaking.
The service, officiated by Claudia Johnson, was a culmination of the weeks of sadness and reflection that followed in the wake of Kay’s passing. It featured a poem by Mary Oliver, “Roses, Late Summer,” and arias performed by opera singers from Portland, which lent the class and dignity that were such a significant part of who Kay was.
But it was the words spoken by friends and family that shone the brightest light upon Kay’s impact on so many lives.
The most poignant and beautiful words were delivered by Walt Covert. “Not only did I love her deeply, but I genuinely liked her,” he said. “I found her to be incredibly smart, funny, and beautiful. She was my best friend.”
As Walt returned to his chair, 200 people rose and applauded, a humbling show of support for Walt and a declaration against the tide of grief.
As the applause dwindled, I glanced at Kay’s picture gracing the cover of the program I held and I took a moment for self-reflection. Am I being the best that I can be? The best husband? The best son? The best friend, neighbor, employee, human being? Most likely not, but I wanted nothing more at that moment than to try harder.
Others stepped forward to pay tribute to Kay: Bonnie Jeannette, Kay’s closest friend, spoke of the joys of growing up together and a shared love of Tolkien; Kay’s younger brother Paul spoke of childhood pranks and Kay’s deep love for her son, Max; Meadow Davis, Kay’s co-worker, spoke of the profound honor she felt in having Kay as a mentor; Dana Zia shared how Kay doggedly transformed her into an opera fan; Mark Beach reflected on how appropriate it was the ceremony be held at NCRD, a place
Kay held dearly.
In so many ways, big and little, Kay’s presence was felt as the words poured from audience members.
There were tears in abundance, of course, as broken hearts struggled to mend.
There moments of humor as well. Thunder rumbled and lightening flashed briefly when Paul shared a story of how, as a teenager, he tried his best to interfere with Kay and Walt’s courtship. “Sorry, Kay,” he said, glancing upwards as the thunder faded into audience laughter. Phil Blanton recalled how an innocent remark by Kay regarding his hair style led to a “haircut party” and a charitable contribution from the Coverts.
After the memorial, the crowd filed across the parking lot to the reception. There was wine donated byWalt and food prepared by Julie Barker. It was an opportunity to raise a glass to Kay and share more stories and hugs.
Thanks to advance planning by Susan Walsh, Karen Reddick-Yurka and Julie Barker, the entire evening was a “zero waste” event, producing less than a quart of garbage for over 200 people. People reading that fact anywhere else but here would probably shrug indifferently, but I am certain that news alone would have made Kay proudest.
“Our love for our towns, for our people, was palpable and when we had to face the loss of Kay, we were an unstoppable and ‘sudden gathering of force’ for love and legacy she leaves us,” Claudia
As I drove home, the sky dribbled sporadic tears on my windshield and I thought of the last conversation I’d had with Kay. I had been whining and grumbling about something at work, something so unimportant I can’t even recall what anymore. Her response was typical Kay – patient, warm, and lasting.
“Your smile is your best weapon, Dan,” she said. “You need to use it as often as you can.”
I will, Kay. Because of you, everyone in our communities has plenty of reasons to keep using their smiles.
The family encourages everyone to support your local businesses to remember her. Please make memorial donations to United Paws at unitedpaws.wordpress.com/donate/ and to Tillamook Animal Shelter at www.tillamookanimalshelter.org/help.htm.