Service by Pastor David Janzen, Nov 30, 2008, Cobourg, Ontario, Canada:
The Celebration of Joe Sauseng’s Life
Welcome on behalf of Mary, Heidi, Peter Jagar and Skylar. This is a time to remember and give thanks for the life of Joe Sauseng.
My name is David Janzen, I’m the Chaplain at the Golden Plough Lodge were Joe spent the last few weeks of his life.
We are here today to celebrate the life of Joe Sauseng, a very complex man who knew the depths of his human experience with all it’s sorrow, horrors as well as it’s joys it’s loves and accomplishments. Our time together is an attempt to honour who Joe was, rather than fanaticize about who we would have liked him to be. Joe was not a religious man and those who really knew him would hopefully understand why, but in all his searching and struggling, he demonstrated a sense of human spirituality that too often is unrecognized and not celebrated.
This is the Joe I call on you to celebrate today and give thanks for his life and how he touched your life.
None of us are single dimensional people, even if sometimes we might think this would make life much simpler. We all share with Joe, the complexity of life with all the mixed emotions that course through our veins. We are not here to judge Joe or to immortalize him either but to join ourselves with the spirit of this man who knew the depths of being a human being, who both succeeded and failed just like the rest of us and love him for it.
The poet Mary Oliver wrote something that I think reflects some of Joe’s life.
You don’t have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles
through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the
deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting---
over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
I’m not sure if Joe felt he knew his place in the family of things but he certainly tried. 79 years ago Joe was born the eldest of 4 boys in Austria. He grew up in a very affluent home and so he knew the comfort and security such a situation suggests. However, life is rarely under the kind of control we would like it to be and too often the world turns black and screams out to us, just how vulnerable it is to be a human being.
At age 11 he was snatched up by the Hitler Youth Movement and his life changed forever. Everything that was, was no more. If we can for just a moment try to imagine what that reality would do to a young boy just entering his teen age years, it would tell us so much more about the man Joe became.
When something as precious as your youth is stolen from you before you even understand who you are as a person, it is not surprising that you would be searching for it throughout your whole life. Feeling such pain and confusion no doubt drove Joe to find a life following the war. He became an excellent student, loved to read and write and of course ski. It should be no surprise that the Harlequin type novels he wrote and had published, reflected a longing for love and fulfillment.
His coming to Canada in his 20’s was no doubt part of his search to find what had been taken from him. He worked a Chrysler but soon discovered he didn’t like working for ‘the Man’ and so struck out on his own, developing a landscaping business as well as seeing opportunities in real estate. He was successful and did well and no doubt began to feel in some way he was gaining some control back in his life again.
Joe met Mary and she became the love of his life and they had great fun together. The shadow of loosing everything was never far away and he struggled with the issue of controlling everything and everyone around him. They went back to Austria two times probably searching for a part of him that had been lost and attempted to regain all that had been taken from him and his family. But it was not physical things that would restore him but rather the things of the heart.
Heidi, their only child was born and Joe found a new perspective in his search for meaning. His desire to love and protect Heidi, so she would never have to go through what he did, probably clouded his judgment at times and made for rough patches in the journey. The genuineness of his love could never be questioned and when his two grandsons came along I’m sure he saw in them the fulfillment of his hopes and dreams, maybe never quite lived out in his own life but maybe it would be in Jagar and Skylar’s life. Joe loved having conversations with his family and I can imagine there would be great heated debates. He loved to travel and take in the world. There was a hidden creativity about Joe that obviously got passed on to Heidi, who has been able to give it wonderful expression. Joe and Mary were married for 51 years and like all relationships carried with it all the joys and sorrows of two people living together in the mystery that is marriage.
When Joe first came to the Golden Plough Care Lodge and I met him, I hoped that we might have some good conversations. I knew they would be interesting. Even though he could not see there still remained a twinkle in his eyes. He had a number of serious health problems that began to place great limitations on him. He could no longer travel or read and he went down hill very quickly after coming to the Plough. His 14 year struggle with his health put a great strain on Mary and she and Heidi took such good care of him.
The presence of Mary and Heidi and her family were a constant in his life and although he may not have been able always to put it into words, it gave him courage and comfort right to the end of his life.
In Joe’s last days as Mary would lie beside him on his bed, his grip on her arm was so strong. It probably was the only way he could communicate the depth of feelings they shared.
Joe’s search for meaning all his life was not to be placated with easy religious answers and would not want us to cover his pain and sorrow and our own loss with pious words that had no meaning for him. I don’t think Joe was a stoic person but one who had no trouble ‘railing against the night’. Yes, he found joy and happiness, love and tenderness but the terror’ of his youth probably never left him. This struggle was not a sign of a man who had no faith but one who was well aware of his pain and carried it without religious words and platitudes to hide behind.
Faith is so different than religion. It acknowledges what is at the heart of all humanity; a vulnerability, the courage to press on, the willingness to go on living and working and loving, even though you carry a hole in your heart. This is the picture of what is eternal within each one of us.
Joe lived this out, not in a fairytale ending with great peace but rather with a never failing desire to find that which was missing in his life. That’s Faith! That is what we are to celebrate today.
John Soos, a poet, talks of life being like a seed, Joe as a landscaper I think would agree.
To be of the earth is to know
The restlessness of being a seed,
The darkness of being planted,
The struggle toward the light,
The pain of growth into the light,
The joy of bursting and bearing fruit,
The love of being food for someone,
The scattering of your seeds,
The decaying of the seasons,
The mystery of death
And the miracle of birth.
Joe came to us from the earth
And the earth nourished him and gave him life
And now the earth takes him back again.
Birth and death are present in every moment.
We are not alone, we have each other.
Go in peace.
As you mingle with family and friends share your stories that remind you of Joe and how he touched your life.