Connecting the Dots: Float on Eventide’s harmonic raft

John Bos

John Bos


Published: 02-16-2024 2:34 PM

Modified: 02-16-2024 6:53 PM

Having now lived 31 years longer than my father, I celebrated much of my 88th birthday in silent contemplation.

And in reflections of my eight-decade journey on this planet. My awareness of dying has become ever more present since surviving a melanoma tumor just below my parotid gland in 2002. I began a long-term relationship with Cancer Connection in Northampton. There, in various workshops and support groups, I met and grieved for the loss of more people than I can currently remember.

That same year, I was graced to meet two people who became inspirations in my life. The first was Deidrick Snoek, professor of psychology at Smith College from 1962 to 1994. One day, Deidrick called a former colleague, Deb Orgera, one of the two founders of Cancer Connection, to ask if they might be interested in having him start a men’s cancer support group. “Men Living with Cancer” continues to this day.

Deidrick stepped back in 2010 after his wife died. We became very close, one reason being that he and my parents were born in the Netherlands. He ultimately sponsored me for membership in a decades-old Quaker Men’s retreat group that gathers at the Temenos Quaker retreat facility on Mineral Mountain on the other side of Shutesbury.

As with Cancer Connection, this opened me to men who are now in the aging and dying process. Deidrick could not attend our last gathering this past summer because the prostate cancer he had lived through since 2002 had disabled him. We lost him shortly thereafter.

The other essential person I met 22 years ago is Pam Roberts, the founder and leader of the “Spirit of the Living Word” writing workshop at Cancer Connection since 2002. As a member of that writing group, my interest in writing blossomed to include personal writing.

Then, upon meeting nature photographer Keith Carver in the men’s support group and envisioning a book we might create as a thank you to Cancer Connection, the first person I turned to for help with the editorial process was Pam. We solicited poems and short prose pieces from 50 local and nationally acclaimed writers. I then asked book designer James McDonald to become the fourth cancer survivor in our creative team. The result was the book launch of “Words to Live By” at the annual Quonquont Farm Harvest Picnic fundraiser in Whately on Sept. 11, 2022. The book has provided a small but continuing income stream for Cancer Connection, whose programs and services are all free.

In addition to her creation of “One in Eight: The Torso Project,” Pam served as the program director of “Forest Moon: Celebrating Cancer Survivorship.” Pam’s ongoing gift to me and seven other writers is her leadership of our longtime local writers group.

Then came the Eventide hospice choir, which I co-founded with retired Episcopal priest Mary Schrieber in 2007. I was emotionally motivated to create a hospice choir for western Massachusetts after witnessing the passing of a dear friend in Marshfield, Vermont. Carolyn Jones had created Carolyn’s Angels, and I was present in her home as that hospice choir sang to her as she lay dying.

I have always thought that the first two lines — “Let music charm me last on earth and greet me first in heaven” — from the song “O Sing to Me of Heaven” capture perfectly the reason for Eventide’s creation. Mary and I both enrolled in the then Hospice of Franklin County volunteer training program so that we could learn what it takes beyond singing to attend to terminally ill patients. I remained a volunteer until two years ago when my mobility became compromised.

I have learned that dying is a natural process that the body must work at. A dying person may instinctively know death is near. Self-awareness is a supreme gift, a “treasure as precious as life. This is what makes us human,” Irvin Yalom writes. “But it comes with a costly price: the wound of mortality. Our existence is forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom, and inevitably, diminish and die.”

Eventide’s mission is to provide a bed of music, a harmonic raft on which a person may float to a further shore in the transition from this time to what is next to come.

I invite you to float on this raft with me on March 10 at 3 p.m. at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield at Eventide’s annual concert, the only time this sublime ensemble sings in public.

This column is published every other Saturday in the Recorder. John Bos is also a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. Questions and comments are invited at