It appears that, before he died on Friday, actor James Rebhorn (Homeland, The Game, Seinfeld) wrote his own obituary. Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church of Jersey City, New Jersey has posted a letter entitled “His Life, According to Jim” which is dated March 2014 and signed by the actor.
This is a rare opportunity for a person who is dying: to have enough notice of one’s impending death in order to make final arrangements, including in this case the crafting of one’s own obituary. Most obituaries, in my honest opinion, are just dreadful–they’re usually written for the distraught family by a close friend, and in my experience the family usually looks back on what’s said and thinks it’s either inadequate or goes way too far. Not so, it would seem, for James Rebhorn. Having lived 10 years after his initial diagnosis, he had time to think, to plan, to draft.
So, what did James want to say to the world after he had left it? I invite you to read it for yourself:
James Robert Rebhorn was born on Sept. 1, 1948, in Philadelphia, PA. His mother, Ardell Frances Rebhorn, nee Hoch, loved him very much and supported all his dreams. She taught him the value of good manners and courtesy, and that hospitality is no small thing. His father, James Harry Rebhorn, was no less devoted to him. From him, Jim learned that there is no excuse for poor craftsmanship. A job well done rarely takes more or less time than a job poorly done. They gave him his faith and wisely encouraged him to stay in touch with God.
He is survived by his sister, Janice Barbara Galbraith, of Myrtle Beach, SC. She was his friend, his confidant, and, more often than either of them would like to admit, his bridge over troubled waters.
He is also survived by his wife, Rebecca Fulton Linn, and his two daughters, Emma Rebecca Rebhorn and Hannah Linn Rebhorn. They anchored his life and gave him the freedom to live it. Without them, always at the center of his being, his life would have been little more than a vapor. Rebecca loved him with all his flaws, and in her the concept of ceaseless love could find no better example.
His children made him immensely proud. Their dedication to improving our species and making the world a better place gave him hope for the future. They deal with grief differently, and they should each manage it as they see fit. He hopes, however, that they will grieve his passing only as long as necessary. They have much good work to do, and they should get busy doing it. Time is flying by. His son-in-law, Ben, also survives him. Jim loved Ben, who was as a son to Jim, especially through these last months.
His aunts Jean, Dorothy and Florence, numerous cousins and their families, and many devoted friends also survive Jim. He loved them all, and he knows they loved him.
Jim received his BA at Wittenberg University and his MFA at Columbia. He was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Nu Zeta 624, a life-long Lutheran, and a longtime member of both the AMC and ACLU.
Jim was fortunate enough to earn his living doing what he loved. He was a professional actor. His unions were always there for him, and he will remain forever grateful for the benefits he gained as a result of the union struggle. Without his exceptional teachers and the representation of the best agents in the business, he wouldn’t have had much of a career. He was a lucky man in every way.
–Jim Rebhorn, March 2014
I read this and I hear a man who was happy. I hear a man who loved and was loved. What I don’t hear is a man who wished he had spent more time at the office, or regretted that his children hadn’t made it into the colleges of their choice, or that he hadn’t answered more work emails, or any of the myriad other things that we as individuals go through our lives worrying about so profusely. No, what comes through the most clearly is the love.
Paul Zahl explains this well in his recorded talks from All Saints Chevy Chase: “All we have in the end is love.” In those talks PZ associates all those other things that we worry ourselves with, the things that one might call “stress,” as being examples of the law. Love, on the other hand, is what grace is at its very essence, and according to Paul, when grace walks into our lives, we can then begin to live “an unanxious life.”
Which leads naturally to a presenting question: if we could each of us write our own obituaries, what would we find out about the lives we’re leading? Would we see an unanxious life, or would we be too mired in the stress to see the love that is right before our eyes, always there, waiting for us to see it and to know and be known by it? Such an unanxious life was apparently lived by Jim Rebhorn, and in his obituary he makes it fairly clear that his faith in God was a key component of this love. “Love to the loveless” as the old hymn puts it: the love of God allowing everything we do after we know such love to simply be a response to it.
This is the freedom of an unanxious life, and it starts with and is rooted in God’s grace.