"From Light into Light" by Patricia Westerhof

FROM LIGHT INTO LIGHT Compiled by Patricia Westerhof I. PROLOGUE What Dan Steven’s mother wrote in an e-mail to friends in December 2002: “Dan told me several times as he was growing up that he would not make 27 years old. I would tell him, ‘Shush, don’t talk like that.’” The song that Dan Steven composed in the sand in Grand Bend in 1995, when he was 17 years old: I want you to dance at my funeral. I want you to celebrate your life. Yeah, I want you to dance at my funeral. In this way you remember me, remember me, and you keep my light alive. Death’s nothing more than a doorway, a doorway home to the light, and we’re going to be there someday. Until then, keep your torch burning bright, until then, Keep your torch burning bright because the sky is gonna fall on us someday, wash our every memory away, and all our empty treacheries are going to decay and love will remain so I want you to dance at my funeral I want you to celebrate your life go ahead, you can dance at my funeral In this way you remember me, remember me, In this way you remember me, remember me, and you keep my light alive. What Doug Romanow wrote to CBC’s Sounds Like Canada: ”My name is Doug Romanow. I have been a record producer working in Toronto since 1991. In 1993, Brian Walsh, now a U of T student Chaplain, forwarded a letter to me from a seventeen-year-old musician named Dan Steven. Dan was a songwriter who wanted to find his way into the music business. He had an immense amount of energy and vision and a calm assurance that this was his role in life. We stayed in touch, occasionally writing letters, or he would drop by the studio, to remind me that he hadn't forgotten me or his dream of being a recording artist. Six years passed before he was ready to make his first record. He may have waited longer, but his parents informed me that Dan had developed a brain tumor that threatened to shorten his life, and if he was going to make a record, it would have to be soon. We began work on that record in 1999, booking sessions around his chemotherapy appointments and the recovery times that intense radiation demand. Dan would often drive into Toronto [from Chatham], sing for an hour, and then crash on the couch for three! While he would sleep, I would edit his performances, record keyboard parts, book musicians, studios, etc. Knowing this might be his one and only recording, I pulled in as many favours as I could, calling on musicians with national and international reputations to support him on this record. Even though Dan was ill, I pushed him to deliver his very best performances, and would have him sing a song 6 - 10 times if necessary, so I had what I needed to "comp his vocal." Dan rose to the challenge of the rigour of making a professional record, and 'Beggars and Kings" is a recording worthy of a national release. In the months ensuing, Dan did a number of shows, but his energy levels never permitted a full-on assault on the Canadian music scene. In September of this year, his parents contacted me to edit and mix a recording he had started earlier this year. He had recorded it prior to losing control over the right side of his body. He is now confined to a wheelchair and has all but lost his ability to speak. He is too ill to be able to travel into Toronto and so I have been mixing this project, praying that he will be able to hear the finished results before he dies. This last weekend, his parents called me to request a particular song be bumped up the list, as they will need it for his funeral…. In all the years I have known Dan, he has never complained about his lot in life, and in spite of the cancer he has fought in these more recent years, he has never shown a hint of resentment for his illness. [In fact, he claims to have seen and spoken with angels, and his lyrics continue to proclaim his trust in God]. What is even more impressive, in my mind, is Dan's ability to speak so candidly about spiritual things without ever sounding preachy or condescending. He is a young man firmly rooted in contemporary culture, with an immense capacity to see beyond himself to things eternal. It is a difficult thing to work on a dying man's last request. People make recordings for a lot of different reasons, but the importance of this project to the people who know and love Dan Steven makes this record one of the most important projects I have ever worked on. It grieves me to see Dan slipping away from us, and I am doubling my efforts to finish editing/mixing his record by the first week of December. I pray that Dan can be with us for at least that long.” What Dan’s mother wrote in an e-mail to friends: “On Nov. 4, [2002] Dan walked with a cane into the doctor’s office to have his last appointment. On Nov. 5, Dan told me, “There is nothing more to say,” that he was at peace with letting go, and that “it’s Ramadan,” the holy pilgrimage to God. Ramadan started Nov. 6….” II. NOVEMBER What Dan’s mother wrote in an email to friends: “I don’t even know what date it is - somewhere in the middle of November. It is a Sunday morning. Another week has gone by. I am home in Chatham for one day and at last have a few moments to write you all…. Until Tuesday afternoon, things seemed to be on plateau, with Dan holding his own, using his walker-cane, moving himself around the house, sitting in the regular chairs, feeding himself, talking in short phrases occasionally, awake for 6-7 hours daily, needing the help of only one person to get him into bed, walk, etc. We had made plans with his producer to come to Toronto on Saturday to work on the completion of Dan’s new CD. But Tuesday evening through Wednesday, Dan took a turn for the worse ...... was much less alert, had significantly decreased body tone, could not manage a verbal “yes” or “no” (we asked him to use signs ...one finger for yes, two for no), slept a lot more, was up for a mere half hour, ate little. When the nurse tested his pupils, one was not reacting to light anymore. This is a bad sign for brain herniation, of the coming end. She immediately called for a huge increase in the steroid decadron, from 20 mg to36 mg, to combat the probable swelling in the back of the brain, and she put a call into the palliative care doctor for further care. I stayed overnight in Dan’s room to keep an eye on him. By Thursday, Dan was doing much better, could speak a few words again, was up maybe 5 hours, much more alert, but now needing a wheelchair in the house and continuing to need two people to transfer him from bed to wheelchair, and needing for the most part to be fed by us. Swallowing is getting more and more difficult. The doctor made a house call to meet Dan, see the changes for himself, and take over his care. Because Dan was responding well to the increased medication, the doc reduced the decadron to 28 mg so that he has more ammunition in reserve. On Friday, Dan continued to improve a little, but still not to the point that he had been on Monday. However, it seems he got through the crisis point of Tuesday. We held off making a decision about taking Dan up to Toronto as long as we could. But by Friday, we accepted that he could not travel anymore ….We made plans for a few of his musician friends to go with Chris, Dan’s Dad, to Toronto on their own, to add a choir to one of the new songs; we kept Dan at home. When Dan realized he was not going as planned, his face fell ... but only for two seconds ... he understood immediately and was just happy his Dad and friends had gone and had had an awesome, successful time, working for him on his record…. Chris, Dan’s dad, and Freda, his stepmom, have been so gracious, letting me/us come into their house now for three weeks already, working together as a team. Freda is busy getting pictures together, photo albums of Dan’s life that we can treasure forever. Chris has been off work since September, taking care of Dan …. Flowers and cards and phone calls and food have come. Thank you, everyone. Even though this time is truly the hardest of my life, of our lives, there have been so many blessings….” How she ended the e-mail: “There is a peace in lying in the dark beside my 25 year-old son, listening to his breathing, keeping watch over him…. I feel the angels around us. Love, Jan.” One of the songs Dan’s friends worked on the day they traveled to Toronto without Dan: Plane to Jerusalem I found me a plane to Jerusalem Going down to Gethsemane And I’ll sing to the sands of the Holy Land Till the prophets start speaking to me If you don’t see me tomorrow Please don’t be waiting round for me I will be oceans away playing music On a corner in a Middle Eastern street Please don’t be long, my God, be waiting for me Sail into fall and your winds have been calling When summer hits autumn, I’ll be home to you And on Holy Mount Zion I’ll lay with the Lion And sing to the light of your amber moon Maybe pick up the Pope on a visit to Rome Play a few rounds of Monopoly And we’ll smoke cigarettes and go fishing On the Sea of Galilee Please don’t be long, my God, waiting for me So if you don’t see me tomorrow Don’t be waiting round for me I will be oceans away playing music On a corner of a Middle Eastern Street Because I found me a plane to Jerusalem Going down to Calvary’s tree And I’ll sing to the sands of the Holy Land Till the prophets start speaking To me. What Rick, Dan’s stepfather, said in an e-mail to friends: “Hi. It is time for an update. It is a daunting task, however. One I wish that Jan was able to do. But she is otherwise occupied, and so the job is mine. Jan is in London full time now….I commute. Someone is sleeping nightly in Dan’s room now…. The doctor has upped his decadron to 36 mg again. Dan didn’t talk at all Monday, so this was an attempt to regain some function. It did help Dan to be more alert and to be awake more, but he still doesn’t speak much…. Jan, bless her wise soul, has given copies of Dan’s CD to the doctor, nurse, and support worker. Now Dan is not just a body in a bed to these people, but an articulate, gifted individual with a beautiful voice. In fact, Dr. Swift, the palliative care doctor, couldn’t stop talking to Dan about the CD and how good it is. Dan was completely embarrassed. Dr. Swift said he was crying well before the end, but really lost it during Dance at My Funeral. He insisted on buying another copy for a friend…. Today, FedEx delivered a CD from Doug Romanow with half of the songs finished, but not yet mastered. He’s added vocals, keyboards, and strings and has cleaned up Dan’s voice and some of the other tracks. We put it on and listened. Doug has really worked his magic again. These songs were good before. Now they reach out and grab you and won’t let go….Just into the first song, Dan began to cry. First time in a year he has cried….that was all it took. All six of us started bawling. Cried all the way through the six songs…. Pastor Steve has been down a couple of times this past week. He’s spent hours with Dan and Jan and Chris. Jan, Steve and Chris have the funeral service pretty much planned. Yes, we will dance. Yes, afterwards, we will eat ice cream and read poetry….” The first song of Dan’s they listened to that day: Waiting for the Resurrection Beverly, I don’t know why the Streets of Peterborough Sparkle after midnight I walk down this road to the river where the current flows About 40 times and it’s gonna be 49 tonight. You don’t have to tell me how your life is doing And you don’t have to smile if the hallway isn’t in the right light My teacup misses you and the Christmas holidays were a cyclone And the Titanic child is sinking still tonight Still sinking - And I’m waiting for the Resurrection Waiting for the Resurrection Waiting for the Resurrection You and me, we are going to survive this storm We are going to find the fields of sun You and me, we are going to reshape these shadows Kiss into the unbeginning of the unbegun I don’t know what you’re learning at university But I know I’m learning to be lost And to be alright with it ‘Cause the January grass blades have a funny way Of blooming on their own if you only learn to go with it And I’m waiting for the Resurrection Waiting for the Resurrection Waiting for the Resurrection And this rain you know it, it will continue Like a hundred thousand childhood years ago Beverly, we’re gonna wake up one day and realize We were never separate snowflakes There was only just the snow And if the sun decides to shine If the sun decides to shine I’ll still hold your hand in mine Waiting for the Resurrection ….. How Rick ended his e-mail: “It was hard to see him cry today. In the end, I guess, we can’t protect him from that, either. But he has mostly been at peace, pain free, sure of his salvation, and looking forward to dancing with the angels in the sky. For Dan, it is the journey from here to that doorway home to the light which is difficult. For the rest of us, the difficulties will continue. And so will the blessings. Rick” Another e-mail from Rick to friends: “It’s been a few days, so it’s time for another update, I guess. Dan continues to fade. But slowly….Someone sleeps in Dan's room each night now. Jan stayed Thursday night. At 4:00 AM Jan awoke because Dan began to have a seizure. Within 15 seconds, Jan had it stopped with the Ativan. And Dan was good on Friday, so the Ativan did its job. There has been no seizure recurrence since then…. Last year at this time Dan was in Newfoundland, living in a bus, singing for his supper. He was desperate to get home however: he wanted to be in Chatham for his Mom's birthday. We sent him bus fare and he rode the Greyhound 36 hours to get home before December 5. He made it with a day to spare. Dan still smiles at family and close friends and occasionally laughs. But he is mostly really trapped in a body that no longer responds. He clearly knows what is going on around him. Understands everything. But he can't make his face and limbs and body respond. Certainly his muscle tone is failing, but the bigger problem is finding the pathways and connections and locations inside the brain to command the body. It's hard for Dan. It's hard for us to watch. It's hard. What goes as a result is a comic opera. Hard, but funny. Two, or four, or six, or more people trying to figure out what Dan may want or may need. He leans forward in his chair and we all jump to try to guess what he wants. On Saturday, Jan got Dan up and put him back to bed four times between 2:30 and 7:00. Guessing that he wanted to be where he wasn't. Maybe. Maybe not. Monday, again, Jan says he was up and down and up and down…. The doctor wanted Dan to decide about an increase to 48mg of decadron. It might give him an extra few days or week. Dan can't answer us when we ask if he wants a drink. How can he answer this question? As far as Dan understands life, God decides if he has a few extra days or weeks. He has never known what meds he takes or why. Jan and I talked about the fact that Dan is still laughing at the dog, enjoying his friends, and is not in any pain. Why not try to stick around to hear the final cut of his new CD? What kind of discussion is this for parents to have anyway?...” How Rick ended his e-mail “Thanks for your support, your calls, your emails, and your love. It helps us get through to tomorrow. So do the songs on Dan's new CD. Lots of references to angels. To fading away. To the resurrection. Last song is entitled, "Until that Final Day." He was/is a prophet. Soon he'll be "oceans away playing music." Dancing with the angels. Rick” What Dan said in his song “Until that Final Day: Until That Final Day Take flight, take flight, Follow the flow of the rising tide Oh, tonight nothing stands in my way With these wings I will glide Guide you safely by My side Until that final day Until that final day O arise, arise Kiss the heights of the highest skies Where all reunite in the flame Where the horizon lies, On the shores of twilight dry your eyes And in love, we will fade, fade away Yes, in time, in time We all will be unified Yes, we all will be one, once again And I will shine Like the sun through this world of night Until that final day, that final Until that final day III. DECEMBER What music writer James Reaney wrote in the London Free Press, December 8, 2002: “There are some stories in which joy and sorrow are so deeply entwined, there is no easy way to begin, write or finish them. The story of London singer-songwriter Dan Steven and his music is one of those. I first met Dan just days ago. He was gravely ill with cancer. Dan was in his wheelchair at his father's house in London, surrounded by loving parents and step-parents. His songs of innocent experience filled the room. They flowed with his blend of folk, pop, street, wit, hope, insight, playfulness, anger, spirituality, belief and seriousness. With that same ever-present love flowing around him, Dan, 25, died last week. The visitation is in London today at the Needham funeral chapel, 2 p.m. till 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The funeral service is tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the First Christian Reformed church in downtown London.“ What Jan, Dan’s mother, wrote in an email to friends: “…The Monday before he died, he stopped eating. The Tuesday, he stopped drinking. Rick and Jesse came up to London where I had been with him for the past five weeks. Wednesday morning, he smiled once more for us, listened to his two brothers from his two families playing "Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven's Door" and "I Wish I had a Million Dollars". He slipped into a coma at noon. His brother Joel came from Grand Rapids. His brother Jono flew in from Seattle and arrived at 11 P.M. Thursday night. The two families kept constant vigil and continued to talk to him, love him, sing and pray. We listened to Mary Lowe's tape, "Going Home", Beth Seay's tape of Christian songs, and his new CD, "Voices from God", as each song was finished and purolated to us. All his family was there. Ramadan was over Thursday at midnight. His album was finished at 2:30 A.M. Friday. We all were lying in his room, in sleeping bags, and gathered around at 4 A.M. on Fri., Dec 6 when my sister told us he was leaving soon. He opened his eyes wide one last time, looked at me but not at me, beyond me; he took two last slow breaths, and then took flight, "straight into the sky" where he has always longed to be….” What Chris, Dan’s father said: “We didn’t call the doctors right away when he died. We waited about an hour. We wanted some time to accept the end. And then Jan called me to come outside. It was snowing—big beautiful flakes like on the night he was born. It was magical.” What Jan, Dan’s mother, wrote in her email: “When we went outside after, it was still dark. It was snowing slightly, and the snowflakes were sparkling, dancing in the streetlights. !!!! Exactly the same as the night he was born, 25 years earlier, Dec. 24. Light, sparkly snowflakes fluttering down, silence all around, no cars…we were amazed.” Part of the eulogy that Laurence, Dan’s uncle, gave at the funeral: “Dan was a prophet and a poet…All poets are prophets in the sense that they “see” more than us regular folk, and they see differently. But prophet-poets are special. Their vision, and their lives, are on the edge—they straddle two worlds. They are both ‘here and not here’ as Dan’s friend Clint said of Dan. We often call them free spirits—but I want to stress that freedom isn’t an easy thing to carry. Being free constantly gets you into trouble with authority. As Dan said, ‘the city is where hearts and worlds collide.’ The city is the world we humans build and maintain through authority and responsibility. We hold our hearts in check to stay sane, secure, and physically satisfied. The heart is the yearning we have for freedom from this world of conventions. Dan…lived in the collisions of heart and world. And because he did so, we catch a glimpse of another world, another way to live. We are made larger because they were here, even though while they were here their “freedom” often affronted us, frightened us, as well as amazing us.” What the minister said: “Dare to be a Daniel.” What a friend of Dan’s said at the “open-mike” at the funeral: “The second-last time I saw Dan, we were in Victoria Park, and it was snowing. We spun around in circles until we passed out. Dan was so happy—he talked about how beautiful and how incredible it all was. Being with him was like that.” What another friend said: “When I first met Dan, he was in a pub in London drinking a beer and talking about Jesus, and I thought that was strange, talking about Jesus while drinking beer, but then I got to know Dan, and I found out he really meant what he said about Jesus, and he drank beer because he liked to have a good time and he didn’t see any contradictions between Jesus and beer.” What a young woman said: “I’ve always had a sort of problem with Christmas, and I get depressed about it every year. When I met Dan, I found out his birthday was December 24, and I thought, “That’s odd—his birthday is on Christmas Eve. Maybe Christmas can’t be that bad. Then last year, I got home on Christmas Eve, feeling depressed and my roommate said, “Dan’s here” and I was really happy, because Dan always made me happy. I walked into the living room and there was Dan and the Christmas tree. He had put up my Christmas tree for me.” What another friend said, outside, smoking a cigarette: “Well, there are some stories we can’t tell!” (laughter) What Dan’s aunt said: “Remember the Christmas that Dan went looking for his friend who lived on the streets, and he found him, and the friend said, “It’s Christmas, and I get down at Christmas, so leave me alone,” and Dan gave him all of his Christmas presents—everything he had received that day.” What Jen Vanderbeek, a family acquaintance, wrote on an Internet chat site: “It was a funeral like few others. Perfumed people in three piece suits sat next to people who hadn't seen soap or hot running water in months. The propers and the paupers all together. The ones who like to hold on to, be guided and prompted by paper bulletins and the ones who can't read…. Near the end of the funeral, the microphone was made available for anyone who wanted to speak, to come forward and do so. "He gave me his shoes!" one man said. "Walked away, there on the cold sidewalk, in his socks and me wearing his shoes!" He shook his head a minute and then sat down…. After the words were done, the song "Dance at my Funeral" was played and, well, those people, (stodgy reformed people well represented among them) danced at Dan's funeral. In defiance of death. In honour of life. For the joy that comes of knowing eternal life.” What Doug Romanow said about burial: “It was really cold. There were way too many people to fit under the tent they set up over the grave. So we stood in the wind. Some of his friends lay down and made angels in the snow.” What Dan’s mother wrote a week after Dan’s funeral: “We were taken aback, blessed by surprise, when, as we left the funeral home Monday night, we saw a huge angel in the snow, surrounded by a perfect circle….” Dan’s voice, captured on CD, playing in my living room right now: Baby, wipe your tears away Spring is here; it’s a sunny day. Now’s the time to be in love Quit your worries, quit your crying, We’re going kite-flying We’re going kite-flying We’re going kite-flying. I got a picnic basket full of cheese I got a string to let loose in the breeze, I know a field with just a couple of trees No telephone cables to stop us baby It’ll be just you and me and a day to be alive We’re going kite-flying …. If I had my way We would be here forever We would melt away with this song into the sky If I had my way right now right here forever We would teach ourselves to fly We’d run, run through the fields of green Laughing and a’singing in a summer time dream Now’s the time to be in love No more worries, no more crying We’re going kite-flying, we’re going kite-flying, We’re going kite-flying if it’s the death of me.