How It Worked -THE STORY OF CLARENCE H. SNYDER
AND THE EARLY DAYS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS IN CLEVELAND, OHIO
By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
CLARENCE "GOES HOME"
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things:
enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Matthew 25:21 (King James Version of the Bible)
It was November of 1983; and Clarence was off on another of his many speaking engagements. This particular one was in British Columbia, Canada.
He was feeling a little under the weather and thought that he was coming down with a bad cold. However, being the trooper that he was, he felt that, even though he was possibly sick, he must go on and speak. He felt he had a message to carry; and all those good people had taken the time and effort, not to mention the expense, to bring both Clarence and his wife Grace all the way up to Canada. He was the main speaker; and never before had he backed down from a speaking engagement.
He got progressively worse as the days passed. By the time the weekend of the conference arrived, he had gotten much worse. He was coughing, and his body was racked with pain. Both he and Grace spent much time in their room together, praying for a healing. Other Christians, who were there had "laid hands" upon him and had anointed him with oil. The healing for which they had been praying had only partially transpired. Just enough to enable Clarence to regain some strength, continue on, and speak.
It was Saturday, the day he was going to speak. Clarence had spent a restless night; and despite Grace's insistence that he rest, Clarence decided to go on with the talk. He had a commitment to fulfill, and he was going to fulfill it, no matter what.
That night, after sitting through the introductions and opening remarks, Clarence began to make his way to the podium. He felt miserable and weak. His body ached all over.
Clarence began his talk; and at many points, he had to stop to catch his breath. Halfway through the talk, he lost his voice and could not continue. He was rushed to a local physician; and it was discovered, after a lengthy examination, that he had contracted laryngitis and some sort of bronchial infection.
Clarence and Grace were invited by one of the local A.A.s to stay at his home since Clarence was in too weakened a condition to make the arduous trip home , back to Florida. Eventually, Clarence gained enough strength to make the long plane ride home.
He and Grace had both decided, during the trip home, to cancel the balance of his speaking engagements until he was better and more able to give them his full attention and energy. His health improved slightly, except for the lingering congestion which refused to abate.
A close friend offered Clarence and Grace the unlimited use of his beach front condominium so that Clarence could rest and recuperate. The warm weather and the beach, especially the sunsets, cheered Clarence. However, the nagging congestion would not go away. Clarence and Grace continuously prayed, and believed for a miracle.
One night, Clarence all but collapsed, and had to be rushed to Orlando. He was admitted into Florida Hospital and stayed there from December 20th. through January 23, 1984.
His condition worsened, and Grace stayed by his side day and night. This despite her doctor's admonition that her health would eventually deteriorate and that she too would probably become a patient. Grace, in the past, had been plagued by a series of heart attacks; and the doctors were concerned that the arduous pace she was setting would bring on another attack.
But Grace refused to budge. She stayed by Clarence's side throughout his ordeal, constantly praying. Her prayers were echoed by these of hundreds of people whose lives had been touched by Clarence.
The attending physicians tried numerous medications and combinations of medications to effect a change in Clarence's condition. However, no improvement was forthcoming. Test continued to enable the physicians to determine the origin of his illness and enable them to treat it with positive results.
These tests proved one thing conclusively. Clarence had developed a malignancy in his left lung. Due to the size of the malignancy, Clarence's weakened condition, and his advanced age (he was 82 at the time), the doctors decided not to operate. It would be too dangerous, they felt.
Instead they arranged for a series of low dosage radiation treatments followed by a period of rest. Then another series of radiation treatments would begin again.
The doctors felt that, if Clarence showed some improvement after the first series of treatments, he could go home and complete the rest phase as an outpatient until he needed to undergo the next series of radiation treatments.
Clarence's condition did improve enough for him to go home to Casselberry, Florida, to his home at 142 Lake Triplett Drive South. Supplied with oxygen tanks, and a small suitcase, containing the myriad of medications that he was given, Clarence was transported home by ambulance.
The second series of radiation treatments ended on February 9th, just two days before the 46th anniversary of his sobriety date. He had returned home with oxygen tanks which were, by this time, in constant use to relieve the difficulty he was having in breathing. These plus medications that were to be taken hourly in order to stave off further infection due to his weakened condition and low white blood cell count.
Clarence had a visiting nurse, who visited three times a week to help out and to administer injections of a medication intended to rebuild his immune system, which had been weakened by the radiation and the cancer.
Aided by all this medical care, the short visits by close friends, Grace's prayers, and the prayers of others, Clarence began to show some signs of improvement.
It was during this period of improvement that the author was allowed to come to Florida and spend a week with Clarence and Grace. He realized that this time spent together would probably be the last while Clarence was alive. The author had the choice, due to financial limitations at the time, either to come down then, or to come to Clarence's funeral. Both possibilities were discussed; and it was decided that it would be more beneficial for the book project to choose the former. The author personally decided that it would be better for the author, as his friend and sponsee, to see Clarence while he was still alive, rather than attend his funeral. The author wanted to remember Clarence's smile and his sense of humor, not just the empty shell of his physical body in a casket.
Upon the author's arrival at their home, Clarence was asleep; and Grace's face was showing the strain of her long and arduous ordeal. She kept believing that God would heal her beloved Clarence.
She was also well aware of the fact that God had but two ways of healing. At least of the kind she was praying for: A physical healing, that would remove the cancer and restore Clarence to health so that he could continue in doing His work amongst "rummies;" or, as she believed, a final healing which would indicate that Clarence had finished God's work appointed for him here on earth. Both Clarence and Grace believed that if this work was indeed finished, Clarence would be welcomed home to be with his God. And all of us knew that there were enough people whom Clarence had taken through the steps that would be able to carry on and assume his mantel.
The author was put up in Clarence's study, amongst volumes of A.A. books, photographs of Clarence, taken during various periods of his life, souvenirs of the many world-wide trips he had taken during the previous forty-six years.
There were plaques containing awards and citing achievements. There were "thank-yous" and other mementos. The walls exuded a sense of history, and they portrayed a sense of humility, for nothing ostentatious appeared amongst the various items. Despite the absence of humility that seemed a part of Clarence's public appearances, this room was the antithesis of those outward appearances.
The author unpacked, washed up after the long trip, went into the living room, and saw that Clarence was awake and sitting in his favorite chair. It was the recliner next to the fireplace. The very same fireplace in front of which he had sat over the years. Clarence began spinning tales, conversing about A.A.'s past history, discussing what he felt were present problems.
The ever present oxygen tanks stood by his side, reminding of the obvious infirmity of the man who had once been so proud and healthy. Despite his long ordeal, he did not appear to be drawn or down in spirit. He removed the tubing from his nose and smiled. He welcomed the author into his home and apologized for not being awake on the author's arrival.
Clarence said he could not speak for very long as it was arduous for him to do so. He said he would have to continue with his oxygen tanks. He apologized again and then returned the oxygen mask to his face and sank back into his chair. The strain of attempting to speak was taking its toll.
Grace was tinkering in the little kitchen, preparing herbal tea and snacks. She called out, asking the author to sit down and relax, saying, "You must be tired and hungry after your trip from New York."
Bob R., who had been a close friend of theirs for over twenty years, kept vigil constantly. He was doing whatever he could to make their lives more comfortable. We all sat and talked about the retreats already planned for May 11-13 and September 21-23 of that year.
We all knew that Clarence would probably not be there to speak or even in attendance. However, no one wanted to speak of that. These retreats were to be part of the annual retreats Clarence and Grace had put on for many years. At first, the retreats were called "Camp Florida Retreats." Later, when they were moved to a different location, they were (and still are), called the "Leesburg Life Enrichment Retreats." These retreats, as well as the ones in New York and Amery, Wisconsin, were a time honored ritual for both Clarence and Grace.
Clarence sat in his chair; and, when he could, he would take part in the conversation. He would tell a joke or two, speak of special happenings during the retreats over the years. Sometimes he just nodded his head.
We spoke about the healings at the retreats, of the people who had taken their steps at these retreats, and of the motorcycle gang that had come down to the retreat one year. The "bikers" had frightened the older crowd. But after some of them had shared their experiences, they had become welcome as just another "bunch of rummies."
The oxygen tank by Clarence's side, there was a blanket upon his lap to ward off any chill that might develop. And the stenciled "target" was visible on the left side of his chest. This enabled the doctors to focus their radiation treatments, and were constant reminders of the cancer which had invaded his body.
Seemingly most of the old-time A.A. members (the pioneers), had died as the result of years of self-destructive behavior in which they had engaged. The smoking, the drinking, and the rough lives they had led. Bill Wilson had died of complications from emphysema. Doc had prostate cancer which spread eventually throughout his body and to his throat. Most had died as a result of the ravages of their youth. Through all his present cancer ordeal Clarence was holding on to a faith in that, whatever God wanted, he (Clarence) would get. After all, He (God) was Clarence's manager, Clarence believed.
We spoke often, whenever his strength would allow it. We laughed at the jokes and the stories he told. He retained his sense of humor despite his weakened condition and of the obvious prognosis of imminent death.
Grace, when not tinkering around the house or waiting on the various special guests who dropped by from around the country and around the world, was always by his side. The love of her life needed her, and she was there.
Grace had met Clarence in July of 1969; and they were married for life on September 26, 1971. Clarence had always insisted, that whenever possible, she accompany him on his speaking commitments as he often relied upon her strength and prayers.
Once, as Grace was preparing to meet Clarence on one of these commitments, she wrote this letter to her soon-to-be husband. They both knew, from the day they met, that they would be married. Grace's letter shows the love she had for her beloved. The letter was written on Monday night, July 22, 1970 and said:
My precious Duke -
I'm packed and ready to fly away to meet you tomorrow night. Praise the Lord -
My darling should anything happen to me, Plane fall, etc.- Try to remember that you have made me happier than I even have any right to be. Should my time to die come before I am in your precious arms again I want you to know that, with all my heart I shall forever love you. Yes even in Heaven we shall eternally be together...
She signed the letter, "Your Amazing Grace." She added a P.S.. "...I shall tear this letter up upon my return home Aug. 4th." She never did "tear this letter up," and Clarence kept it with his most important papers. Their relationship was the closest thing to perfection in a marriage that the author had ever seen. They were truly husband and wife to each other.
The time came for the author to return to New York. We tearfully said our "so longs." - Never good by. For that would be a lack of believing. Yet the author knew in his heart he would never see this man again. At least not upon this earthly plane.
The author packed his belongings. As he left, they could not see the tears which were running down his cheeks. The flight back to New York was a sad and lonely one. The author had grown to love this man and was about to lose him. Clarence was missed already. In the five short years of our relationship, as the author's sponsor and friend, with Clarence's help and guidance, begun to understand his own recovery, true recovery from alcoholism in its spiritual sense. He had begun to learn, from the example of Clarence's life, what finding God was all about.
The weeks passed and Clarence's condition worsened. He had to be placed back in the hospital. The author spoke almost daily with him while he was in the hospital, honored to be one of the few people with whom Clarence would speak in the last few weeks. These few were Bob R., Steve and Sue F., Grace, Marjorie Dyan Hirsch, and the author.
Marjorie was another New Yorker whom the author had met through Clarence. Clarence loved Marjorie dearly; and when he had heard she was coming down to Florida to be there with him, he hung on, despite his worsening condition. Marjorie helped out and was constantly in the hospital by his side.
It was about eleven-thirty at night on the twenty second of March. The winds were blowing outside; and, despite the insulated glass in the author's windows, the curtains were fluttering. The house was quiet, and the chill in the room hit as the phone began to ring. The author did not want to answer it for he knew what was about to be reported from the other end of the line.
The choked voice on the other end said, "Clarence has gone home to be with the Lord." It was Marjorie. The author asked how Grace and the rest of the family was. Marjorie replied that, despite the obvious loss, there was also an atmosphere of joy. They all felt they knew where Clarence had gone and with whom he was.
After a brief conversation in which the author and Marjorie tried to console each other, the phone call ended. Tears once again began streaming down the author's cheeks. He had lost a true friend and sponsor.
At four P.M., on the twenty-fifth of March, 1984, in the First Presbyterian Church of Maitland, Florida, Clarence's last earthly A.A. meeting was held. First there was a full Masonic service. As stated, Clarence was a 32nd Degree Mason.
This Masonic service was followed by a few speakers who had known and loved Clarence. There was Steve F., Bob R., Fr. Joe E., and Marjorie. Clarence was also there. However, this was probably the only meeting he had ever attended in his honor at which he didn't speak. The author felt, God was also there, and that He spoke through those who carried, and continue to carry, His message.
Clarence was buried at Cameron Cemetery in Cameron, North Carolina in Grace's family plot. Though not too many people attended the actual burial, all were there in spirit. We all knew that Clarence's earthly remains were not important. Only the message which he had imparted to us.
Clarence's spirit shall forever live in the tens of thousands of lives he touched and will continue to touch. His spirit will continue, as those who he "fixed" go forth to carry this message of experience, strength, hope, and permanent sobriety.
Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name...