The funeral home called yesterday.
She died on Sunday.
After living 100 years. 4 months. 21 days.
She never really went to church.
Neither did her sons.
Or her grandchildren.
Or her great grandchildren.
But in a moment like this they would like a pastor to be present.
And, to say a few words.
(Their words, not mine.)
Would I do the funeral?
And, so tomorrow I will stand among them and with them.
Not to give them easy answers.
Or glib assurances.
But to reach out with my own faith.
And, my own questions.
And my own sense of the Holy.
And, for a moment
To help them stand in the presence of the mystery we call life and death.
Their mother’s death.
As a part of the few words I have been asked to say, I will say this:
“O God, wrap our lives in your grace that as we face the mystery of death we might see beyond the edge of today and catch a glimpse of your eternity.”
May all our lives be wrapped in that grace.
His father died last week.
Not unexpected, but still hard.
A hole now in his heart.
Writing a note to him this morning made me think about my Dad who died two years ago. I think of him nearly every day. I still feel the last hug he gave me. And, I remember what he said to me and the love and sense of loss in his voice as he gave me that hug. I remember the songs he and my Mom sang in the car as we left home for our family vacation. I remember the conversation we had when I didn’t win the Most Valuable Player Award in the Little League All Star game and someone else did. All those memories and so many more.
Sometimes those memories make me smile.
Other times they bring tears to my eyes.
But, I am grateful for each and every one of them.
In my note this morning, I included this quote by Frederick Buechner which echos over and over again within me.
“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again you will know me. It means that even after I die you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.”
Dad, thank you.
Two years after my Dad died and after a year of falls and infections and 6 weeks confined to a hospital bed, my Mom died. This past week family and friends gathered to laugh and to cry together. And to remember and to celebrate my Mom’s life. High School Valedictorian. Owner of a red convertible. Strong enough and in love enough to get on an airplane for the first time in her life in 1952 to fly to Alaska to marry my Dad. Elementary school teacher. Square dancer. And, so much more.
With her death, in our family, a generation passes away.
Now it is us.
We are the oldest.
The next up.
With my Dad’s death two years ago and with my Mom’s declining health this past year I have become ever more aware of my own mortality. As a friend said to me. We are in the final chapter of my life. I live with the questions.
How will I use the time I have left?
What can I learn from my parents about how will I manage my own declining health? How will I live towards my own death?
I have no answers.
Only the questions.
As I get older I am more and more aware of my own mortality.
The ages of those whose lives are summed up in the obituaries come closer and closer to my own age. And, today the liturgy for Ash Wednesday reminds us From dust we came. To dust we shall return.
I understand that.
And, that will be, but…
The but is while I understand the dust to dust part. I am not sure I believe it.
I am not sure because I believe that life, even my life, came from something more than dust.
There was love.
And, I believe my life will go to something more than dust when I die.
The dust to dust part may be true for my body.
But I am not sure it is true of my life.
Do my dreams which already live in tomorrow live on in the tomorrow after that? Does the hope which sustains me today linger into tomorrow? Does love push past the boundaries of what we name as life and death?
I don’t know the how or the why,
But I believe my life and your life and all life taps into what I can only describe as Life with a capital “L.” That Something More which some call soul and others call spirit and I call ???? Maybe all this is just wishful thinking on my part. My own longing that my life will continue even after that moment when my body stops.
But, I sense it is true.
And so today will hold onto that as well as the smear of ashes across my forehead.
This was one of those saints who served on the school board and who watched out for neighbors. A saint who was more worried about how you were doing than how she was doing even through these last several months when she was not doing very well herself. This was a saint who knew your name and whose commitment to the community helped to hold the community together. A saint who willingly did the work not worrying about where the spotlight was shining or who got the credit as long as what needed to get done got done.
A saint who spoke her mind.
A saint who loved her family.
A saint who cried at the brokenness of the world around her.
A saint died today.
And, a friend.
And a hole tore open in my heart.
Unless the doctors are wrong, and I don’t think they are, this is the last Thanksgiving I will share and celebrate with my Dad. The day is bittersweet. It is hard watching illness rob him of his strength and health. Yet, on this day of giving thanks, I am deeply grateful for the witness of his life.
I am grateful for the memories…
The songs I remember he and my mom singing as we started off on vacations.
Sitting at the dinner table with him as he challenged my brothers and me to do math problems in my head without using our fingers.
His teaching me to play Hearts and then sitting on the back patio on summer evenings playing against me and my friend.
And, I am grateful for how he cared for and provided for his family.
And, how he loved his wife.
And, all they were able to do together.
And, I am grateful for his love which I never for a moment had a reason to doubt.
And, for his support and encouragement even in those moments he didn’t understand or agree with the position I took.
I will be sad when I look at him at the dinner table today.
And, I will miss him deeply when he dies.
But, most of all I will be grateful for the witness of his life.