Posted tagged ‘death’

Surrounded By Aunts, Uncles, and Parents

July 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 23, 2018

                               

Yesterday was a bit sobering. After attending my nephew’s wedding on Saturday in Frankfort, Kentucky I altered my route back to my sister’s house in southern Ohio to visit the cemetery where many of my relatives lie in slumbered peace.

This was my first visit to the well-maintained grounds a few miles outside of Paintsville, Kentucky since my dad was laid to rest there last February. It was the first time I had seen the grave marker with both of my parents’ names on it. 

I stood there in silence taking in the depth of their deaths. It reached down and caused an aching in my soul. I let it hurt for a few minutes, tearing up in the reality of what lay before me.

And then I spent some time in the midst of my aunts and uncles who reside, so to speak, in the same area. 

-My Uncle Bernie and Aunt Cynthia at the feet of my parents. My mom and Aunt Cynthia were always trying to outdo one another. It was sisterly competition that took in pie-baking, casserole-making, house decorating, hairstyling, child raising, and opinion-giving. They were like competitors in a game of “life checkers”. To have my mom laying with Aunt Cynthia under her feet would be considered, by my mom, as the final word on the situation. Uncle Bernie and my dad lay beside their wives once again not able to get a word in edgewise! When I think of cigars and pipes I think of my Uncle Bernie. As I stood there looking at his resting place I could hear his laugh which was unique and delightful. And I could almost taste my Aunt Cynthia’s raisin pie, the best there ever was…no matter what my mom said!

-Uncle Junior (Dewey, Jr.) and Aunt Grethel are just a bit to my mom’s left. Aunt Grethel has been there for a while now, succumbing to illness before any of the other aunts and uncles. Uncle Junior didn’t join her until he had pinched my leg a few hundred more times, usually as I sat on my Papaw Helton’s front porch with the men of the family. Uncle Junior made me squirm. My leg even twitched as I now viewed his permanent residence! Now when I see his daughter Annette she intentionally tries to pinch my leg. I’m not sure if it’s to honor her dad’s memory or she just likes to see me squirm again…maybe both!

-Uncle Millard and Aunt Irene (“Rene”) are just a bit to my dad’s right. Millard was a barber. In fact, he kind of resembled Floyd the barber on “The Andy Griffith Show”. I remember he chewed tobacco for a while and kept a spittoon beside his recliner to the chagrin of Aunt Rene. They never had any children, but were guardian parents for my cousin Johnny Carroll for a couple of years or so when he was a toddler. Uncle Doc’s first wife had died and he needed help raising his young son. He couldn’t be a physician and a single parent at the same time. Aunt Rene became Johnny Carroll’s mom. I’ll always remember all the pictures she had throughout the house of the little boy who she mothered. Compassion defined her. Before she passed in 1996 to cancer she gave a check to each of her nieces and nephews and asked us to use the money to do something that we would enjoy. She wanted to be able to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. My family planned a trip to Disney World- air fare, park tickets, staying at The Beach and Yacht Club on the property- with the funds. Aunt Rene was as happy as we were. To this day my kids still remember how awesome that vacation was!

Overseeing this horizontal family gathering are my Papaw and Mamaw Helton. Mamaw was the first to find her place in this cemetery, passing away forty years ago in 1978. She’d be 119 if she was still alive! She could cook up a storm and fry up a chicken fresh, mainly because she had just killed it and plucked the feathers out by their barn. Papaw governed the gathered wisdom and opinions of the front porch uncles. Without a doubt he was the family patriarch in every since of the term. 

And now all of their daughters and one of their three sons are gathered around them. It is a family reunion of a different kind, and yet I can still hear their voices, complete with accents and emotions. 

Emotions define this moment for me, also. It’s okay though, because I’m standing in the midst of lives that were well lived, well thought of, and now eternally well.

Dad…Two Months Gone

April 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 15, 2018

                               

Two months ago today Dad, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, passed away after a well-lived life of almost ninety years. He really wanted to break the finish-line tape of the ninety mark, but didn’t quite make it. And that was okay!

There are very few people who come to the end of their lives and are able to say “It was good! It was very good!” Dad was one of those! What made it good was the value he placed on things that are irreplaceable. He treasured his friends. When his friend Bill Ball passed away last summer it pained his soul. Bill was the last of Dad’s long-time friends, had passed the ninety mark a few years earlier, and the two of them conversed every week. Each had lost his wife around the same time and each had been married in excess of sixty years.

When Bill passed I think it hurt Dad, but it also eased the way for him. Seeing your friends, who are irreplaceable, travel on to Glory is like being afraid of entering an unfamiliar place, but then you see your friends go there and it makes it okay.

Dad had strong beliefs and convictions that he didn’t compromise. When the days remaining are few, I think that also brings a person to be able to say life was good. Remaining true to your promises and your commitments are signs of a life that is deeply-rooted, not tossed this way and that by what sounds good at the time. Steadfast and persevering, that’s how I would describe him! Gentle and fair would also be listed in the description of who he was and is.

A person never really gets used to the absence of the one who has always been there. The impact has been too deep and significant. I’m blessed in that the impact my dad left on me causes me to smile and feel blessed, as opposed to feeling oppressed and wounded.

And now two months since that Thursday afternoon when he breathed his last I still am able to experience his breath upon my life.

And it is good!

Religious Suspicionists

February 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 26, 2017

                                     

A tragic event happened this past week that traumatized a local high school. A student took his life. Teen suicide has happened way to often in recent times. For the high school effected it was their sixth student suicide in the past year or so.

Half of the suicide victims at this high school had been involved in some way with the Young Life club of their campus. The local newspaper had a headline article featuring that point. A couple of the people that were interviewed more than hinted that there might be a connection between students killing themselves and what they were experiencing at Young Life.

When suicides happen, especially amongst adolescents, people search for answers…they long for understanding. Like common threads in a TV police detective episode, they look for connections between the victims. Young Life was a common thread half of the time. That led to comments by those being interviewed that perhaps the theology…the belief system of Young Life had been a contributing factor in the deaths.

A tragic situation followed by tragic assumptions. Religions, not just Christianity, are viewed with more and more suspicion these days. There are radical Muslims, radical Jews, and radical Christians…and a growing number of people can not differentiate between the radicals and those of us who see our spiritual faith as a motivator for positive results. And, quite frankly, there are a number of religious folk who look with suspicion on anything that they are uncomfortable with! That’s been true for centuries. Remember? Rock music was of the devil, tattoos are of the devil, movies are of the devil, Harry Potter was of the devil…the list was, and still is, long!

A number of conspiracy theorists have taken up residence in the Church!

There’s a growing number of suspicionists who WERE a part of the church. They were burned in some way, mistreated by the people of grace, and exited congregations never to return. A burned Baptist is like a parent whose daughter just got stood up by her prom date. Hell knows no greater fury. Anger has been planted deep inside.

So perhaps the suspicions about Young Life are understandable, although untrue. Perhaps we should expect doubts about our faith to become more prominent, and more reservations about our calling and purpose to rise to the surface.

If I remember right the first followers of Jesus had the same challenge. Their language was misinterpreted, as they took the bread and cup and referred to them as the body and blood of Christ! Their citizenship was questioned, as they talked about following Christ the King. Their theology was concerning, as they experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and expressed belief in someone who had been crucified and then was said to be raised form the dead.

Suspicion is not new to followers of Christ. We sometimes forget that we were gifted with “good news”, and that good news contains hope, love, peace, and grace that needs to trumpeted in a refresher course for Christ-followers.

One last hopeful point that the newspaper article made was that in the midst of the school tragedy the leaders of Young Life were coming alongside students and helping them cope with the loss, praying with the grieving, and listening to the confused. I guess you would call that the ministry of presence.

Saying Goodbye To My Colorado Dad

September 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 24, 2016

                        

My father, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, lives in Proctorville, Ohio. He turned 88 back in June. He is, and has always been, a man of integrity and compassion. Living in Colorado has minimized my time with him in recent years. Sunday night phone calls are our meaningful habit, about thirty minutes of conversation about what is happening, punctuated with a few stories that we each chuckle about when shared. I’ve been blessed to be the son of a man who is Deacon Emeritus at his church, not so much for his biblical knowledge, but rather for his humbleness and grace.

God knew I needed another dad…a resident papa, if you will…and he blessed my life these past seventeen years with another man of humbleness and grace named Rex Davis. Both Rex and my dad were government employees- Rex with the Postal Service and my dad with the Social Security Administration. And both Rex and my dad were caregivers for their wives for a number of years, treating their spouses with respect and love as ailments and conditions slowed their mobility.

The only difference between Rex and my dad is that Rex preceded his wife, Ann, in death. Today I speak at his funeral. He passed away about a week ago after battling cancer for the past three years or so. Rex was 95.

As I speak this afternoon I expect that I will become emotional. Sometimes pastors become accustomed to grief, to loss, and tragedy. It becomes a part of our occupational routine, and quite frankly, seldom touches our hearts. There are, however, those people whose lives have entwined themselves into your lives that ignite the sorrow and awaken the emotions. Rex is that person for me! His funeral is an event I have dreaded, and yet, feel very honored to be a part of.

When I was his pastor he would squeeze my finger each Sunday when he would pass the offering plate to me, and then he’d whisper to me “Praying for you, Pastor Bill!” He was my golfing dad, hitting them short and straight and then patiently waiting for me to find my drive that usually went long and sliced to the right. He appreciated my ministry and, with sincerity, told me so frequently.

I walked some lonely days with him, as he grieved the death of his only son in a motorcycle accident. I was a listening ear in his time of loss and confusion. When my mom passed away he came along beside me with words of comfort, and found a few more times each month to give my finger a squeeze or embrace me with a hug of support.

I expect that the sanctuary will be close to capacity this afternoon, a testimony to a man who outlived just about everybody of his generation. It will be a bitter-sweet celebration of his life and his witness. There will be outbursts of laughter and ears streaming tears of sorrow.

I miss my friend. I miss my Colorado dad!

Post-Boston Marathon Resurrection

April 22, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  April 22, 2014

 

                                  

 

How appropriate for the Boston Marathon to be held the day after Resurrection Sunday! A year after the tragedy that impacted a city and rippled through the nation, the race breathed new life into the Boston Strong. Over thirty thousand runners jammed the streets to trudge through the triumph of 26.2 miles.

Calamity can create a lingering odor of defeat. It echoes with the senselessness of it, such as the loss of life and the vengeance of disturbed personalities.

A year ago we watched the reports on television of the chaos and shook our heads in disbelief. Our nephew worked about a mile from the blast site. I remember his mom calling his cell phone trying to find out if he was okay, but they weren’t able to make a connection. The heightened anxiety of those moments will stay with both of them for the rest of their lives.

So…it was appropriate this year, the day after we celebrate Christ rising from the dead… being the conqueror of death, not the conquered…that a nation would raise a race of endurance from the ashes.

It’s interesting that a marathon race is about perseverance and pushing through quitting points. A tragedy can derail the best of intentions, but not this time!

If there is enough resolve in a group of people to the mission unthinkable acts can be overcome.

The Apostle Paul uses the image of a runner in a long race to talk about following Jesus. In Philippians 3:13-14 he writes “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

     Our walk with Christ has its smooth stretches, nicely-placed slopes, but also a Heartbreak Hill every once in a while. The hills test our commitment. There are a lot of smoothy-committed Christians. Who, however, will struggle alongside Jesus?

Back to Boston! Yesterday was a different kind of resurrection. We applaud the resolve…the perseverance…and the tears of triumph!

Speaking to Mom

September 7, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W                                               September 7, 2013

 

 

Most who are reading this know that my mom passed away on September 3. Her funeral was yesterday. After the service at Hall’s Funeral Home in Proctorville, Ohio, the family traveled about an hour and a half to Highland Memorial Gardens outside of Staffordsville, Kentucky for her graveside. I was asked to conduct the graveside service. Now, understand that I’ve conducted a lot of graveside services over the years, but this was different. This was for Mom, the one who changed my diapers and kept me in line. One doesn’t just read a scripture, recite a poem, and close in prayer at his mother’s cemetery plot. The following are my last words to Mom before her casket was lowered into the ground just to the foot of her parents’ graves, and also in the company of her sister Irene, and husband Milliard Vance, her brother Dewey Junior Helton (who I always thought  was actually named Junior…Uncle Junior!), and his wife Grethel, and Mom’s brother-in-law, Bernie Whitt. Her sister, Cynthia Whitt, age 91, is the last of the six children still living.

“Family plot” is an appropriate term for that section of the cemetery! And those of us who are still walking upright were gathered there with them.

Dear Mom,

    I know that you are in heaven now. As I thought about who you are- your personality, likes and dislikes- and who you have been, and I thought about where you are now, I started pondering what it is about heaven that impresses you…not that there is anything in heaven that is unimpressive!

     I know that you will be taken back by how immaculate everything is in Glory. Everything is perfectly placed. There is no hint of chaos. There isn’t a place in the whole expanse that “looks like a tornado hit it” (Your term used often to describe my bedroom!). 

      Everything is clean! Cleanliness is next to godliness…and now you know that it also describes the area next to God! The order of heaven has brought a smile to your face. If heaven has magazines they are neatly arranged. Good Housekeeping would figure prominently in the tidy mix.

      I know you will also be thrilled to discover that there is no death, mourning, crying, or pain there. The last few years have had their share of those things…from the passing of siblings and friends…to the pain of your illnesses. Dad and Rena often found that there was nothing they could do to comfort you, to make things so you would not hurt. They did not want you to be in pain, but there was a pained helplessness within them as they waited by your bedside. Heaven, as you have discovered, does not have a hospital ward…or doctor’s waiting rooms…or pills to take and health insurance forms to submit.

      In heaven I’m sure you are rejoicing with those who have gone before you. I know you’re experiencing a reunion of the saints. There’s been a separation that has now come back together. 

      Can you hear Aunt Rene’s laughter? 

      Do people still have Kentucky accents there, which, I know, Kentuckians have thought are pretty heavenly on this earth? 

       Is the aforementioned Uncle Junior still allowed to pinch the legs of unsuspecting little boys…like he would do to me while sitting in the swing together at Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s house? 

       Have you seen Papaw yet, and does he drink buttermilk in heaven? I always thought that buttermilk was disgusting, so I’m assuming he is having to go “buttermilk cold turkey” for the rest of eternity.

      And, Mom, you’re seeing the Lamb of God, Jesus, with the multitudes encircling him in praise and adoration of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Since I know you were always impressed with Easter Choir Cantatas, you must be standing there with your mouth wide open in awe of what you are now hearing and seeing. 

      We grieve your death, but we rejoice in your life, and now…new life. As the scripture says “…we live by faith, not by sight.”

      Because of our shared faith we know that someday we will be reunited with you, and for that we are thankful!

Losing Mom

September 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 5, 2013

      It is hard to change from what has always been!

For all my life my mom has always been. Today is day three of this new place, this new part of the journey, that has never been a part of me before.

This is stranger than all the other changes in my life. It isn’t like switching from cassette tapes to CD’s, or even moving from Michigan to Colorado. Losing a parent is like losing part of your identity. You go back and look at old family pictures. Mom was there at my third birthday. When I think of birthdays I still think of two-layer coconut white cake. When I think of Christmas celebrations in our house on Lexington Road in Winchester, Kentucky, Mom was there…a little drowsy, but she was there. I didn’t understand at that point that the night had been short for her. I thought she had gone to sleep right after the kids did, so that she wouldn’t be in Santa’s way.

When Dad was having to travel for his position with the Social Security Administration Mom was there with us “three munchkins.” She rarely used the excuse of working all day and not having the energy to cook dinner…so let’s go out to eat! Skillet cornbread and a pot of home-grown green beans was often our meal. In fact, the first time I had yellow cornbread I felt someone had made a mistake, because it was way different than Mom’s. I had the same reaction to “ham salad”. I didn’t realize that REAL ham salad had ham in it. Ours was made out of baloney, and it was awesome! No one told me it was “poor man’s ham salad!”

In fact, food often defined Mom. We never had to go to Bob Evan’s Restaurant. We were better!

Oyster dressing at Thanksgiving! Fried chicken! Squash casserole! Christmas fruit cake! Sweet tea! Sunday night popcorn as we watched The Ed Sullivan Show. Soup beans and the same aforementioned skillet cornbread.

Mom and Dad teamed together before equality was a popular term. Dad always drove, but Mom always talked and prompted discussion. In an age before cell phones, conversations were always “in car.” No one else was there to interfere, unless it was Tennessee Ernie Ford singing “Sixteen Tons” on the staticy radio.

Mom was always shotgun. The three kids always sat in the back seat. On the long trips to Paintsville, Kentucky, we could be assured that Mom would drift off at some time. The idea for bobblehead dolls came from watching her head bobble back and forth in a few moments of quiet slumber. The snickers from the back seat would some how awake her and we would then receive “the look.”

She was a perfectionist. Quite often when we lived on Thomas Street in Ironton, Ohio, she would tell me to go clean my room because “…it looks like a tornado hit it!” I’d go into my bedroom and the “tornado” had resulted in a bed spread being uneven and a closet door being open. I had a distorted view of the damage that tornados can do as a result of that. Our house was clean. In fact, in recent years when Mom and Dad were hiring someone to come in once a month to clean the lady would show Dad the cleaning cloth she used that had no visible remnants of dust or dirt on it. There was suspicion that Mom had cleaned before the lady had gotten there because she didn’t want the house to look like a tornado had hit it. That would be an  embarassment!

College graduation photos…Mom was there. Seminary graduation photos…Mom was there! Wedding photos…Mom was there!

And so now I enter into a time that has never been. She is not there, and yet she is. The smells and scents as I entered my parents’ house on Tuesday were connections to Mom. Opening the refrigerator and seeing pimento cheese reminded me of Mom.

I can hear her voice in the silence. Even though I am in a time that has never been before the whispers of the past cling to the present.

Thank you, Mom! Who I am can not be separated from who you were.