Posted tagged ‘funeral’

The Box

March 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 8, 2018


It arrived yesterday, filled with familiar scents and memory items that no one else would see with any value.

It’s been three weeks since my dad passed away. My sister and brother-in-law have been sorting through his belongings after moving everything out of his apartment. It was a major task just to get it moved, but, for starters, she simply was moving it from one place to another…her house. The last week for her has been a time of sorting through the items that are reminiscent of our father.

In sending me “The Box” she was bringing part of Dad to our house. The box did not contain items that I necessarily need, but it contained some of who my dad was- kind of like a small museum!

I was looking at some of the contents this morning and pondering Pops.

I now have four University of Kentucky ball caps. One of them- a blue cap with a large letter “K” on the front- was worn by Dad, a UK grad, to the UK basketball game back in December of 2016 against Valparaiso. My sister took a picture of him in the lobby at Rupp Arena that night alongside former UK coach, Joe. B. Hall. Each of them had their “hurry-canes” by their side as the camera snapped the photo.

In the box are my mom’s Bible and one of Dad’s old Bibles. Each have their names scripted into the lower right corner leather.

There’s his personal calculator from about thirty years ago. He had not transitioned to using the calculator on a smart phone, because he didn’t have a smart phone. He had one of those flip phones that resembled the walkie talkie’s on Star Trek.

There’s a tube of Brylcreem! (“A little dab will do ya!”) That takes me back! Most of my uncles, plus my dad and grandfather, used the hair cream. That was the thing back in Eastern Kentucky. Dad didn’t need to worry about his hair blowing all over the place. The cream kept it firmly matted in place. When he started having some skin cancers on his scalp, ears, and nose he had to ease up on the Brylcreem. I’m not sure if Brylcreem has an expiration date!

There’s a trophy recognizing his achievement of finishing last in a euchre tournament back in 1975. Mom and Dad went to Florida with three other couples from our church, enjoyed the sun during the day and played euchre each evening. The trophy features a gold horse’s rump! I remember Dad telling me about it in detail. It always elicited a chuckle, remembering the razzing but mostly remembering his friends.

There’s a shoe horn still in mint unbent position. Putting his shoes on properly was an indication of my father’s emphasis on doing things correctly and not in a hurry.

There’s the photo album with the title on the cover “Our Son’s Wedding.” Yes, it’s our wedding from almost 39 years ago. As I look at our youthfulness, and who my parents were back in 1979 all I can say is “Wow!”

There are a few of my mom’s Longaberger baskets. She collected them like baseball cards!

And a stapler! And replacements blades for his electric shaver! And a cookbook put together by people from his church!

And handkerchiefs folded neatly, like they were a part of a J.C. Penney’s catalog display.

I’ve experienced families that descend like vultures on the possessions of the deceased. It’s an occasion where the lust for someone’s valuables devalues the life of the one who has passed on. My dad’s valuables are on the other end of the spectrum. I am like Don Quixote as I look at them, seeing rich memories in a shoe horn and value in a tube of Brylcreem.

I stare at the collection that brings stories and moments back to my mind. Saying goodbye to someone is never painless, but recalling the shared times and conversations…that’s priceless!

The Deaths of Two

December 22, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 21, 2015


This past week has been a time of death. That may sound morbid and dark, but it is the reality of the blessing of lives lived and dreams unfinished.

One death was of our church’s former pastor, a man who impacted many lives and dealt with a number of health difficulties, although the seeds for his death may have come as a result of an accident a few months ago. Regardless, death came… and took… and left confusion behind. Grandchildren were left wondering. Friends recalled shared events, conversations had, camping trips taken.

There was sadness, and yet understanding.

The second death was of a sixteen year old young man. It was most unexpected and hard to accept. Death does not discriminate between ages. Although it mostly accompanies the elderly to the next life, sometimes it chooses a different partner that takes the breath away from those left behind.

Death seems to be especially hard at Christmas time, and, unfortunately, more frequent. Our own family views Christmas a little differently now since my father-in-law passed away on Christmas Day nine years ago. In the midst of our kids and grandkids and son-in-laws there is still a whisper of loss as we remember Christmases past.

The family of the sixteen year old are being supported by numerous friends and family as they walk through this, but there are deep wounds inside them that will take lifetimes to heal. Death is like that. It comes and stays. Even when we try to shove it into the attics of our memories it knocks on the ceilings of our hearts to remind us that something…or someone is missing.

The walk through the valley that is overshadowed by death (Psalm 23:4) takes on new meaning as people struggle on.

Our hope is in the last part of Psalm 23:4. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.” 

Although very few of us are comfortable with death, we can take comfort in knowing who walks with us.

The Hardest Part of Ministry

May 11, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     May 11, 2015


Two weeks ago three of us from our church- my wife Carol, a woman named Kathy, and myself- went to check on a lady who hadn’t been at worship that morning…which was out of character. After finding the hidden key that Kathy knew about, we discovered her body in the house. Even though it was a difficult thing to discover, we were glad that we were the ones to discover her passing instead of her daughters.

The next Sunday afternoon we had a gathering in our sanctuary to celebrate her life. Eulogies and letters were read that honored her. The service was a mixture of laughter and tears. Death is a peculiar subject for Christians. Our faith is rooted in a death experience- the death of Jesus on the cross, and then the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The words “death”, “dead”, and “dying” are used over eight hundred times in the Bible. Death is unavoidable for each one of us, but it’s also unavoidable as you read the story of God’s people and Jesus’ followers.

And yet the hardest part of ministry is dealing with death. It’s as certain as birth, but difficult to rub elbows with. As a pastor I talk quite often about life after death, the promise of eternal life…that comes after death! We firmly believe in that promise, and yet struggle with the death part.

People say I do an exceptional job officiating at funerals, and yet I dread them with a passion. I prepare people for Glory, and yet I struggle with the releasing of the loved one. Almost all of the funerals I conduct I know the departed one deeply. I remember where they would sit each week in worship, their uniqueness, and stories that stay with me. The lady who just passed on to Glory made her own birthday cards for people, and they were always special and unique. I asked for a show of hands at her funeral of all those who had ever received a card from her. the show of hands were more numerous than the dandelions on the church’s front lawn. Those are the moments that are special.

The pastor, however, must lead the people in the journey of grief afterwards. Last week the Senior Bible Study I lead had it’s first gathering since the funeral. The dear departed woman was a part of the group. We studied the Word that morning, as we always do, but we also found comfort in being together in the midst of loss. Even as we sat in our tabled circle that day we journeyed together in our grief.

The pastor leads, but the pastor also struggles…with emotions, emptiness, adjusting to the change. The promise of Glory is a soothing embrace in the numbness of loss.

Dealing with death is the hardest part of ministry, and yet we convey the message of hope that is linked to it. Goodbyes are painful, but the certainty of their arrivals are comforting. My ministry had been blessed by preaching about eternity, and yet my ministry is burdened by the heaviness of death.

What a odd combination!

Family Farewells

October 28, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    October 28, 2013



     Today is a good day… with a taste of sorrow.

I’ve been back in southern Ohio for the past week, spending time with my dad and sister. It has been just shy of two months since I was here last for my mom’s funeral, and gatherings associated with it. Two weeks ago my dad, escorted by my sister and brother-in-law, came out to Colorado for our daughter’s wedding. This week, however, has been focused on spending time together with no agenda or meetings. Sitting in the family room watching the World Series and Ohio State football, eating my sister’s exceptional cooking, reading the Ironton Tribune, which takes less time than it does to drive down to the store to get a copy of it. This week has been about a lack of urgency, something that seems a little foreign to my usual schedule.

Today is the day of departure. We will say our final words, realizing that it could very well be our final words in each other’s company. There’s a specialness to those closing moments, even as our souls ache in the midst of the pain such separation causes us.

It used to be that my brother, sister, and I would worry about losing Dad first. Mom’s health had been declining for years, but my dad has had cardiac problems for years. If the Lord called him home first Mom would need to go to a full-care facility. Although it taxed his strength, Dad wanted Mom to be cared for at their home for as long as possible. It meant hiring a home health care person to come in for at least four hours a day, and sometimes up to eight hours a day. Dad’s schedule revolved around Mom’s needs. After she passed I asked him what he was going to do in the coming week after we had left. He looked at me and, with a hint of despondent confusion, replied, “Well, Bill, I have no idea!”

The remark wasn’t about being freed up to do what he wanted, but rather about unwanted freedom.

As I drive to Charleston, West Virginia with him and my brother-in-law, Mike, we’ll do some story-telling, have some quiet moments, and tell one another how much we love each other. Dad will give me a farewell hug, and I will feel the sadness within him.

Farewells are painful and piercing. They stay with us as we walk to our next point. We wish it were not so, and yet we are thankful for it being that way.

A New Name

October 25, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                             October 25, 2013




     Today my dad and I invited a great gentleman named Bill Ball out for lunch. Bill was one of my mentors growing up.  Always encouraging with a urging towards perseverance, Bill was a welcome smile to a high school boy of smaller stature. He also had three daughters, the middle daughter, Teresa, whom I thought the cat’s meow.

A week ago Bill’s wife of sixty-six years, Sue Ball, passed away after a sudden illness. Sue was a fine lady, charming and personal. She was one of those people you’ve save a seat for beside you in a restaurant because she was such a delight. When I was back for my mom’s funeral less than two months ago Sue and Bill came up to my parents’ house and we sat and talked for a solid hour about life, kids, and pursuits.

I was taken back at her passing, and then today Bill told me that her name wasn’t really Sue. My response: “Say what?”

The first day of class as both of them began their college careers at Rio Grande College in Rio Grande, Ohio, they met in the college library. Bill took a fancy to this young woman immediately. They started dating, and five years later they got married. But her name was Edna Pearl!

Bill, however, called her, Sue. I’m not sure why he called her Sue. She was always “Pearl” to her mom. Perhaps he didn’t think she looked like someone whose name was “Pearl.” Whatever the reason, “Sue” stuck! It stuck so much that when they moved to Ironton, Ohio fifty-something years ago everybody in town came to know her as “Sue”. Whenever Bill was around Sue’s mom he was wise enough to call her Pearl, but otherwise she was Sue.

It isn’t often that someone is so accepting of a new name. Our identity gets associated with who we’ve been, not who we will be, or even invited to be. I know who I have been. There’s a certainty to it. A new name takes a bit of faith in the not-yet.

I never knew Sue in her prior life of her original name. Most everybody in Ironton, Ohio didn’t know her birth certificate name either. So unknown was her “Edna Pearl days” that Bill had to put “Sue” into the obituary listing to make people aware of who it was that had passed.

I was amazed by the story as he shared it today. Scripture tells several stories of new names that God gave people. Usually the new name was bestowed at a “fork in the road” moment. Abram to Abraham…Saul to Paul…nomad to father of the faith…persecutor to proclaimer.

The thing is…the longer you wrap yourself in the new identity that Jesus gives you the more it seems that is who you have always been. At some point people see you more as a “Paul” and forgetting of “Saul.”

Whatever name we remember Edna Pearl Sue Ball by the Lord knows her by a newer new name…”Beloved!”