Posted tagged ‘funeral’

In Honor of Marie

October 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 20, 2019

                                     

I first met Marie Lyons…kinda’…at a funeral home in Mason, Michigan, the Ball-Dunn Chapel. I was there for the visitation of Harold Bickert. Harold and his wife, Mildred, were elderly members of Lansing First Baptist Church, but years before they had lived in Mason and attended Mason First Baptist Church. 

I visited with Mildred and talked to her about the funeral service for Harold that would happen the next day. In an adjoining viewing room laid the body of Robert Lyons, Marie’s brother. Mildred knew I had been talking to the pastoral search committee of the Mason church, Marie’s church. She had me go into the viewing room and sign the guest book. The visitation had already concluded and no one was still present. I felt a little awkward, signing the guest book of a departed man I had never met, but Mildred was insistent. She WANTED me to be the next pastor of her former church, and Marie Lyons was on the search committee.

About two months later I became Marie’s pastor for the next fifteen years. She was a source of strength, gentle determination, wise counsel, a listener, and a respecter of everyone’s opinions no matter how opposite they might be from what she believed. She was African-American, in a town that was almost completely Caucasian. She never married, but took on  the responsibility of being the caregiver for her brother, Buddy, who had mental limitations and was also mute. She was a school teacher, loving her elementary students as they learned. 

Marie passed away this week at the age of 86. It is one of those deaths that causes you to weep and rejoice at the same time. A faithful follower of Christ, she looked forward to her march into glory. She did not fear death, but rather saw it as the transitional step into the presence and peace of the Lord. And yet, for her friends near and far, there is a rumbling cry in our spirits. She was so valued, and valued others so, that it hurts to know she has moved on to the place she looked forward to. Quite frankly, there just aren’t that many people around these days who have such strong character and are firmly anchored to the Rock that is Christ.

The last time I saw Marie was in 2015. I had traveled back to Mason to meet with my friend and financial advisor, David Leonard. While in Mason I met with our friend, Janet Smith, and Marie at an ice cream shop in Mason and we talked for about an hour. That was four years ago almost to the day. She was getting thinner as she was traveling through her early 80’s, but she still had that same kind voice that made you feel you were important.

  There are people who you’re around for a long time and they impact your life; and then there are those folk who you’re privileged to know for a season of life that leave their handprint upon you. Marie’s handprint has stayed with me for these past 20 years since we moved from Mason.

As the Mason community remembers and celebrated her life this coming week, I shed a sweetened tear. A saint has joined up with the saints. Like a Fodor’s travel guide, the words of scripture that Marie had memorized about what Glory is and how it looks are now being seen firsthand by this just-arrived friend of Jesus. 

The Pain in Laughter

August 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 10, 2019

                                      

Last week I wrote about the tragic loss of a father of five (“Answering the Why”, August 4; WordsfromWW.com) in a road accident. The family was in the midst of a move from our city to another community. It was a new beginning, new challenges and opportunities, new friends to make and schools to attend…and then in a few seconds everything changed. My blog post focused on the “why” questions of life that we strive to answer and yet we can find no answer.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the father. During the course of the service there was pain and there was laughter…and there was laughter, acting like a blanket, bringing some warmth to cover the chill of the deep, deep pain.

The laughter was healing. It drew the gathering into the story, the person. It swung like a grapevine from the heartache of loss to the loss of opportunities to the emptiness of Dad’s chair at the table.

Every chuckle about a past encounter or a humorous saying was tempered with the realization that it would never occur again. And yet the laughter was ointment for the aches of the journey.

I’ve thought a lot about this tragedy in the past week. In the midst of the accident details there’s a sense of injustice and a rising amount of anger. The laughter helps simmer the unrest that has been planted in people’s souls.

My mom’s last few years were filled with the afflictions that Parkinson’s Disease can bring. The loss of mobility and the devastating effect on her ability to speak. My sister and I recently retold “Mom stories”. It’s been five years since she passed and, although we remember the pain, we shared the stories of who she was, experiences we shared and conversations we had…and we laughed. The humor brought her back to us. We could see her sitting in her chair, watching “Dancing With The Stars” and working her crossword puzzle. We remembered how she would use her “Baptist Mom Guilt” on us to make us do things we didn’t want to. 

We could envision the times when she would grab on to Dad and say her classic line of romance to him: “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” We would pretend we were grossed out by the dining room affection, but it really caused us to chuckle…and still does.

There is pain in life and laughter in the pain. It is not an escape from the grief, but rather footwear for the journey. The steps begin with the uncertainty of a tightrope and gradually gain a steadiness as we balance our mourning with the memories.

Our souls cry out. Our laughter helps us to keep going.

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!

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.