Posted tagged ‘remembrance’

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.

Remembering What Has Been Forgotten

May 27, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           May 27, 2019

                      

There is trivia and then there is truth. Trivia consists of those little morsels of interesting facts that may be known by a small percentage of the populace. Like yesterday’s “Trivia Hive” question: By what name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner better known? 

Give up?

Answer: Sting.

Interesting, right? But it does nothing to effect the rest of my day. It’s a trivia fact. Add an ‘L’ to trivia and you have trivial!

But then there is truth. Truth changes the way we live, the way we think, what grounds us. Truth is timeless. It is rooted in the past, lived in the present, and remembered for the future. Truth that is forgotten causes a drifting of our beliefs and life principles.

And yet, in our culture, truth seems to have been minimized. I think about this for three reasons: One, that it’s Memorial Day, a day rooted deep into our history, begun in 1866 following the Civil War and originally known as Decoration Day; two, because I see the disconnection between today’s younger generations and knowledge of the past; and three, because there is a tendency for truth to be distorted by those who either don’t know it or have agendas that seek to challenge it.

When we forget what has been we creep towards the edge of the dangerous cliff that leads to a slippage into old mistakes. When we forget where we have been we risk being careless about where we are going.

My wife and I were recently at the Luxembourg American Cemetery. 5,073 American soldiers, who lost their lives during World War II, mostly during the Ardennes Offensive, better known as the Battle of the Bulge, are buried there. As we gazed upon the rows of white crosses across 17 acres it was impossible to not think about what had happened and why they were here. The freedoms we so often take for granted today were solidified by their sacrifices. 

It is in that realization that I have my greatest appreciation, but it also in that realization that I cringe, for there is a forgetfulness in our midst that blurs the price of the past. The truth we forget gets bundled with the trivia that we tend to disregard. When we forget the principles of our democracy we become vulnerable to the corruption of the powers that be and the self-centeredness of personal privilege.

Never forget where we’ve been, because it is vital to the direction of where we need to be going.

Life and Death, And Life In Death

April 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     April 14, 2019

                   

Yesterday I participated in a memorial service for a gentleman and a gentle man named Jim Newsome. I had been his pastor for the last three years or so of my final pastorate. Back in November I posted a writing about the last visit Carol and I had with him and his wife, Pat. He knew he only had a few days to live and in the only time I ever saw him exhibit impatience he said to his wife, “Okay! I’m ready to go, but when’s it going to happen?” Five days after we sat by his bed he passed on into Glory.

The gathering to remember him was punctuated with stories and laughter, a book of tales and experiences. During the service someone made the statement, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

I have found the truth and the meaning in those words in recent years. Each  morning I brush my hair with my dad’s hairbrush and I think of him, a year now since he passed on. Every time I fire up our grill to cook some hamburgers I can smell the sizzling aroma of the burgers he would cook. They were the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted! Mine are tasteless in comparison, and I’m okay with that! Dad was the grill master. I’m simply a guy who stands by a grill.

My mom has been gone for five years now, but every time I see the crossword puzzle in the daily newspaper I think about her. My dad, brother, and I could be having an in-depth discussion about present-day terrorism and the role of a democracy in fighting it and my mom would suddenly break into the conversation with…”Laurence, what’s a three letter word for fish-and-chips fish?” 

Both of my parents are gone, but they’re still alive each day.

Each of us lives and each of us dies. The sweetness of this world is the relationship we still experience with the one who has passed away. Death ends a life, not a relationship. 

At Jim’s reception following the service a 10 minute video was showed of his portrayal of The Lone Ranger, an act he did for various groups and gatherings for 19 years. Suddenly, he was back with us, back when he had more hair, but still it was him! Each time I see The Lone Ranger I think of him.

We often see death as the final brushstroke, finishing the work. It’s suspicious looking, mysterious, and characterized as cold and somber. And yet it’s communicated as gloriously better, awe-inspiring, and pain-free. 

The memories of the departed stay with us. They continue to live and bless us. 

And the person of faith lives on even if he dies. The last words I spoke to Jim were, “If I don’t see you again, Jim, I’ll see you on the other side!” 

And he looked at me, gave me half a wink, and said, “Plan on it!”

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.

Going To See Dad…Probably for the Last Time!

February 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2018

                       

I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for an early morning plane that will jet me across the country, hurry me off it in order to find another plane that will then come part of the way back in the other direction. It’s a hard trip, not because of the stress of flying, but rather because of the reason for the journey.

Dad is failing. It’s not unexpected. His second home this past year has been St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s inching towards his 90th birthday. Each week seems to bring a new health concern. Last week my sister was by his side for a consultation with a hospice counselor.

Today’s flight is punctuated with memories and uncertainty.

I remember how my dad stood by my mom’s side in her final days as the Parkinson’s gradually took away her ability to use her hands and legs, and her ability to speak. It was a painful journey.

I remember his journey to Colorado to attend our youngest daughter’s wedding. While there he brought Lizi to tears with the gift of a special piece of jewelry that had been my mom’s.

Since I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, I’m remembering my dad’s hamburgers. Honestly, I have never tasted another hamburger that rivaled his. Even though I got the recipe and instructions from him I could never come close to the distinctive flavor. When you ate two of Dad’s burgers you were sorry that you couldn’t handle a third!

I remember the sadness we experienced when he couldn’t attend our oldest daughter’s wedding because Mom’s health was not good, but I also cherish the memories of his visit about four years ago and how he bonded with our granddaughter Reagan, who was three at the time. I remember her coming into the house one morning and yelling, “Papaw, Papaw!” She paused for a moment and then she said to me, “I know he’s here. I can smell him!” (His after shave announced his presence.)

As the plane flies through the clouds I can’t see anything around me or below me. It’s a metaphor for Dad’s situation. There is not a clear picture of what is and what will be. Somewhere in front of us the clouds will part and the picture will be seen.

My emotions are close to the surface. A few times this morning the potential for tears was heightened, and yet they haven’t erupted as I expect they will. My father’s best emotion was laughter-laced joy. I can hear the echo of his chuckle as we fly over Kansas. I can see his body shaking in rhythm with the laughter. If it was a story that he was telling for the hundredth time he’d close the tale with his hand slapping his knee in total appreciation for the memory.

Death is not a fear of Pops. He’s prepared himself for it. A number of times over the past four and a half years since Mom passed he has taken the hour and a half drive over to Johnson County, Kentucky to visit her grave. His name is already etched on the grave marker beside her. A few feet away are the resting places of my aunts and uncles, and a wee bit further is where his mom, Grace Wolfe, has long since been lowered into the ground. Dad is ready to once again be laying next to my mother. There is sweetness and love in the known destination, just as there is a mixture of grief and peace within me as I consider what is to come.

Being Deacon Emeritus of his church, Beulah Baptist, death is simply a part of the faith journey. Dad looks forward to the reunion of the saints, and the glory of the Eternal Gathering.

“How’s it going, Pops?” That has been my Sunday night greeting to him for the past several years. “Well, hi, son!”

And we’d talk about this, that, and the other…the ladies at Wyngate (his senior independent living complex where he has resided for three years) who have been giving him the eye and considering the possibilities; the Kentucky Wildcats (he being a UK grad in the early 50’s); the latest fire alarm at Wyngate set off by one of the residents who wanted to cook up some bacon on a Friday night in his apartment; how his friend, Bill Ball, was doing (Bill passed away last August); and the weather.

I’ll miss the way we could make each other laugh, and at the thought of it I can sense the rumblings of the tears rising up.

Last weekend thousands of people attended a funeral in Colorado Springs for Micah Flick, a Sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. A father, he leaves behind a wife and twin toddlers. It is a story about the cruelty of life, a senseless shooting by a man who did not value the life of someone else. Micah, in fact, took a bullet to save someone else’s life. He will always be remembered as a hero, even in the midst of tragedy.

My dad’s journey gets placed on the other end of the spectrum, a life that has been longer than anyone expected, a life that will be celebrated with tears of thankfulness and the smiles of many.

Things will not be the same, and that’s okay!

Remembering Ashes

May 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 28, 2017

                               

Yesterday the ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered from the top of a hill and wind-blown down into the valley of his grandfather’s land…a place that he loved to be in his growing up years and even when he decided he was finally an adult. His wife posted pictures from the family gathering on Facebook and my eyes watered from their effect.

It was appropriate that the family has chosen Memorial Day weekend, a time of remembering and cherishing, mourning and blessing. I’m sure that as they stood on the top of the ridge they shared stories  and Greg’s brothers recalled brother exploits of the past that have taken their places as family legends.

My soul rumbled with quivering peace to know that they had paused to remember their son, husband, dad, and brother. Remembering is underrated these days! Speeding into the unconquered future and new experiences is the lane of life most traveled.

Where we’re going, however, can not clearly be understood without a grip on the past. One school day this past year when I was teaching seventh grade social studies at the same school that Greg taught for fifteen years, I wore a pink shirt that our area basketball officials were wearing before basketball games to emphasize, and remember, that the fight against cancer is ongoing. Greg had dealt with a cancerous brain tumor for six years before his death last October. On that school day I retold his story to each class. I brought them with me on his journey that was punctuated by devastating medical reports and MRI’s of good news. We remembered together even though most of them had never known him.

Remembering is a gift. It has meaning and substance. Greg’s nine year old daughter will remember yesterday’s gathering on a ridge for the rest of her life…the scene, the smells, the words of her grandparents, uncles, and mom…and there will be a sweet humming in her soul. Losing your dad at such a young age is something that many kids never recover from. The road of healing is always shaded by the stories of remembrance.