Eulogy

thirds-011

Our vacation was cut short a day, we drove a long fifteen hours in one chunk when we learned someone we love was in the ICU. We left white-sanded beaches, soft lilting waves, and sun-tilled waters to hurry home and arrive just in time to say goodbye, to weep with family and hold vigil together. We buried my father-in-law on Monday and time has taken a deep breath, creeping slowly as the things that matter most come to the forefront.

All the weeks this summer we’ve driven back and forth to the hospital and, in the end hospice, the Queen Anne’s Lace spilled over the edge of the roads we traveled, calling my name and spinning me into memories. This wildflower will forever remind me of this hard season of letting go when we held this gentle man in love.

The morning of the funeral when I walked the dog around the house I noticed the meadow behind our back yard is also stitched with Queen Anne’s Lace. When we first moved to our home, it was different—the meadow was tame. A retired couple owned the land and tended it meticulously. They kept it mowed, pristine, and often, when I would be pushing my babies on our swing set, the Mrs. would stop on her riding mower and tell me how my boys reminded her of hers.

Now the meadow is a tangled mass of trees and shrubs and Queen Anne’s Lace. It’s hard to tell what hides in all that underbrush. Somewhere in there are the apple and pear trees her little boys used to climb for sport. When I think of all that is hidden from our eyes in this visible world, it sets my heart on other things—things so precious, so mysterious—things we cannot touch or see. And I remember this: my father-in-law is free. And for this, I rejoice.

But still, I cry when I see the birds flock across the sky, the sudden lift of their wings birthing anew within me the awareness of my feet of clay—I am earthbound. Gravity holds me, but also all other things of this good earth cup my body tenderly; I move and breathe as part of entire system of things: the spiderweb, the pollen sifting through the air, the grass heavy with morning’s respiration … I am reminded that God so loved the world and when I walk through it I can feel this world he loves waiting, expectant, longing for Christ’s return. When death will lose its sting. But God so loved this world, and what we do in this life matters.

In the end, it is the little things—rocking a baby to sleep, walking together, eating together, sitting side-by-side—it is the little things that make a life. We do these things because our heart compels us to and this is how we honor the one wild and precious life—as the poet Mary Oliver calls it—this is how we honor the life we’ve been given. Yes, this life matters. My father-in-law knew this. He leaves behind a better world for having been in it. I will miss him, but I know this is not goodbye. We will meet again.

Of this I am sure.

Playdates with God: Until the Spring

IMG_7784

IMG_7787

IMG_7789

There was a soft breeze in the air on Friday morning when we buried my Aunt Effie. The wind robbed the hills of their gems, scattered them to the sky so that we drove through the wild, tumbling kaleidoscope like ticker tape; the funeral procession weaving its way through town like a parade underneath all that colorful confetti. I drove my minivan up, up, up the cemetery hill, keeping close behind my cousin Sue, who was driving my Uncle Edward and Aunt Steech. I could see their hunched figures through the window and wondered for the millionth time how it must feel to bury a sister—one you’ve known from the beginnings of you. I breathed in scent of my cousin Lori (once removed), perfumed by hugs and powdered cheeks.

Along the narrow cemetery road, oval-shaped yellow leaves were tossed and stacked, like golden coins, scattered, welcoming us to heaven’s gate. Were they beech leaves? I peered through the tangled mass of branches on the hillside and couldn’t make out the smooth gray bark, the arching branches. Who knows what kind of trees will be in heaven? I thought of how the ancients buried their beloved ones on hills—Nearer My God to Thee.

The air was heavy with moisture but the rain held off until we were again in our cars, processing back to Farmington for a family dinner. I was listening to Andrew Peterson singing “The Rain Keeps Falling” and it felt like goodbye. My Aunt Effie lived 89 years and she will always be young and strong in my mind. Funny how, when one is with the elderfamily, she becomes a little girl again.

Farmington, West Virginia gained fame in 1968 for the coal mine explosion that killed 78 men, but it’s always been famous to me as the place many of the people I love live. As a little girl I did not know about the explosion—so strong it was felt twelve miles away. I did not know how attempts were made for ten years to recover the bodies, how nineteen were unrecovered, even after all that time. All I knew was my family was there: my paternal grandpa—long widowed, so many cousins, and my Aunt Effie. Every summer we traveled those skinny roads for our family reunion, which met up in Aunt Effie’s back yard. There was no better place. The creek that wound it’s way around the adjacent hill provided endless hours of activity for me and my myriad of cousins—catching crawdads, building dams, wading far upstream and out of grown-up sight. The hills of Farmington hold the sacred in their bellies.

My Aunt Juanita shared some memories about Aunt Effie during the funeral service. She had us smiling and laughing and dabbing the corners of our eyes, but one thing she said rung true to these ears that used to be a little girl’s. She talked about Effie’s gift for hospitality. How her door was always open and her ear prepared to listen. When I think of her, I think of food. She always fed us well. She loved her family.

And she was strong, having lost her husband too early and unexpectedly. With two children still at home, she had to become the breadwinner. She also cared for my grandpa until he died at the age of 100. She was a hard worker and a gentle heart.

This week, I thanked God for the life of my Aunt Effie as I raked the leaves in our back yard. The trees in the meadow behind our house have gone wild and every fall they shed mounds and mounds of colorful chaff. There are still three large piles waiting for me to bag, but I was able to shred some to cover my sleepy garden. They’ll make a nourishing blanket until the spring brings new life, awakens new glory.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

The winner of the Vibella bracelet is Karrilee! Congratulations, Karilee, I’ll be in touch!

Laura Boggess