I have been thinking about and pondering this post since My Mom died.  I’ve started, and deleted, too many drafts to count.  But then I thought maybe the best way to do this was to use the tributes from her funeral.

 The first one was given by my oldest niece, Linnea...

Good Morning, Thank you for joining us today to celebrate the life of my Grandma. Thank you Dave, for that beautiful tribute to her life. It is wonderful to hear stories from people who knew my Grandma in different ways. I used up all my a-material putting together her life story, but don’t worry, there’s some decent material that I saved for today. After me, you will hear from my Uncle. He doesn’t know this, but we drew straws and he is supposed to give the funny tribute. No pressure Uncle Ron.

When I think about these last few years of my Grandma’s life, I think of an exhalation. There were many sweet moments and plenty of fun times, all punctuated by a long, slow sigh. There were many aches and pains and limitations in Grandma’s aging body. She could have been homebound, but she continued on, painstakingly making her way to this place as often as possible so that she could worship with the church family she loved so dearly. Each challenge that she faced was met with brave determination and a quiet grace. My Mom once asked her, “is it really hard to get old because of all the things that you can’t do? And she replied, “well no, I’m just thankful for all that I can do.”

It is somewhat difficult to capture some of the quirks that make her so especially her. As I go through her house, though, I am struck by her thoughtfulness. I find newspaper articles earmarked for certain people, coupons saved to share, and cards to send on to loved ones. Earlier this week, I realized that I should probably set out some extra tissues at my Grandparents’ house. When I went to the closet, there were at least 12 boxes to choose from. Later, I realized that toilet paper was running low. Imagine my surprise when somehow there were no extra rolls to be found. But then I remembered a 12-pack labeled “send to church pantry.” I feel guilty admitting that I dug into the supply, but I promise, I will send a fresh package to the church pantry.

Of course, her care goes beyond the preparedness, the cards, and the baked goods. She loved people deeply and kept up to date on the lives of her friends and family. She just always thought about others. If you had a test or audition at school, be sure to tell Grandma so that she and Grandpa could pray. If you were sick or hurt, it was sure to be prayed for. Whether you had exciting news or an ordinary day, it was covered in prayer. I have had the privilege of listening to my Grandparents’ morning prayers and I am willing to wager that if you are here, in this sanctuary today, you have been prayed for, by name, in my Grandma’s kitchen.

Lots of activity happened in that kitchen of hers. Each afternoon, she would have “coffee time” and like a good Swede, treats were always included and everyone was welcome. As a child, I took for granted the large family meals that she prepared and I thought that it was normal for grandparents to have siblings, cousins and missionaries stopping over and spending the night quite regularly. As a child, I loved her low kitchen counters, built by my Grandpa specifically with her in mind. Okay, I will admit, I still love those low counters and appreciate the way that I can get to even the highest cupboard without a stool.

Saturday was baking day in my Grandma’s kitchen. She taught me how to make many treats, including cardamom bread, pepparkaker, and pies. There was a specific way to measure each ingredient. Each tool and bowl has its own purpose, but who could argue when the results were so delicious. I didn’t understand why everything was baked in duplicate, but that way Grandma had plenty to share.

We always felt very loved at my grandparents house, and she knew that with love comes structure. Sometimes she would tell me stories of “other” kids or even wayward animals, who strangely seemed to get into the very same mischief as me. It was uncanny. I think I was supposed to learn from the error of their ways. But in my mind, the stories showed me that I was not alone in my naughtiness. Hmmmm.

People were not the only ones welcomed into Grandma’s home. Though it was before my time, I have heard stories of the pets that frequented their lives over the years: of course there were your usual cats and dogs, but also snakes, rescued turtles, a domesticated raccoon, and even a skunk…though my Aunt wants to be sure you know that it was a de-scented skunk. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it was probably not that she loved the animals so much as she loved her children who brought these animals home.

How I love this Grandma of mine, this Grandma of ours.

How she would light up to share a story of her granddaughters on the east coast or how she laughed to watch great-grandchildren play. In fact, after that second stroke, when I walked into her room, her eyes opened, and her face spread into a smile as she exclaimed, “hi Rhys,” so happy to see a great-grandbaby. When the day to day memories fade, what I remember most is the love, the deep, deep love that she gave so freely to those around her. It is in this love that I am blanketed today. And it is this love, that I hope you will carry with you and share with the people in your life. May her memory be a blessing to us all.

Linnea Carlson deRoche October 13, 2014

The next is from my oldest brother, Ron…

Thank you all for coming today to honor my mother. I see many familiar faces out there. Regrettably, because I moved away from Grand Rapids more than 40 years ago, I confess that I cannot always attach once-familiar names to still-familiar faces. So please feel free to introduce yourselves to me by name when you see me later. I will not be embarrassed.

A few months ago I came across a pamphlet titled “One Hundred Hilarious One-Liners” or something like that. I occasionally pull it out to inflict some dubious humor on my family. You are fortunate that I don’t remember most of them, but one has stuck in my mind. It goes: “I plan to live forever. So far, so good.”

We laugh at the humor of this, of course, the absurdity. But like much humor, it contains a kernel of truth, at least for a Christian. For as Christians we take a longer, broader view. And that longer view is the belief that this one-liner, humorous as it is, in fact is true for every believer, certainly including my mom. My mom will continue to live, first of all, in the hearts and minds and memories of those who knew and loved her. And after the last personal recollection of her leaves living memory, she of course will live eternally in God’s house and in God’s care. For a Christian, death is just another part of “so far, so good.”

When I sat down to write these lines I immediately realized that I could not possibly summarize in a few paragraphs and in a few minutes the life of a woman who lived for nearly 93 years, who was married to the love of her life for nearly 69 years, who was a mother for nearly 66 years — there, I have just revealed my age — and who lived in the house that my father built with his own hands for nearly 60 years. A woman who was blessed with three children, all of whom, may I say, turned out reasonably well, then five grandchildren, all of whom are making something of their lives, and finally three great-grandchildren, who brought her great joy in the last eight years of her life.

For me to try to add anything more to what Dave Egner and my niece Linnea have already said would only repeat the same adjectives that they have already used. Suffice to say that to me she was a constant presence in my life, whether as mommie or mom or mother, whether in thought or person, whether in letters or on the phone or in e-mails. She was always ready to forgive my shortcomings and to welcome me with love. She was a warm and welcoming beacon on the safe shore of my life.

I was raised in a family filled with love and joy and laughter as well as, to be sure, the occasional loving discipline. It was a family marked by my mother’s genuine and constant faith, a faith shared by my father and indeed by my entire extended family, a faith that colored my life from my first days. For a long time I though every family was like mine, filled with love and respect. I have learned, sadly, that that’s not true and I thank God and my parents for the way in which my siblings and I were raised.

Of course there were things about my mother that made her more than just a name in an obituary. She had her share of special qualities that endeared her to the entire family. She made wonderful pecan sticky rolls for Sunday morning breakfast. Her recipes for Swedish pancakes and chocolate chip cookies have an honored place in my kitchen and those of my siblings. She saved aluminum foil, and wrapping paper, and recipes, carefully clipped from Good Housekeeping and Women’s Day in such number that she could not possibly have used them all if she had lived another 93 years. She saved and reused paper bags, folding and refolding them until what was once crisp brown paper was as soft as cloth. Growing up I actually promised myself that once I was on my own I would not save paper bags and foil, and I don’t, although I am trying to break a habit of washing and reusing zip-lock plastic bags.

I remember she once indulged my curious taste in sandwiches for my school lunches. My go-to sandwich in 6th grade was a baked-bean sandwich. That’s right, baked beans between two slices of white Butternut bread. Go figure. But she patiently made them until I tired of them. I am sure I have not had a baked-bean sandwich since about 1960.

Before computers and e-mail — and as someone who makes a living driving a computer I am proud that my mother, in her 90s, owned and used an iPad — she would faithfully write letters to me, the kind for which one uses paper and pen. Her habit was to write in the evening, while sitting in an easy chair. Frequently she would fall asleep in mid-sentence or mid-word, which would be followed by an assortment of odd scratch marks as her pen rested on the paper as she dozed. Then she would awaken and continue the letter. And frequently she would utilize every square inch of the sheet of paper, turning the page to write vertically in the margin or squeezing a few more lines in at the bottom of the page to complete her thoughts before she would resort to using another sheet. Apparently writing paper is very expensive here in Grand Rapids.

A few weeks ago I described to a cousin what I understood to be my parents’ end-of-life plans. Plan A was to live in their home until they died. There was no Plan B. Remarkably enough, my mother was able to implement Plan A almost to perfection. Only in the past few weeks did God intervene with a different Plan A. And truth be told, God’s Plan A worked out very well.

There was no long-lasting, cruel disease to waste strength and hope. There was no sudden, unexpected death to shock her family. There was no mental impairment: she was aware and could communicate nearly to the end. She did not linger in her pain or ours. Every one of her children and every one of her grandchildren was able to spend time with her in her last six weeks of life. Then her body just wore down until, finally, quietly, she died. In all, I can say with the rest of us that God has led this family very gently down a path that could have been so much more difficult. For that we are immensely grateful. I am certain that my mother ever planned to live forever, in the sense of earthly life. But I am equally certain that she believed fully in the promise of her Savior for an eternal life in heaven. We know that she will indeed live in the house of her Lord forever.

So far, so good, mom. So far, so good.

The funeral, I think, captured the essence of who my Mom was.  The tributes given with love and humor would have pleased her.  The hymns were some of her favorites.  As we gathered at the cemetery, just family, we also told stories of Mom.  There was laughter…my Mom and Dad once worked at a golf championship and of all people, they got put working in the beer tent.  My Mom was happy to tell us they filled glasses with “Michael-BoB’ (Michelob) all day long.  Or how as we sat around the table the last night of our cottage vacation, wondering that we had made it there in a year that certainly seemed to foretell that wouldn’t be the case…my Dad said “well maybe we should book for next year”, my Mom nodding her head in agreement and a few smiles.  That was her outlook on life, looking ahead.

There have been tears.  The first birthdays and holidays have been tough.  But the tears are for us, not her.

The story was told at her funeral, how every Sunday the congregation ended by singing the benediction.  It was noticed and noted by people in the church, that my parents would turn towards each other and hold hands while they sang it to each other.  So we ended her funeral by singing that and asking the congregation to turn and face one another while they sang.  We, as a family, turned to encompass each other holding hands in a circle while we sang, “The Lord Bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious…”

It was a holy moment.

We are blessed.

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