Shortly after my grandmother Mary passed away, our family gathered on Mother’s Day to remember her life and note her passing. I was honored to officiate at this service. In consultation with the rest of the family, we had developed a set of readings and songs that we felt were appropriate for the service.
During the service, we heard readings from:
Between the readings, we joined in singing:
- In This Place, as performed by Trevor Thomson
- Amazing Grace, as performed by Elvis Presley
- You Are Mine, as performed by David Haas
The following remarks are the eulogy I delivered as part of this service for my grandmother. These remarks were inspired by her life, by the lives of the rest of our family, and by the words of the readings and songs from the service.
We are gathered today to remember my grandmother, Mary, to lament her passing, and to comfort each other. Even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread. And so today we gather to remember, to mourn, and to comfort.
We can take great comfort in knowing that she is now at peace, a peace unlike any she knew in her mortal life. The illnesses Mary suffered through her life – of mind, body, and soul – were not a function or defect of character, except that to fight them summoned a great strength, a great function of character, to persevere in them for as long as she did. In fact, some of us would occassionally joke amongst ourselves that, after being presented with a battery of tests, and professional opinions from doctors, that after being given a diagnosis that she had a certain disease – for example, emphysema – she would shortly thereafter pronounce “I don’t have emphysema.” We sometimes wondered if that was part of her ability to persevere, part of her character.
I would also share that at one point in my life, when faced personally with an illness of dire proportions and a staggering uncertainty on how I could manage and fight through it, Grandma Mary was one of the people who, without hesitation, expressed her absolute willingness to help me get through my struggle.
We can and should also take great comfort in knowing that in her final years, Mary received help, assistance and treatment from some of the best our society has to offer, people doing God’s work, and that her daughters Lindy and Abby worked tirelessly to insure that she did not suffer and was comfortable, even in the midst of rather severe health issues. I am reminded of a quote from Pope John Paul II, that “Society will be judged on the basis of how it treats it weakest members, and among the most vulnerable are surely the dying.” My mother and my aunt have surely passed that test in their unceasing efforts to ensure the comfort and care of their mother in her final years. And I would be remiss in failing to mention the staff and all involved in supporting Southern Care Hospice for the wonderful care, love and support they gave Mary in that time.
In today’s first reading from 2 Kings, we hear that Elisha took the mantle of Elijah. For Elisha this meant responding to God’s call in his life. Though he had experiences pain at his loss, that pain did not neutralize him or make him bitter of feel that all was hopeless. Rather, Elisha saw this as a call to move forward and carry on his work. We too experience pain and losses, but it is in how response to those that we fully demonstrate our beliefs and our values.
In today’s Gospel reading, the people are surprised to hear from Jesus that whatever we do to the least among us, we do also to him. And what he tells those gathered is one of the most important lessons in the Bible, so important that it is often referred to a passage about the final judgment. He explains that when we do these things for others who really need them, when we feed the hungry, take care of the sick, visit the imprisoned, we are actually doing those things for Him. Jesus’ story helps us to remember that we do God’s work every day, and that we never quite know all the places that we meet him. What a wonderful example of this my mother and my aunt have been in their care and lovingkindness toward their mother in her time of need.
In today’s final reading from Romans, we will hear about peace – but the peace we will hear refers to more than just the mere absence of hostilities, as was common in the Greek understanding of the term. Rather, it is more closely aligned with the Hebrew concept of ‘peace’, or ‘shalom’, referring not so much to a purely inward peace but to a relationship characterized by God’s peace toward the sinner, toward each of us. As one writer commented, “it is neither anesthetic bliss nor the repose of a graveyard.” It is God’s disposition toward us and the freedom we now have in our relationship with him. There are no obstacles in our relationship with God. Each of us are wretched sinners, and each of us are a part of the communion of saints. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us more.
To one who lives their life only in the present moment, and in this world, the sufferings which come to them can only be something negative. But for we Christians, suffering is precisely the point where the power of hope most clearly shows and proves itself. Suffering is transformed, is redeemed, it receives a new meaning. If there were no suffering, hope would never have an opportunity to achieve its full strength.
My grandmother need not be idealized, for as do we all, she had her faults and her frailty, and her suffering. But again, suffering is precisely the point where hope proves itself. Hope is a good and precious thing. We hope in the resurrection. We hope for a life well lived, and for a peaceful death, which thankfully my grandmother had. And we hope for peace, knowledge and wisdom. In the words of the poet Aeschylus, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
So let us go forward with peace in our hearts, even through our pain and suffering, praying that we shall receive the wisdom of God. Let us remember the life and times of my grandmother, Mary, let us embrace our own despair, and let us seek to continue to comfort those around us and the least among us in our world, never knowing when in doing for the least of those, we shall be doing for Christ our savior.