I was asked by my family to officiate my Grandma Brown’s funeral. She was 97 and lived almost her entire life in her own home:
Much to Grandma’s surprise, she lived long past her own expectations. I remember her reflecting on the likelihood of her own imminent death more than 25 years ago, but it was probably more like 30. She would say stuff like:
“the longer I live, the more friend I have waiting for me on the other side…”
Following Grandpa’s death this grew to a new level. In many ways, Grandma has been ready for more 20 years. She thought she would die soon after Grandpa. While she might have wondered why God left her here so long, the rest of us knew it was for us.
Grandma never liked to be the center of attention or to have lots of people looking at her (I suppose that’s why so many of her family are a little shy in front of people too). On more than one occasion, she made it clear that she didn't want people gawking at her, when she was dead, so we will do our best to keep her moment in the lime light short and to the point.
One thing I remember about her was the feeling when you walked into her house. It was like she came to life and you were the center of her world.
I remember her sitting at her kitchen table, with the print wall paper behind her, wanting to know all about whatever I was up to in life.
She was also obsessed with the trinkets and trophies of her kids and grandkids and greats. She kept a collection of all the notes, pictures, cards, scraps of paper and more for all of her people. We each had a file.
One time when I was talking to grandma she told me that she had her whole funeral planned (a plan no one has been able to find) and that she hoped someone would sing “old rugged cross” at it. I’m not going to do it, but I will read it.
The Old Rugged Cross: On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suffering and shame, And I love that old cross where the dearest and best For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down, I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it some day for a crown.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, It's shame and reproach gladly bear, Then he'll call me some day to my home far away, Where his glory forever I'll share.
This was grandma’s hope. She clung to the hope of the cross. For her it was the hope of reconnection with the people that she loved most. The people who she had outlived, but not forgotten. Grandma clung to the hope that she would wake up one day and be re-united with all these people and connected with Jesus as well.
The trophies that she clung to were not her own accomplishments. In fact, she never wanted to talk about herself. Her obsession was her family. We were her trophies.
In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Grandma clung to this hope. She experienced the peace of knowing Jesus and like the other members of her family she had a whole collection of Jesus’ things - books, bibles, vhs movies, trinkets, and more. She would regularly read a Christian book and then put one of our names in it because she wanted us to have it when she was done with it.
I think that while she had this peace, she also seemed to really struggle with keeping it when she left her home. Maybe today, she is truly free from her anxiety of setting out from her safe place, and is finally free to explore. It’s fun to imagine her with new boldness taking in all the sights that she never was able to see in her 97 years.
Another verse I find helpful is this:
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Death is not the end, it is the beginning. In our life, we see a little. Our fears and hopes and ego and struggles and many other things, cloud our sight, but now Grandma sees with new eyes. She knows in a new way the God that she clung to in faith.
Death is the great teacher for the living life: - It reminds us that life ends - it tests our priorities - it reveals to us how beautiful and precious and unique life actually is.
When we think about our death, often through seeing our loved ones die, we are given an opportunity to think about the way we are living.
The life of this simple and beautiful woman has formed and shaped the life of everyone here - We are who we are because of her life and quirks and generosity. Our life has flowed from hers.
And so today we can borrow grandma’s statement - “We have one more person waiting for us in the life to come…” And we go on living with the time given to us.