My Granny passed away last Thursday night, and we had her funeral yesterday. I am posting the eulogy I gave for her here. I hope to resume normal blogging next week.
I would like to start today with a reading from the Book of Acts.
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas [in Greek that means “gazelle”]. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, "Please come to us without delay." So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. (Acts 9:36-39).
This was one of my Granny’s favorite stories in the Bible, probably because she could relate to Tabitha as a lifelong seamstress. She did a lot of sewing for people all her life. Even after she had lost the ability to walk, if I came home and needed something hemmed she would grab her walker, hobble over to her sewing machine and go to work.
But Granny wasn’t just a seamstress; she was herself the very thread that held the fabric of our family together. And though there were plenty of reasons that fabric could have frayed and fallen apart, her unbelievable resilience didn’t let that happen. Because of Granny we can look around today see - not clothes that she made - but something much more beautiful – we can see a family that she raised. Each of us is part of the patchwork that Granny knitted together with skill and love.
Some of you here today have only known Granny as a shut-in. You didn’t know her when she was a little girl who could knock the tar out of a baseball (at least, that’s what she told me!). Or as a blushing bride, who married just a few days after her 16th birthday. Or as the student of Scripture who filled notebooks with detailed notes during Bible class.
Instead, many of you have only known her since she became confined to her house. In the last 18 years I can only think of two times she left the house (until she went to the nursing home) – when Pop died in ‘92, and when my Mom died ten years ago. For years her world consisted of three rooms - a bedroom, kitchen and living room.
Within those three rooms her life followed a modest regimen. She would wake up and head to the bathroom, where she would usually make the first of her many phone calls for the day. Then she would go to the kitchen and wait for breakfast to be made by whoever was helping to take care of her that week. It always included an egg and sausage or bacon, a biscuit, a glass of milk, and plenty of Country Crock Spread, which she often ate directly out of the tub (to my chagrin!). Once breakfast was done she would sit at the table for a long time and listen to gospel music, especially to recordings of Pop singing with his gospel quartet. Eventually she would head to the living room, and enjoy the rest of the day talking on the phone, working puzzles, watching TV, having company. When she was ready to head to bed, she expected you to set out her big blue cup filled with ice so that she would have cold water to drink in the morning, her medicine, and a couple of wintergreen mints.
Sounds like a pretty simple life. And it was. But Granny enjoyed every single day of it! She was the most content person I have ever known in my life. And because of her attitude she did not let the four walls of 40 French Ave define her existence, or her inability to get around very well to confine the scope of her influence.
Granny was irrepressible because she loved people. She loved her friends from church, and while she may not have attended for several years, she knew more about what was going on in the congregation than just about anybody else! She took special interest in the preachers who worked with the church here, and encouraged them in their ministry. Paul Johnson, John Smith, Allan Shepherd, and Robert Speer spent lots of time coming to see her and pray with her, which was a genuine delight for her. She loved her neighbors, and they loved her. I am so thankful that through the years people like the Bushes, the Pucketts, Mr. Deaton, and most of all, June and Carl Banks lived on our street. She loved you all and was so grateful for all of the many kind favors you did for her.
Usually we think of shut-ins receiving cards and calls, but there is no telling how many cards and notes Granny sent to people over the time she was shut-in. And I wouldn’t begin to try to estimate how many hours she spent on the phone. Rather than fret over what she couldn’t do, Granny embraced what she could do to encourage and care for other people. When she couldn’t walk on her own, she learned to use a walker. When she couldn’t do that, this lady in her 90s who had never driven a day in her life learned to use a scooter (and was much better at driving it than any of us who tried it out!).
A couple of years ago she decided that she needed to talk to one of her nephews about becoming a Christian, and she did. She was very careful to preface what she said by making sure everyone knew she didn’t believe in women preachers (!), but then she proceeded to admonish him to obey the gospel. And you know what – he did, something that thrilled Granny. Granny did more good from her living room rocking chair or scooter than most people do all their lives.
And of course, Granny loved her family. Six children, fourteen grandchildren, thirty great grandchildren, and over twenty great-great-grandchildren! As she often joked, “What a mess me and Homer made!” What always amazed me about Granny was her detailed knowledge of all of us. She could tell you what was going on in everyone’s life, down to all the great-great-grandkids. I could never keep all the names straight, but as the matriarch of our family she delighted in us.
She rejoiced at our successes. She anguished with our mistakes. She mingled her tears with ours. She had an inexhaustible supply of love for us. And not only us. If anyone of us had a sweetheart or friend we brought to meet her, Granny instantly became their Granny as well.
The last time I had a meaningful conversation with her was at the end of January. I went up to see her and fortunately caught her on a day when her mind was bright and she had the energy for a visit. We talked for a long time, and during that conversation we had an exchange that captured the essence of my Granny.
You have to understand that Granny went through a lot. She lost a little girl, Bessie Yvonne, who was only a year-and-a-half old, a heartbreaking time for Granny, and a wound that stayed with her all her life. She had to raise her kids during a period when Pop was not always the husband he should have been (and I don’t mean any disrespect to his memory – he would be the first to tell you he made mistakes that Granny had to make up for). She scrubbed so many floors to make ends meet for the family that she had calluses the size of quarters on her knees, and I’m sure that is one reason she had such a hard time getting around later in life. She raised her own kids in trying circumstances, then Granny helped to raise two of her grandchildren. She lost her husband, and a few years later another daughter. She had a hard life.
So, when we visited back in January, I had to ask her, “Granny, how did you ever make it through all the tough things you had to go through in life?” She looked at me with a quizzical expression on her face and said, “What tough things?” That is the essence of my Granny. As far as she was concerned, her life wasn’t tough. She just did what she had to do, what any wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, would do.
There is only one source of that kind of contentment. Granny loved the Lord. And the words of her favorite hymn explain how she coped with life:
"Looking to Thee for all I need, Finding in Thee a friend indeed, All of the burdens of the day meekly I bear; Neither the foe nor storm I fear, Savior divine, for Thou art near, Ready my cares and troubles all freely to share."
The key to contentment is Christ, as the apostle Paul made clear when he wrote the Philippians to thank them for a gift they sent to him when he was in prison:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13).
And of course, the other thing that helped Granny deal with the ups and downs of life was her incredible sense of humor. Granny was one of the funniest people I have ever known. She was incredibly quick-witted, and she had the timing of a professional comedian. One night was I was home I offered to do the dishes, and by the time I was done my shirt was soaking wet. When I came back into the living room she said, “Your belly is wet. You should have put on one of my aprons…it would have covered half of you.”
And she loved to be teased as much as she loved to dish out a zinger. Another time while I was home she was reading the obituary, and saw where an older lady she knew had donated her body to science. She said, “What in the world did she think people would want to use her body for.” So I said, “Granny when you die I am going to donate your body to science to find out how it is that after all your other joints wore out your jaw just kept on going!” She loved that – and would often tell it on herself.
That’s what I will always remember Granny for – contentment in Christ, and the ability to laugh at life and herself. That is how she could reflect on 94 years of challenges and say, “What tough things?” And that is a legacy I would encourage all of us to share.
Before I finish my remarks, I want to say something to my aunts and uncle. I have never known of a family that went to the lengths that you did to be caregivers for Granny so she could stay at home. Aunt Georgia came and helped with Granny until her son’s illness required her full attention. Uncle John drove up from Tennessee and for many years spent a third of his life taking care of his mom. Aunt Avanell served as the primary caregiver after my Mom died, coming up to take care of Granny each week during the week, then going home to work and make a living on the weekends, and did this until she ended up in the hospital needing open-heart surgery. And since Aunt Sue was the youngest and lived here in town, here in the last couple of years the burden increasingly fell to her. The Bible says we are to honor our father and mother, and the honor that you showed Granny was remarkable, and I am so proud to be your nephew.
So today, in the words of the apostle Paul, we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). We are sorrowful because we will miss the lady who has been the thread that held our family together, but we have so much for which to rejoice. We rejoice that she lived a long life filled with friendships. We rejoice that she not only endured hardships, she triumphed over them in Christ. We rejoice that she could be taken care of by her own family, and that when her needs became too great for that she was able to adjust so well to extended care somewhere else. And we rejoice that when she slipped from this life she did so in grace and peace, bathed in prayer and love.
I would like to conclude by reading the rest of the story of the lady called Tabitha or Dorcas.
So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:39-42)
The great hope we have is that Granny’s story will end like Tabitha’s. Some day the Lord Himself will say, “Inez, arise.” He will giver her His hand, and she will open her eyes and see Jesus.