A life well lived once ended means for the family many, many people come to share stories. Moments, some known, others unknown become precious glimpses into a life that is now living in another realm. For countless families, I have held hands, offered prayers, been the support as they have told and listened to these stories. Last week, I learned what it is to be the family who recieving.
All I can think is thank you. Thank you to those who came and stood in line last Friday night to share with us stories of the ways that Susan touched your life. Thank you for the extraordinary and the ordinary. For the words that flowed out and for the words that you could not find. For holding our hands, letting us cry with you, for showing us that the woman who is so precious to us, is so precious to you.
On the way home, my girls kept talking about “when we lived in Iowa…” and I kept thinking “thank you”. Thank you to Bill Poland who let me lean on my relationship with his daughter and through his place on the Iowa cabinet found us a place to serve in the Iowa Conference for four years. Thank you Renwick and Goldfield United Methodist Churches who loved us strange southerners like family so that we could have precious, precious time with our mom and Nana. Without our church, I don’t doubt the sorrow we feel in this loss would be much deeper. We knew but didn’t know how much those four years would come to mean.
At every funeral as part of the prayer of commital, we pray “For all that our beloved has given us to make us what we are, for that of her/him which lives and grows in each of us, and for her/his life that in your love will never end, we give you thanks.” Our time in Iowa was fraut with illness, surgery, and a profound sense of homesickness for me. But it was also filled with so many moments where Susan gave herself to her granddaughters and to me. I look at my girls and I see in them the truth of this prayer, the ways that their Nana poured herself into them and I know that she lives and grows in us. Her life will not end, not just because we carry her on in all she taught us, but because we know that she knew the One who gives everlasting life. In a truly profound way she will continue to grow in us as we continue to grow in faith, following her discipleship, learning to love God and our neighbors as she did so very well.
Of all the thank you’s that I have to say it is a thank you to God who in wisdom, gave me Susan as my mother in law. It is not easy being a daughter in law but it is even harder being a mother in law. Together we learned to both give and accept forgiveness. She always made sure to tell me that I was a good mother and that she was proud of her granddaughters. She took time to talk to me about what was going on in my churches, always asking about what the sermon series or bible study was. She always wanted to know, not just out of politness, but because it was a chance for her to learn and grow. We had wonderful conversations about scripture and faith and through them I was able to learn what my congregation heard and points that needed to be brought out. Her faith encouraged me to think broader, to love deeper, to push the bound of forgiveness beyond where my head wanted to go.
And yet. And yet our faith tells us, we will continue to live. We will continue to have hope and a future. We will continue in the light of love. And so will she. This tension of grief and joy is so hard and so real. Although I have stood with many families and told them that we both weep and rejoice and that is okay, I never really understood the fullness as an adult the tension of both: rejoicing because you know with all joy and happiness that the person you love is in that place of perfection where grace has made them completely without sin and without shame to stand before the Lord without blemish, and yet selfishly so grief stricken at the loss you know is yours.
We will make Nana’s ice cream each summer like she taught us to, and occasionally burn the bottom of the grands biscuits, we will teach our girls to be friends with children who have special needs and hopefully support Special Olympics. We will occasionally let a half gallon of milk spoil in the fridge to “bake” a cake. Well…maybe not. We will plant tulips everywhere we live. We will take time to be with the people we are with. And we will always, always start a load of laundry before leaving the house, even if it makes us late, because you ought to have something working while you are gone. Mom is not dead, she is merely on an extended vacation until we can catch up to her.
This bench is now located in the middle school in Indianola, Iowa where Susan taught special needs children for the last 15 years. It was donated by her fellow teachers for her work with the Special Olympics program.