Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Hard Goodbye--Remembering Beth

                                                       In Loving Memory
                                                    Beth Bowers Rogers
                                              December 26, 1968 - June 22, 2013

We met on a sunshiny afternoon in the beautiful garden where Beth and her friends had  painted a zillion pictures. She loved that space. Beth chose that spot to be married. She chose that spot for her husband's memorial service less than a year before. And then--looking out on the stream that ran through the garden, the plants lush and green--a cluster of about twenty-five family members and friends gathered to say goodbye to Beth. They asked me to speak and these are the words I chose...

As I thought about what I wanted to try to say today I remembered a story by the great preacher, Fred Craddock. He lived for a while in Oklahoma. And there was a little town nearby named Kingfisher that had a weekly newspaper. One of the columns in that paper—and the only reason they took the paper—was by an Arapahoe Indian woman. She called herself, in English, Molly Shepherd. He said he loved reading her articles because you never knew what she was going to say. In broken English she told about tribal customs, of songs and funerals and giveaways and prizes for those who had come the longest distance to a funeral. He said that in her own broken English way she had a gift for words.

There was one of her articles that Dr. Craddock said he would never forget. It was the Friday afternoon paper after the assassination of President Kennedy. She wrote that day, “Molly has no word for you today. Molly has nothing to write today. Molly has no words today. Molly goes through the house all day saying, “Oh…Oh…Oh.”*

And that is the spirit of this afternoon. We’ve all been stumbling around these last sad days saying: “Oh…Oh…Oh.” For sometimes the anguish and the hurt are so deep there are few words to express how we feel.

Saying all that we come to remember Beth. Born the day after Christmas in 1968. And she died on last Saturday. She was 44 years old. I baptized her one evening when she was about eleven. She was a good friend of my son, Matthew and they grew up together.

Beth had two children Noah and Holden. I love that picture that Jo Carol took on a good, good day when the sun was shining and everyone was happy. It would be great if we could stop and just freeze such moments. 

She was married to Brian just over a year when he died suddenly. And they were married here where we are and when we had the Memorial Service for him—it was here in this spot. My son, who could not be here today reminded me that here he and Beth and the rest of Brenda’s art classes painted this spot, he said, from one end to the other. And Beth loved this place and it is fitting that we stand here and remember.

The Apostle Paul said, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, what ever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

And so we do think today on these things. We are all made up of many selves and many faces. We all have a dark side and Beth certainly did. But that was only part—we remember how bright she was, how she loved to laugh, how she was a good artist and always loved art and animals and nature. She finished the Culinary School in Atlanta. She served as a chef and was a good cook. She attended the University of Georgia for two years. But one of her great contributions were her two children: Noah and Holden. Let me say to both of you that though this is a hard, hard time and it will take you a long time to untangle your feelings—remember that you have two grandparents that love you more than anything and will do all they can to help you in the days ahead. So remember whatever is good and just and pleasing…for this was part of this special life.

But we, your friends and family--come today to speak especially to Brenda and Jim and Noah and Holden. On Tuesday evening the line was long as people stood to hug you and speak to you. The parking lot was full. They came for you and you all are surrounded—then and now--by a circle of love. Don’t forget Tuesday and don’t forget this afternoon. All the people that put aside their own sorrows and griefs to stand by you in this time. It didn’t matter really what they said—for most of it will be a blur—but you have been lifted up by friends that have come with the casseroles of love they brought and the cards and the Memorial gifts that will come in and the prayers and the tears that say over and over we love you and we stand by you. Don’t ever forget this.

But there is another reason that we come here. We all need a hopeful word on this hard day. We all need a word of grace that somehow will help you and us through the hard times and the dark days. One of my favorite lifelines are found in the words of the Apostle Paul:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, he said. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus stretched out his arms and said come ye—all ye weary ones and all ye heavy laden ones--and I will give you rest. He took us all in. Dear Beth is in his arms—not because of what she did or did not do—but simply because those arms hold her and all of us too.

A friend of mine lost a 9-year-old daughter quite suddenly on a cold winter day. She was diagnosed with leukemia and died less than six weeks later. And in this father’s grief he wrote these words. They are for Brenda and Jim and Noah and Holden and for us all.

“Was the grass really ever green
Were the sounds of birds really clearly heard
And did we picnic in the park only six short
  months ago.
Here in mid-winter they seem so far away
The naked trees, the leaden skies seem always
to have been
And seem out ahead for all time,
Were things really ever green
And will spring come back again?

Yes the spring will return
The gray, dull days of cold will pass
The routine now imprisoning us will be broken up
A new excitement will be awakened by new possibilities.
The despair which now engulfs us will subside
A word of hope will come to us
Our presumption that all is lost will be replaced
 For a renewed expectancy.
Future will become a possibility again.
         .         .       .      .

The sadness now weighing upon us will be lifted
Joy will speak her acknowledgment of grief and
  will sound her call to us
The cause of sadness will not have vanished
But joy will come in spite of it
But joy will come in spite of it
We will laugh again
We will sing and dance
We will celebrate the life now given us.
   .       .     .     .

(And then the old griever wrote…)

Were things really ever green
And will the spring come back again
Yes, yes as sure as e’re it were here
Yes, yes as sure as winter’s here
Yes, yes, as sure as God is
The spring will return
And it will be green again.”**

This is my hope for us all. And so I close with one of my favorite Benedictions that comes from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead. 

“Into paradise may the angels lead her; at her coming may the martyrs take her up into eternal rest, and may the chorus of angels lead her to that holy city, and the place of perpetual light.” Amen.

*Story by Fred B. Craddock,  in  Craddock Stories
**Abbreviated version of poem by Temp Sparkman 

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