Tag Archives: Death

Pastor Keith does it again

Nearly 6 years ago I wrote a post about how Pastor Keith helped us through our father’s death and I shared the amazing sermon he gave at my father’s funeral. I’m here now to let you know that he did it again, this time at my mother’s memorial service. We were not entirely sure this would be possible because Pastor Keith moved from my mother’s church to a different church, but since Mom was so fond of Pastor Keith and she’d never met the interim pastor at her church until she was on hospice care, Kevin and I (mostly Kevin) made sure Pastor Keith was able to be involved.

A few days before the memorial service Pastor Keith called to get some ideas for the sermon. We talked about mom’s qualities, about her illness, about her friends, about Kevin’s upcoming wedding. I also shared with Pastor Keith the dream I had the night my mother died.

Without further comment, here’s his sermon:

Funeral Sermon for Patricia Ann Patrick (February 16, 1936–August 26, 2016)
Texts: John 14:1–4 and Romans 8:18–21
Preached: September 9, 2016 at Moss-Norris Funeral Home, St. Charles, Illinois

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, in whose house are many, many rooms, and from Christ Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us. AMEN

I’m grateful to Pat Patrick’s family, and to Pr. Michael Rothaar, for inviting me to participate in this service for Pat Patrick this evening. I was Pat’s pastor for five years, and she holds a special place in my heart. Pat was the only parishioner I’ve had, and I suspect will be the only parishioner I ever will have, who invariably as she was leaving worship on a Sunday morning would bow her head in front of me as she was leaving the service and… would kiss my ring. I don’t know for sure how that started, but she did it week in and week out. Someone a couple of years ago noticed her doing this, and privately afterwards said, “Pastor, do you think that’s a sign of the Alzheimer’s?” And I had to laugh and say, “No, no, not at all, she was doing that long before that became an issue! That’s just Pat.” And even after her mind became clouded, she never failed to kiss my ring, and then would smile sweetly and somewhat slyly at me. There was a delightful, childlike quality about her, an almost pixie-like quality, that enabled her to look at the world with wonder, and to laugh that infectious laugh, and to get away with some slightly goofy behaviors that only she could get away with. You can see that delight in the photos of her as a young woman—still a girl, really—as she looks up adoringly at Elvin as he embraces her. Even when she went through trying times across the years, through difficulties and challenges and losses, she still kept that air of eagerness, that spirit of amazed wonderment.

Earlier this week, Pat’s daughter Dona shared with me an experience she had the night of Pat’s death that I think in some way captures that quality. Dona had finally gone to bed that night, sleeping near Pat’s bed, knowing that the end of this life was not far off. As she slept, Dona began to dream. And in her dream, she saw Pat get up out of bed, all dressed in white. There were windows all around. It wasn’t Kevin’s house, but some other place. And in the dream, Pat kept heading toward the windows, drawn like a moth to a flame. She would get up close to a window, and would stand with her hands behind her back like a child who has been told not to touch something very precious, standing up on her tiptoes, straining delightedly, expectantly to see what there was on the other side of the glass, as though there were something of great beauty and fascination to be seen that she couldn’t quite make out. She went from window to window, trying to get a clearer view. Others in the dream kept coming and trying to tug Pat back to her bed, but she couldn’t be held back…she kept going back to the window to stand on tiptoes. Finally, someone took hold of her and pushed her into Dona’s arms, but not even that could keep her from the irresistible attraction of the sight she was straining to see. And suddenly, she broke free from Dona’s grasp, and instantly was transformed into sparkles of light. And at that moment, Dona awoke, and Kevin told her that their mom was gone.

When I heard that account, I was immediately reminded of some verses of scripture, actually verses that come just before the very same passage that Pr. Rothaar read a few moments ago from the Letter to the Romans. This letter was written by the Apostle Paul to people who were going through profoundly difficult struggles in their lives, people who were being persecuted and even killed, people who needed to hear a word of hope and encouragement, people who were unsure about what might lie in store for them. And in the verses that we heard, there is that stirring affirmation that not even death itself, not even life itself, can hold us back from the love that God shows to us in Christ Jesus. Those are amazing words to hear. We can have confidence in them. But now I want you to hear what Paul had to say just before those words. These verses come from another translation that I think captures something very important, and it’s why what Dona had to say caught my attention. Listen to them:

18-21 In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! (Romans 8:18–21, J.B. Phillips Version)

“The whole creation is on tiptoe…” Most translations give a very dry, “The creation waits with eager longing,” but the original Greek word there is actually very picturesque, describing the whole head being stretched forward, trying to see something wonderful that is about to come. And that is what I pictured when I heard Dona describe her mother in that dream, darting from window to window, standing on tiptoe, hands behind her back, craning to peek into those rooms Christ has prepared to see the wonderful sight of the future God has planned for her and for us. As the children of God, we need have no fear of death, because we have the incredible assurance that death is not the end, that there is resurrection life that will be even more wonderful than anything we’ve experienced so far, when “the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” We can approach even our own mortality with expectancy and hope.

Now I can’t tell you exactly what lies just the other side of the glass. Scripture says that right now we see only in a darkened, obscure way, only catching a pale reflection of the glory that will be. But Jesus often gives us word pictures of what God’s fully realized reign will look like, as did the prophets before him, and one of my favorite images is of a wedding banquet, a great feast where there is joy and laughter, where there is plenty for all, where the wine flows freely and the food is abundant, where all those who have struggled, all those who have experienced sorrow and crying, all those who have suffered in body or mind, will be brought in as welcome guests to enjoy the fullness that God has intended for each of us from the very beginning of creation, brought to sit at the banqueting table in their rightful places as beloved children and heirs of God.

I couldn’t help thinking of that picture on this evening, knowing that tomorrow Kevin and Connie, along with some of the same folks gathered in this room tonight to mourn, will be feasting and dancing as they celebrate their marriage to one another at their own wedding banquet. Yes, it’s a contrast, but I think it’s a beautiful expression of a very deep truth: Even in our profoundest sorrow, we can stand on tiptoe, eagerly awaiting joy. And as I picture Pat standing at the window, up on her tiptoes, I think maybe what she was glimpsing was that great marriage feast that will have no end, where she will join with all those claimed by God as God’s own beloved children, completely restored in body, completely restored in mind, sorrows forgotten, tears dried, and infectious laughter ringing out in wondering delight at the magnificent gift of life and freedom that is hers as a daughter of God claimed by Christ Jesus in baptism. And I picture her bowing her head and kissing in gratitude the hand of the one who has invited her to the feast, then looking up and smiling that sweet smile. And that, sisters and brothers, is very, very Good News. Thanks be to God. AMEN

Designing Dad’s Headstone

After my father died I knew that we’d need to think about a headstone, but was too busy dealing with insurance stuff as well as my own grieving process to want to handle it right away. I sort of thought it would be good to have a headstone installed for his birthday and then maybe go back to Elgin around that time to see it with my family but that day came and went with no headstone or plan to order one.

Finally, my mom and brother started the process by visiting a few headstone vendors in the Elgin area. They settled on the vendor they liked and chose a size and color they liked for the headstone. When I was back in Elgin at the end of August last year, Mom wanted me to go with her to see the one she and my brother picked out. I was completely up for it because the headstone place was across the street from Elgin’s coolest cemetery.

Mom showed me the stone they’d chosen and we began the ordering process. All went smoothly until we were asked to choose a design. I assumed that there were a set number of designs and we would choose one of them but the salesperson said we could have whatever we wanted for a design. It was a lot to think about so we went home and talked about it.

We thought about what was important to Dad. We thought perhaps sheaves of wheat to symbolize his life as a child growing up on a farm. We thought about an anchor to symbolize his time in the U.S. Navy. We thought about crosses because he was brought up a Christian. We were solemn because this was a solemn task.

To break the solemnity I laughed and wondered aloud what about bluebirds? Mom shook her head. Not bluebirds. No, people are going to see this. It is in a cemetery. I assured her I was only joking, but my husband thought it was a good idea and so did my ex-sister-in-law. Later when I asked my brother about the idea, he liked the bluebirds. We still had to convince Mom. We assured her that no one would understand the bluebirds except his close family. We threw in an anchor and ribbon for good measure. She finally said she was okay with it.

After several back and forth emails with the headstone company they sent me a draft of the design. Above his name and birth and death dates was a ribbon being held by two flying birds. In the middle of the ribbon hung an anchor. It was perfect. Everyone agreed. We told the headstone folks to go ahead and use that design.

My brother visited the grave recently and uploaded a photograph of the headstone to Facebook. Here is a copy.

Dad's Bluebird Headstone
Dad's Bluebird Headstone -- Click the image to make it bigger

And in case you are wondering, why bluebirds? — shh, don’t tell mom I told you that he, like Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, had a pair of them them tattooed on his chest. (And he was proud of them).

Many thanks to Elgin Granite Works for the fantastic job they did on the headstone, for making sure the Military plaque on the back was put in place properly and for keeping me updated on the process.

Happy Birthday Saul Korewa, wherever you are

I am writing this on the last day of February, 2011. It will be posted on the 55th anniversary of the birth of a unique person. He won’t turn 55 years old today, however. And that’s the bad news.

The good news is that Saul was. He was a good person and cared deeply about his daughters. He was a teacher. He was a religious leader. He even was a TV movie actor.

In the earlier days of the World Wide Web, long before the phrase “social media” was a term and it was considered okay to get to know people solely online, we “met” via a piece of software called ICQ that had a unique “random” feature. One of us, probably Saul , pushed the random button and found my profile and requested a chat. We hit it off immediately. We talked nearly every day (mostly about raising kids) for at least a year — possibly more — until he went off the grid and moved to a remote “ranch” in Nevada.

He loved the da Vinci painting Ginevra de’ Benci. He fiercely defended his faith. He didn’t always follow rules. He was a good son and a good father.

About a year ago we reconnected on Facebook, but he’d disappear for months at a time because of loss of Internet access or a misplaced or lost cell phone. Our last conversation was about how proud he was of his girls and that the middle daughter might go into education and he wanted her to talk to me since I’d been a teacher.

Every so often I’d check out one of his two Facebook profiles (yes, he was a rebel) to see what he was up to, or if he’d checked in recently. Today, knowing his birthday was coming up (remember this is being written February 28), I checked his profile and found a message from one of his daughters saying he’d died in December in a house fire.

I used to tease him about being older than I was. Very soon that won’t be the case. I’ll bypass him. I’m sure he’s laughing about that somewhere.

Since he’s devoutly Jewish, I suppose I shouldn’t think of him at that table in Heaven with my Uncle Don, JFK and my Dad, but if he’s there, he’s sure to be telling some fun stories.

On December 20th he posted a photo of  a composite of the recent total lunar eclipse and tagged me as one of the phases. He died a week later. It’s comforting, somehow, to know he thought about me a week before he moved on.

(photos snagged from the Internet)

A year of goodbyes

In April it was Joan’s mom — suddenly and at home.

In May it was Jerry. He was a couple of years older than I am. He was on his way home from picking his daughter up from college — and luckily not driving.

In August it was Aunt Nancy — she’d suffered for years from lung cancer so the end might have been a blessing.

In October it was Dad.

In January it was Joe — our cat.

Last Friday it was Bill. I’m not sure of his age, but suspect he was younger than I am. I sat next to him two weekends ago at a Burns’ Supper and participated in a dance afterwards in which he was the leader. He carried his 19 year-old daughter who has CP up the stairs with what looked like no problem at all that evening. It was sudden and at home.

And the most disturbing part is — it’s going to get worse.

Is it over?

Yesterday I received a phone call that I’d been waiting for for weeks. It should never have taken as long as it did, but it did, and at least that part is over.

The phone call was from the nursing home where my dad was a resident the last month of his life. They called to say that they’d take care of the pharmacy bill. The pharmacy bill that never should have been. The pharmacy bill that my mom worried over for months. The pharmacy bill that kept rising because the pharmacy considered it delinquent.

When we (why do I want to say “interred”?) admitted my father into the nursing home one of the points that came up was his medications. Dad took several medications, some very expensive, and my mom generally bought them from the VA. Medications that were not covered under the VA plan were bought full price. Because my parents qualified for the Illinois Circuit Breaker plan I was able to change my father’s Medicare Part D supplement to a different insurer and his medications would be much cheaper. The trouble was — that plan didn’t kick in until October 1st so my mom said she’d bring my father’s medicine to the nursing home, which she did. The woman admitting Dad said that was fine and that she’d let Mom know when he needed refills.

Something went wrong, though, and my mom got a bill for $400 from the pharmacy. She knew it was a mistake and may or may not have contacted the nursing home about it. Then, of course, my father died.

When I returned to Maryland I contacted the nursing home about the bill and was told to call the pharmacy. I did and they said to talk to the nursing home because they were the ones who ordered the medication. I called the nursing home again and they said they’d get back to me. I waited for a phone call. None came. I called back, was told they’d look into and get back to me. I again waited for a phone call. None came. This happened several more times. I finally talked to the administrator who said she’d heard about the issue, but had not looked into it. She said she would and would get back to me. Finally yesterday morning the admissions person called, admitted it was her mistake and that they were going to take care of the bill.

Thank goodness. That was the last of the paperwork and now it is finished.  I hope.

If only the funeral home would apologize.

C. S. Lewis, Jack Kennedy and Me

47 years ago today the world lost two men who would posthumously have a great impact on me. One created a world in which I found great comfort as a teenager and young adult and the other, well I sort of made up a world for him.

I know that Jack Kennedy did a lot of good, had some wonderful ideas and was a much-loved President, but to me he was something other than that. I remember a coloring book I had when I was very young. It was of the First Family and had drawings of Caroline and her pony and Caroline and her younger brother, “John-John” in the White House gardens. The book probably also had drawings of Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy playing with their children. I remember feeling drawn to the coloring book and often made up stories that put myself inside the pages with the Kennedy children. I suppose the fact that JFK was the first president I remember had something to do with it, but he represented all leadership for me — so when the principal visited my kindergarten class on the first day of school, I thought he was our President. I thought of him as the father figure for the country — even the world.

Years later I learned that the Kennedys lost a baby girl the very day I was born and I often mused that perhaps God had one soul left to give a family on August 23, 1956 and somehow my parents won the baby girl lottery. I wondered what it would have been like growing up as Caroline and John-John’s older sister.

Then, of course, is the cafe table in Heaven where Uncle Don and Jack Kennedy sit — another source of comfort for me, especially this year now that my dad has joined the table.

C. S. Lewis, of course, created Narnia — a world on which I obsessed for several years. When I first discovered Narnia I wanted to meet or write a letter to C. S. Lewis to thank him and was devastated to find out he’d died years before I discovered his works.

So, as usual, I think about these two men on this day — the on anniversary of their deaths.

Pastor Keith

Most of you know by now that my father died in October. I’m not ready to talk about that here, if ever. What I want to talk about, instead, is an incredible man I met in September, but got to know much better in October.

Pastor Keith Fry
Pastor Keith Fry of Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, Elgin, IL

Pastor Keith Fry is the pastor of my mom’s church, Christ the Lord Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois. Mom only recently started going to this church, finally giving into her friends’ invitations to attend. I think she’s gone to this church just over a year.

I liked Pastor Keith as soon as I met him in September at my mom’s book group where they discussed Take this Bread by Sara Miles. I met him again the following Sunday when I attended church with my mom. His sermon mentioned someone he’d discussed at the book group — a friend he’d made in Washington DC who had nothing, yet gave him a gift. That tipped me off that this man was a man to whom connections were important.

When, three weeks ago, my mom’s church friends alerted Pastor Keith that my dad was on life support and in critical condition at St. Joesph hospital, he made a trip to the hospital that night. By then my mom and brother had left — knowing that there was little they could do for Dad and they both needed a good night’s sleep in order to have a clear mind to make whatever decisions needed to be made in the coming days. I’m sure Pastor Keith prayed over/for/about my father and for my mom for strength. He probably also got information from the nursing staff on Dad’s condition.

He showed up on Tuesday morning as well, this time offering support by way of prayer and information. He asked a few questions about our family — he really didn’t know Mom that well — so wanted to know if we had other siblings, what we did for a living, how many kids we had, where we lived, etc. None of what we told him was of any use, really, but, as I mentioned earlier, Pastor Keith is a man to whom connections are important. He wanted to know us in order to connect. At least, that’s what I think he was doing.

On Wednesday and Thursday he was always a phone call away and on Thursday evening my brother called him to tell him that we’d need his support on Friday morning.

I’m not sure what we would have done without Pastor Keith’s support on Friday morning. He was a calm presence the room. He was knowledgeable about the process. He was there when we needed him, but it was not as if there was a stranger in the room with us — more like a dear friend. Most of all, he assured us we were doing the right thing.

All the while we were together, Pastor Keith must have been taking mental notes. He was storing our words, actions, and stories in a file in his head. I know this because he gave the most touching funeral sermon I’ve ever heard — taking what he’d observed the past week, what he’d heard from us the past week, and what he’d seen in a slideshow I posted on Facebook (yes, Pastor Keith is on Facebook). If there is a prize for funeral sermons, this one is a sure winner. It is posted after the break if you want to read it.

One of the memories I shared with Pastor Keith that morning was my vision of Heaven: When my Uncle Don died when I was 6 years old I couldn’t really process it until President Kennedy was assassinated. Then I wondered if they’d meet in Heaven. I pictured Uncle Don and President Kennedy sitting at a table drinking beer. As more and more people that I knew or admired died, they joined the table. If you read the sermon, you’ll see that Pastor Keith really listened.

Unfortunately I don’t have the gift of listening that Pastor Keith possesses. I’d like to tell you more about him, but all I know for sure is that he grew up in Texas, the son of a Baptist minister. He has siblings — maybe 3 or 4? He used to be in publishing, but about 5 years ago decided to go to Seminary. My mom’s church is his first congregation. They love him (I know, I read it on Facebook). I think I love him too.

Continue reading Pastor Keith

Mr Tuttle’s Orbit

Once a year when I was in elementary school our class would take a field trip to the local planetarium. We’d get to the planetarium on a school bus — a novelty for me since I was a “walker”. The bus would drop us off in front of the planetarium and we’d file into the domed white building. Inside the planetarium, it was cool and dimly lit, almost church-like. We were instructed to find a seat on one of the pew-like benches that encircled the large star projector. The backs of the benches were tilted to make it easy to lean back and look at the dome over our heads on which the projector would project the stars and planets.

Once seated, the planetarium teacher, Mr. Tuttle, would step up to the podium and welcome us to the planetarium. He’d slowly dim the lights and take us on an amazing journey that involved sunset, moonrise, constellations, planets, and an uncountable number of stars. For several years all I saw was a blur because I was nearsighted but had not gotten glasses yet. Once I got glasses, I was awed by the number of stars on the screen. The huge star projector seemed to move (perhaps it did) and sometimes I’d pretend it was a monster.

I don’t know that I ever talked to Mr. Tuttle when I was in grade school, but I vividly remember him and his lessons.  I did have the opportunity to talk to him when I was in high school. I’d signed up to walk for the “Hike for Hunger” in the early 1970’s with my best friend, Cindy. Her father was a teacher and a friend of Mr. Tuttle. Because of that connection, Mr. Tuttle walked with Cindy and me for most of the 25 miles that day. I felt honored beyond words that of all the other students in the crowd, he chose us to walk with.

moon and venus
The Moon and Venus

I never really got “into” astronomy and although I can name all the planets and a handful of constellations, I don’t know where they will be in the sky on any given evening. However, I love looking at the night sky. I get updates from Spaceweather.com telling me when something cool is going to happen in the sky and sometimes I remember to watch for it and when I stand outside looking up to the heavens I always think of Mr. Tuttle — even though I’ve known other planetarium directors, having taught elementary school.

A few days before I set off on my trip to Illinois I read on Facebook that Mr. Tuttle had died the previous Sunday and that a memorial service would be held for him the following Saturday. I wanted to go to the memorial service because it was for a man who I thought about several times a month.

I did go to the service and am glad I did. I discovered that he was more than a planetarium director. He was a loving father and husband, a musician, a maker of quilts and an active church member (of the church in which I was baptized).

I did not know, as a child, that Mr. Tuttle was religious. It never occurred to me to think about it. If I had thought about it — years later — I would probably have thought that since he was a scientist, he probably was not very involved in a church. Sitting in the church on Saturday during Mr. Tuttle’s memorial service, I was struck by how similar being in the planetarium was to being in a church. The benches were wooden pews. The atmosphere was serene. If I recall correctly, there was even a “pulpit” of sorts where Mr. Tuttle would stand and tell us about the stars.

Courier News Article

Daily Herald Article

Crime and Punisment

One of the she scariest months in my life has to have been October 2002 when two very disturbed individuals went on a 3-week-long shooting  spree in an area that included most of the DC metro area — and many the places I regularly frequented.  All together they killed at least 10 people, targeting random people for what seemed to be no reason.

My son’s elementary school canceled recess during that time. My son’s soccer team canceled all games and practices. Buying gas terrified me. Getting from my car to a public building suddenly became something that resembled a obstacle course — we walked quickly in a zig-zag pattern until we were safely inside. Playgrounds were silent. No one was on the streets in our neighborhood. Trick-or-treating for Halloween was scheduled to be canceled. Every day I worried that one of my kids or husband (who refused to let the sniper attacks make him give up riding his bike to work) would be killed during the day.

Then suddenly it was over. The snipers had been caught and the streets were safe again. The DC metro area breathed a collective sigh of relief. My son and husband among them.

One of those men is scheduled to die this evening and despite the fear he and his accomplice put me through 7 years ago, I cannot be glad about that. I don’t like it that our country puts people to death. Of course people will counter my argument with — what if it was one of your kids. Or your parents. Or your husband. I cannot possibly know what my thoughts would be in that case. I only know now that despite our country’s long history of having the death penalty, people still kill each other. I don’t think the death penalty is working.

News via Stats

I regularly check the search terms in my stats to see how people landed on my blog. I’ve posted about the rash of ground hog searches and thought a post about other searches, similar to Susan’s, would be fun.

Lately I’ve noticed that the term, “Vic Cianca” has been searched. Until I did a search myself, I couldn’t figure out why the sudden interest in the Pittsburgh Traffic Cop who was a semi-regular feature on the old Candid Camera program and had a cameo in Flashdance; and about whom I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago — comparing him to the traffic cop I see when I take my kids to school.

My Internet search found an obituary but I’m not sure it is the same person. I suspect not, because I’m pretty certain that his death would be bigger news — at least in Pittsburgh.  I think others have the same question — and have come to my blog to find out the answer. Sorry folks — I don’t know either.  Let me know if you do find out, though — OK?