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Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Celebration of a Life of Almost 101 Years

I want to process my thoughts after my step-mother's funeral today.  My step-mother is known to me as Aunt Agnes.  After her husband, my Uncle Jack, died and my own mother died, both at an early age, my father and she married and were married for over 25 years.   In her long life, Aunt Agnes had lived as a child of missionaries among the Navajo Indians in New Mexico, and had worked as a public health and army nurse, a preschool teacher, and a social worker in an adoptive agency.  She had always been active in her churches and missionary organizations. 
Laura and Grandma October 2015
Although we mourned, it was a day of joy.  In fact, as I thought about what to wear, I decided to wear black but with a bright red sweater.  Aunt Agnes loved bright colors and she was dressed in red and black in her casket. I did choke up a bit when I noticed her nails--perfectly manicured and polished as always.
There were a few tears but it was truly a celebration of her life with four generations of descendants there.  With our very blended family we were quite a group, including Aunt Agnes's three biological children, two children from Uncle Jack's first marriage, one foster child, and then my sister and myself.  
Cathy, her second daughter,  gave a lovely tribute to her mother telling of her care and love for all of us.  She even mentioned her mom's praying for “Mary’s disadvantaged students” and I remember that she did.  She recalled her “witnessing” sometimes in ways that embarrassed her kids—a memory of tracts handed out at Tunnel Park (really?)—and her always asking the  manicurist at the beauty school, “Do you  know Jesus as your Savior?”  Cathy thanked Elaine for giving her mom the gift of being in the middle of a busy family for the last 9 1/2 years of her life.  Cathy said, 
  "She had room in her heart, and in her daily emails, for all of us. She prayed for us, and prayed very specifically for her grandchildren that they would find faith in God; that they would find a life's work that was a good fit for their unique gifting; and for them to find a life's partner, and be blessed in their sexual expression!" Cathy added, "Yes, she was frank."  
In his message, grandson and ordained pastor Ben mentioned that loneliness is the biggest problem Harvard researchers found in measuring the quality of life.  Aunt Agnes was not be lonely at Elaine’s.  Ben talked about the love found in families that comforts and the love of God that comforts. 
The funeral was planned by Aunt Agnes down to every detail.  She wanted a floral bouquet that had a Bible and sheaves of wheat and it was beautiful.  The songs were ones she chose; the passages were Psalm 121 and Philippians 4: 4-9.  "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice." Cathy said she chose those words " because it wasn't always easy to rejoice In The Lord, and I think we all know that in our own lives. Life is hard in this world, losses and regrets." Those were the words she wanted to leave with us.  She planned the food—ham on buns, jello squares, potato salad, potato chips, and cake--which we enjoyed in the church basement.
I was especially moved by the many songs we sang.   “10,000 Reasons” is one we sing at our church but when you sing at a funeral it is especially stirring.
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come;
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending;
Ten thousand years and then forevermore!
Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul’
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name.
And I always treasure the line in “Great is Thy Faithfulness:”  “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
Aunt Agnes was an army nurse who enlisted at the end of World War II.  In the final ceremony of the church service, two soldiers in full uniform took the flag from the casket, folded it with great precision and presented it to Jim Stroo on behalf of The President of the United States. Taps were played.  It was very moving.
I felt so proud and honored that Jim was asked to do the committal service at the cemetery. He used suggestions that were made by Elaine’s pastor and the Book of Common Prayer: 

Into your hands, O most merciful Savior, we commend your servant, Agnes VanderMolen.  Ackhowledge, we pray, a sheep of your fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.  Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints of light. 
And later, We have entrusted Agnes VanderMolen into the hands of God, and now we commit her body to this resting place, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, death to life in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jim did the honors with great dignity and warmth--although standing in a strong wind blowing the pages of his Bible. 
Before leaving the cemetery, I put my hand on her casket and in that way said a final good-by. 
She is the last of our children's grandparents to die.   Our generation is next.  In fact with Hank’s passing, our generation has already begun to die.  Several of my cousins have lost spouses; two of them have spouses who are suffering from dementia or cancer.  It is sobering.
Funerals can leave me feeling cynical.  But not today.  I really felt a sense of God’s presence in music and word and family and the reality of an afterlife and the hope of the resurrection. 

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