During the service, I sang with the choir and remained in the choir loft, a rarity for me since usually I’m the one officiating. The hour was filled with music, especially hymns, all of which this beloved saint chose before she died.
Halfway into the service an opportunity was given for friends to share personal remembrances. I’m not a fan of “open microphone” time at such occasions. Relinquishing control to unscripted and, oft-times, unrehearsed comments makes it impossible to project how long the service will last or what will come from speakers’ mouths.
My fears proved to be unfounded. People were brief and to the point. Nobody rambled on. None of the speakers talked about inane things like the departed one’s favorite TV show or sports team, her favorite food or driving habits. One adult said that her friend was the kind of person other adults want to be like when they grow up. Someone else said that when she served as lay reader she opened the congregation to the presence of God. Another described her as non-anxious when congregational meetings reached the exploding point. A gentleman with a doctorate in engineering recalled the time when she had calmed his fears about his upcoming hip-replacement surgery.
It would be easy to conclude that the woman we memorialized lived a bliss-filled life, that everything related to God she had figured out. Not so. Since her memorial service, I learned that in the last year(s) of her life she had plenty of issues with God: her body was a shell of its former self; she had to leave her home and move into a rehabilitation center; she found it difficult to pray; she didn’t seem to care one way or another that others were praying for her; she wondered aloud why she was still alive.
She was no different from Elijah in the cave pleading to die, or Jeremiah in prison launching his accusations at God. This church “lifer” was not unlike Mother Teresa who, though the world called her a saint, had her own long bouts of despair, depression and doubts.
The flame of her life may have gone out when she breathed her last, but those who knew her, knew they are immeasurably better off for the life she lived – a life of certainties and ambiguities. “Precious in the sight of God is the death of God’s faithful ones” (Psalm 116:15).