Colson Memorial Service

Curt and I just finished watching Chuck Colson’s Memorial Service held in the Washington Cathedral, on May 16th, 2012. It is close to 2 hours, but time well spent. You can scan the program to see the musical selections and the order of service.

His daughter Emily’s remarks were awesome. Any father would want his daughter to be able to say what she said. The music was over-the-top wonderful. We need to be nourished by the words of the Bible spoken. There was a joyful solemnity infused into the whole service.

I love a good funeral.

An Afternoon in a Graveyard

I’m eating my lunch in a graveyard.
Human seeds have been planted in neat little rows. Stone stakes label the crop.

~ N.D. Wilson in Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl


I like cemeteries.
The names, the epitaphs, the iconography, the quiet.
I like the sadness, the melancholy, the stab of pain, the bracing reality of death.

I hate death.
I hate the ripping and tearing, the long separation, the disruption, the destruction.
Death is my enemy.
I whisper John Donne’s words, “Death, thou shalt die.”


I believe.
Weekly, we quote the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.


Grief for Little Charlie. Grief for Little Charlie’s mom.




So personal: My Mother. Our Son.

A hollow emptiness.

Spring time is perhaps the best time to visit a cemetery.

 Spring’s blossoms sing an ancient melody ~
after death comes the resurrection.


Our favorite epitaph.

 Your life in five words?

Funeral Play List for an Older Saint


On the last day of the year, I played for a funeral for a dear woman whose Christmas present was waking up in heaven. She and her husband left a legacy of faith, family and service.

Though there were tears and hugs and sniffles, it was predominantly a joyful time admiring the imprint of her love on those she knew. The grief of the family and friends was clean grief, unsplattered by regrets, remorse, resentment or reproach. It’s fun to go to funerals and discover stuff you never knew. I didn’t know she was such a fisherwoman, so competitive in games and sports, and rode a zip-line not that long ago!

In my experience, In the Garden is the favorite hymn of her generation. My friend sang this solo beautifully. Can one of my readers explain the third verse? (I discovered the hymn is an Easter hymn written in from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. Still, it doesn’t make sense to me.)  Another favorite is How Great Thou Art, which the congregation sang along with What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

I retrieved the hymnal I grew up with, Choice Hymns of the Faith, and made a play list for the prelude and postlude.

When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder

Trust and Obey

Sweet By and By

Softly and Tenderly

Abide with Me

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

Beneath the Cross of Jesus

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Come Thou Fount

He Leadeth Me

I Need Thee Every Hour

I Will Sing of My Redeemer

Praise Him! Praise Him!

Standing on the Promises

Amazing Grace

Glory to His Name

Are You Washed in the Blood?

Blessed Be the Name

Jesus, I Am Resting

Lord Jesus, I Love Thee

Make Me a Blessing

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Me

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place

There Is a Name I Love to Hear

Immaneul’s Land

Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

It Is Well with My Soul

Sweeter as the Years Go By


My favorite re-discovery is a hymn called God In Heaven Hath a Treasure. Here is the “long-play” version.

God in heaven hath a treasure,
Riches none may count or tell;
Hath a deep eternal pleasure,
Christ, the Son, He loveth well.
God hath here on earth a treasure,
None but He its price may know—
Deep, unfathomable pleasure,
Christ revealed in saints below.

Christ, the Light that fills the heavens,
Shining forth on earth beneath,
Through His Spirit freely given,
Light of life ’midst shades of death.
Down from heav’n’s unclouded glory
God Himself the treasure brought,
Closing thus His love’s sweet story
With His sweetest, deepest thought.

God in tongues of fire descending,
Chosen vessels thus to fill
With the treasure never ending,
Ever spent—unfailing still.
Still unwasted, undiminished,
Though the days of dearth wear on,
Store eternally unfinished,
Fresh, as if but now begun.

Earthen vessels, marred, unsightly,
But the treasure as of old,
Fresh from glory, gleaming brightly,
Heav’n’s undimmed, unchanging gold.
God’s own hand the vessel filling
From the glory far above,
Longing hearts forever stilling
With those riches of His love.

Thus, through earthen vessels only,
Shining forth in ceaseless grace,
Reaching weary hearts and lonely,
Beams the light in Jesus’ face.
Vessels worthless, broken, bearing
Through the hungry ages on,
Riches giv’n with hand unsparing,
God’s great gift, His precious Son.

Thus though worn, and tried, and tempted,
Glorious calling, saint, is thine;
Let the Lord but find thee emptied,
Living branch in Christ the Vine!
Vessels of the world’s despising,
Vessels weak, and poor, and base;
Bearing wealth God’s heart is prizing,
Glory from Christ’s blessed face.

Oh, to be but emptier, lowlier,
Mean, unnoticed, and unknown,
And to God a vessel holier,
Filled with Christ, and Christ alone!
Naught of earth to cloud the glory,
Naught of self the light to dim,
Telling forth His wondrous story,
Emptied—to be filled with Him.

There is a decent piano version here. I don’t care for (read: I’m unfamiliar with) the extra beat at the end of the bridge section.

If you were choosing funeral songs for a grandma, what would you pick?

My South African Aunt

My Aunt Betty [7/16/1926 – 7/23/2011] and her son Jean Blaise

Although I had never seen her, the knowledge that I had an aunt living in South Africa was both delicious and thrilling to my young heart.  I fingered the African curios on the bookshelf by the piano: woven baskets, a small carved ivory tusk, a wooden giraffe.  My favorite doll was an African baby with tight black curls and beaded skirts.

I would sit in the kitchen and quiz my mom on the family tree: going through aunts, uncles and cousins and fitting them, like puzzle pieces, in their proper place.  There was a secret satisfaction when we came to Aunt Betty and Aunt Ruthie. I felt a connection to these foreign aunts because I had been given their names, Carol from Elizabeth Carolyn and Ruth from Ruth Ethel.

 ::     ::     ::

After I grew up and married, Aunt Betty visited us in California. She was aghast at the extravagant size of our mugs and glasses. “Everything here is SO BIG!” she exclaimed.  When we shopped for groceries she informed me how many rands it would take to purchase each item, a bit of information that baffled me.

One night she suggested we drink coffee.

“We aren’t coffee drinkers, Aunt Betty, but I’d be glad to make you a cup.”

“Why don’t you drink coffee?” she inquired.

“We just don’t like the taste.” (We didn’t back then!)

“Let me make the coffee and I promise you will like it!” She warmed a small pan of milk, mixed in a cup of sugar and added instant coffee.  And so we enjoyed our first latte.

 ::     ::     ::

Several years later, she again paid us a visit. Aunt Betty helped me plant my garden, dispensing folk wisdom for better tomatoes and healthy vegetables. She gave me a cloth bib she had sewn with an African print…and I continue to use it on my grandsons.

One afternoon my young son, on his own initiative, climbed up on Aunt Betty’s lap and snuggled into her. She almost came undone with surprise and delight.That hour of rocking him, holding him close, giving and accepting affection,was a highlight of her visit.

 ::     ::     ::

Like all of us, Betty hadconflicting desires. She was a study in contrasts:

    ~ compassionate and yet critical

   ~ exotic and yet proper

   ~ generous and yet demanding

   ~ confident and yet insecure

   ~ stubborn and yet charming

   ~ connected and yet lonely

::     ::    ::

A good way to know a woman is to notice what she loves.  Aunt Betty loved the Lord Jesus, she loved being connected with family, she loved good food, sewing, gardening, old hymns, telephone calls, getting a bargain, dressing well and her beloved South Africa.

She dearly loved Jean Blaise. Many phone calls were filled with stories about “her son” and how pleased she was with him. “He calls me Mum,” she said. Jean Blaise gave her a focus; helping him was the crowning achievement of her life. Through Betty’s love and generosity, I now have a cousin/brother in South Africa. Through Aunt Betty and now through Jean Blaise, I will always be connected to South Africa.

Closing Thoughts


She is depressed.  The d’s—disappointment, discouragement, dejection, despondency, despair—plague her. And Death, the big D, is staring in the window, eager to devour. 

I longed to encourage her. I looked for the right words. I had in mind the last verse of one of the psalms, about hope.  Flipping through the psalms, it occurred to me that the closing thought of many psalms are precisely what we need to hear in the closing chapter of our life. The perfect orientation. The reminder of where our strength lies. Solid truth. Something to grip.

Here is a sampling:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. [23]  

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. [42]

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. [100]

In peace I will both lie down and sleep:
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. [4]

Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me. [142]

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord. [27]

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! [118]

I will thank you forever, because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly. [52]

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. [124]

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. [33]

For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death. [109]

O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you! [84]

Bless the Lord, O my soul! [103]

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! [150]

A Fitting Farewell

Grandson pallbearers.

The honor guard

In a culture where casual is cool, the formal ceremony of military honors is arresting. It is sobering. It is potent.

Every note of Taps, every fold of the flag, every word in the presentation of the flag is crystal clear, separate and distinct, heard and viewed while we all seem to collectively hold our breaths.

I’ve written before about clean grief.

Sorrow can be such a complicated thing. It easily gets muddied with regrets, splattered with the wrong actions of the deceased, splotched with omissions, and speckled with questions.

One of the gifts we can give to those we leave behind is the gift of clean grief. The difference between clean and mucked-up grief is the difference between the cut of a surgeon’s sterilized knife and the puncture of a rusty nail. Both are incredibly painful, both require a time of healing, and both leave scars; but the puncture requires much cleansing in order to avoid infection and heal.

It is remarkable how satisfying a good funeral is. Harold’s four sons spoke of their father, noting who he was, what he did, what he loved, how he loved.  They were proud of their dad, privileged to praise his life. When it came down to one phrase, my Uncle Harold’s life was characterized by faithfulness outside the spotlight.

The best funerals are the ones which leave you inspired to imitate the life of the deceased.  We will never know the full extent of my uncle’s generosity, but I asked God to give me Harold’s eyes to see needs and his heart to respond to them.  Although he loved golf and achieved one of his lifetime goals of a hole-in-one during his retirement, his sunset years were focused on serving others until his final days. He wrote letters, corrected correspondence courses, led Bible studies, connected with people. I want to be as other-oriented as my uncle was. 

“Whenever I spend time with extended family, I learn more about myself,” my young cousin Ashlee remarked.  I learned and laughed about my Harper traits: stubbornness, odd frugality, obsessive book acquisitions (I had to force myself to walk away from the boxes of books in the garage) and fondness of ice cream. 

I came to Philadelphia to honor my uncle.  The friendship of my cousins is the only reason I have to return. It is, however, reason enough.   

~       ~     ~

My Uncle Harold was three things to me.

First, he was a bridge.  There was a time when my father and I had a little estrangement thing going.  Communication between us stalled, sputtered and stopped.  Uncle Harold loved both of us and used every opportunity to bridge the gap between us.  He did nothing heroic, but in his quiet way he worked for peace. [A cancer diagnosis was all my father and I needed to reconcile, which we did, thankfully, before he died.]

He was a beacon. Uncle Harold’s faith informed his opinions and decisions. His interest in my spiritual well-being was constant. I loved him for that.

And Uncle Harold was a bonus. The uncle/aunt-nephew/niece relationship is much less complicated than the parent-child relationship.  There are not the same expectations or obligations.  Sometimes it is as simple as “I know he loves me, and I know I love him.”  That’s how it was with my uncle. He was not obliged to come see me.  But he did.  Because he always picked up the tab of a shared meal, it was not until ten or fifteen years ago that I realized that Harold was not rich.  His life enriched mine, and I will always be thankful. 

And Grace Will Lead Me Home


Averil’s church

The first thing I noticed was the silence.  There was no prelude music, no banal conversations in unmodulated tones, no one-sided cell phone silliness; just a few low whispers, the cadence of condolences, and the quiet old ladies whispering hush. Hugs and handshakes were given and received. In that extended silence there was a fundamental respect. 

Polished wood warmed the room: curved pews with carved detail, wooden rails and paneling, a traditional wooden hymn board with white numbers.  The April sun bled through the pointed arch stained glass windows, coloring the room.  Flowers curtained the front, embraced the casket. 

As the service began, we sang her favorite hymns: How Great Thou Art, In the Garden, and Amazing Grace.

When Christ shall come
With shouts of acclamation
And take me home,
What joy shall fill my heart!

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.

We had gathered to pay our respects to Averil, a simple woman who made a difference.  Like her name, she came from a different time, from a culture of community and generosity, industry and responsibility.  Her mother was born in the post office; she was born in the telephone office.  Through Averil we saw an example of the habits and priorities of a life lived in service to others.  She “never walked across a floor without seeing something to pick up.”  She was born loving her parents.  She was an enabler of scholars.  

Her devotion to family extended in all directions.  The numbers of her life are staggering.  She was married 68 years; she and her husband kept her father-in-law 28 years.  Her children and grandchildren were lavish in their praise.  They were given a legacy of legendary country breakfasts, of hand-made quilts, of tailored clothing, of insistence on hard work, of garden produce, of hunting and fishing, and of countless plates of home cooked food.  There was no question which scripture passage would be read.  Proverbs 31 was precisely right.

The marriage of Bob and Averil is one of those rare and precious relationships.  Their love for one another was evident in their smiles, their speech, and especially as they held on to one another when they walked.

The service closed with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.  In United Methodist tradition, we used the word trespasses.  All those glorious esses in “as we forgive those who trespass against us” rebounded off each other in the air. 

There is something very satisfying about a good funeral.  At a good funeral you are inspired to imitate the deceased.  Good grief is the final gift Averil gave her family. 

We left full of gratitude. 
My husband’s thoughts about Bob and Averil’s marriage.
More thoughts on death.
More thoughts on grief.

Play List for a Young Man’s Memorial


Ahokan Farewell

I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Come Ye Disconsolate (half time)


I Want Jesus Walk with Me

Doxology (left hand octaves in G, like bells tolling, rhythmic differences)

Down to the River to Pray

Children of the Heavenly Father

Awesome God
Amazing Grace in minor key
Amazing Grace in major key
Awesome God

Homeward Bound

What Wondrous Love is This

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

I Will Arise

Precious Jewel (funky beat)

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (half time)

Band of Brothers

A blog is a good place to keep lists.  Here is the list of songs I played at a memorial service yesterday.  I chose songs that I could play out of my heart (translation: without music), not knowing how the visibility would be. 

It was a gift to be able to give myself musically to my dear friends.  When a friend experiences a loss, we all want somehow to do something to express our love and compassion.  We need to give.  A hug.  A card.  A batch of rolls.  Mow the lawn.  I was able to play the piano.  It was a sweet thing–a gift I gratefully receive–to be able to share that for my friend(s).

Sing Me to Heaven. Setting by Daniel E. Gawthrop. Text by Jane Griner

In my heart’s sequestered chambers lie truths stripped of poets’ gloss
Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute
In response to aching silence, memory summons half-heard voices
And my soul finds primal eloquence, and wraps me in song

If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
sing me a requiem, sing me to Heaven

Touch in me all love and passion, pain and sorrow
Touch in me grief and comfort, love and passion, pain and pleasure
Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem
Love me, comfort me, bring me to God
Sing me a love song, sing me to Heaven

(Thank you, Brenda.)

Goodbye My Friend

One of the hazards of working with an aging and ailing clientele (I work at a local pharmacy) is facing that hideous monster death who snatches patients away. 

My favorite customer died yesterday.

We never met face to face; ours was a telephone relationship.  I used to cringe when he first called because he had a speech impediment which required very careful listening.  Eventually I tuned into his talk and we conversed freely.  Looking back, I am thankful for the billing problems that provided opportunities for regular phone calls.

He wore an overcoat of dignity, a suit of humility accented with a scarf of serenity.  And underneath was a heart devoted to the care of his Momma. 

His eyes were blind, but I tell you, they twinkled

His speech was garbled but his chuckle won me over. 

Though we only spoke, he touched me.

Oh, my friend, would you be surprised that I cried when I heard you were gone?

Rest in peace.