My son Neil and I had a few days to work on Margaret’s obituary. Understandably, he could not bring himself to think about it while she lingered in the hospital on life support. It was hard, but I worked on the essentials.
Margaret and I used to talk about these things. But not seriously. Somehow, you think this could never happen to you.
Margaret’s sister, widowed perhaps four years ago, told how someone praised her husband Jim with a good line which she later used as an opener in his memorial. So, we began thinking about that.
Eventually, after we decided that the Lord had already taken our precious loved one to Heaven and the earthly remains–her body–was trying its best to shut down, we gave permission to turn off life support. Some twelve or fourteen hours later, she was gone and we were left to prepare for her memorial service and finish writing the obituary.
The funeral director, my friend of a quarter-century–he and I have done hundreds of services together–sat down with Neil and me and made suggestions. We finally ended up with something acceptable, although I imagine no one ever figures that a few paragraphs can ever “contain” the complex person that was their loved one. That was certainly the case with us.
The night the hospital team unplugged the life support, some of my family and I were gathered around the bedside, saying our goodbyes. It was a time of tears and prayers, of little speeches to “mom” and “grandma,” and some laughter. At one point I told my grandchildren, “Now, listen. One of these days it will be grandpa here. And I don’t want all this crying.” A granddaughter said, “Why not?” I said, “Well, good night! I will be 98 years old and will have preached the previous Sunday! What’s to cry about?” Everyone laughed.
Laughing in the face of death. I like that. Scripture does that, in a way. The Apostle Paul taunts it. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (See how he does this in the last verses of I Corinthians 15.)
I’m writing my own obituary. Not in words on paper so much as in deeds. By my life. The people I bless along the way, the sermons I preach, the ones I love and walk with and laugh with.
And so are you.
The funeral director said something fascinating. “Two hundred years from now, when people are researching the family, they will find this written obituary and learn about Margaret. So, you are writing it for them, to inform them as to who she was and to give them some guidance as to other places to look.”
That sounds like Psalm 102:18. “This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”
That, incidentally, is a primary reason for this blog. A professor who teaches journaling told me, “We do not journal for our children. They’ve lived this with you and are not particularly interested. We do it for our grandchildren in the years to come.” And great-grandchildren.
I wish my grandchildren’s children could know what a special lady Margaret was. Perhaps the grands will tell them. But then I remember something….
I’ve told my children what a wonderful woman was my Grandmother Bessie Lowery McKeever. But it barely registers with them. Appreciating someone whom you barely remember and of whom you know only a smidgen is difficult. And so, Grandma Bessie’s legacy will not be left in the hands of my descendants down the line. I am her legacy, and the Lord knows her record.
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, that they may rest from their labors. And their works do follow them.” (Revelation 14:13).
Obituaries are fleeting things. Legacies are forever. So, let us leave the first to those who come after us (after all, obituary-composing may be a way of facing their grief and dealing with it), and put our attention on the latter.
In two hours, I will get in my car and drive north into Mississippi for a revival meeting. As I serve the Lord, I will be both honoring the Savior and carrying on the legacy of beloved family members who have “gone on before.”
They were faithful; now, let me be the same.