She Lived Until She Died
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She Lived Until She Died
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
The news that Flo had passed away came to me through a phone call. Once that brief but significant conversation was over, a couple odd thoughts passed through my mind.
One of them was that Flo had died in her prime. Usually we imagine somebody’s prime as a period much earlier than their late eighties, but perhaps this is just prejudice. Whatever it was like for Flo earlier in her life, I would say that her final years were part of her prime. After all, she was happy, she was relatively healthy, and she was enjoying her life. She exercised a positive influence on the people around her. That sounds to me like the prime of life.
Another thought that passed through my mind probably mirrored the lyrics of a vintage pop song. Flo was somebody who lived until she died. She did not die in spirit and then continue on for decades after that, as some people appear to do. Instead, she was alive in spirit all the time she was alive in the body. She lived until she died. And the claim of Christian faith is that, by God’s gift, she continues to live.
Flo died in her prime. She lived until she died. The deep truth of her life turns our everyday language inside out, forcing it to point to truth bigger and bolder than what usually fills our conversations.
What was her secret? I believe it was simply this: Flo was a person of faith. Her faith enabled her to look at life with understanding and humor. She could recognize people for who they were and still accept them. She trusted in one who had led her along the ups and downs of life’s path.
There are in this world some religious people whose style is so suffocating that they give goodness a bad name. That certainly was not Flo’s style. From her little home in Goodells, she would be in regular telephone contact with many people from this church and other people as well. She did much to raise their spirits and cheer their hearts. I know this because I heard about it. I know this also because I experienced it myself. Flo had a telephone ministry, and it made a difference for lots of us.
It’s been said that a saint who is sad is a sad saint. Flo’s basic temperament was anything but sad. She seems to have had a lot of fun. I often felt that she was chewing over the punch line of a joke she had heard that should have been apparent to everybody, but was not. This joke that tickled her was a cosmic howler: the crucified one has conquered, death is dead, there’s no reason to live in fear!
She seems to have had a lot of fun. Whoever knew her well can probably picture times and places she enjoyed. I think of her working at London’s Dairy when she and the London brothers and the dairy were young. I picture her serving as a Sunday school teacher and a church secretary at St. Paul’s. Some of you here today may have been her students. I imagine her directing one of numerous dinners down at the American Legion, where she made a meal for a hundred people seem easy.
Last Friday night, Flo’s grandson Tom and his fiancée Ashley were meeting with me about their upcoming marriage. It seemed natural for us to anticipate Flo presiding over preparations for the wedding banquet and having loads of fun doing so.
Flo died in her prime. She lived until she died. She cheered people’s hearts. She had a lot of fun.
These characteristics were outward signs of her inward faith. For the same woman listened to tapes of the Bible repeatedly, always finding something more in that old, old story. She received her Holy Communion with reverence and delight, like a little child grateful for a gift. In her home in Goodells she prayed for you and me and many others, alone there with her cats on many a quiet evening, but present with the Trinity and the whole communion of saints.
I understand that she left her Bible to her grandson Tom. Don’t be afraid to wear it out, Tom. A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.
And to Joan, Flo left her role as matriarch of a family that includes her grandchildren’s grandchildren. Have no fear, Joan. You’ll fill the role in your own way, and you will do it well.
To all of us—relatives, friends, parishioners—Flo left an invitation to rekindle our faith whenever it wavers or splutters or dies. For some this may require only a minor course correction. For others of us it may involve discovering that we do have a capacity for faith, that God welcomes us back into relationship.
Whatever our situation, we can laugh again—or perhaps for the first time—over that joke that tickled Flo, the cosmic howler about how the crucified one has conquered, death is dead, and there’s no reason to live in fear.
We honor Flo’s memory best when we find that each new moment belongs to the prime of our life, when we find the strength needed to cheer the hearts of other people, and we have lots of fun along the way.
In doing this, we will live, truly live, until we die. And we will discover for ourselves, when our time comes, what I believe Flo is experiencing now: that by God’s gift, our death is but the door to new and eternal life.
- Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.