In the years spent dealing with death, family visitations, grief counselling along with funerals and memorial services, I have had much opportunity to both read and listen to the eulogies expounding memories of people gone, but not forgotten, once loved, but now lost. There have been many occurrences, especially during the funerals of my own family members, that occasions mentioned and relationships rehearsed, brought tears to my eyes. Some of the speakers, on behalf of the families did so with steady voice, while others struggled to maintain courage and strength throughout their presentation. By times, it was suggested that the eulogy be opened to public offerings of memories. I have discouraged this being done at funerals, as there may be quite inappropriate statements made. Sometimes we forget that decorum should be the better part of judgement, and it may be sadly found lacking in some instances.
Through the years, during a few solemn services, there have been outbursts of laughter, and chiding, and while it may have been meant with the best of good intentions, it always left a sour taste in my mouth. I have often wondered why the world seems to find a reason to mock outwardly, during these most obvious times of religious solemnity and meaningful moments in people’s lives. On more than one occasion a bride was heard to comment; “Now you know why I didn’t want that person at our wedding!” But life goes on and I have always tried to calm the hearts of those who were confronted with such outbursts and have always tried to pave the way for God’s presence and blessing, to be both found and felt, in whatever service I was able to render.
I have, down through the years, often thought about my own death. Most of us do I suspect. In my life thus far I have had 3 cancer scares. Nothing drastic ever came of it. I will mention one of those events. I had lost my aunt to thyroid cancer within the past year on one such occasion. She had suffered through surgery and treatments, but the cancer came back and I had one day found her crying alone in her apartment when I went to visit. She had asked for my help to get into a nursing home, clear up her apartment and look after her family affairs. I did the best I could with love and meaning. A few months later, on a trip to our doctor after the usual annual blood tests, I was told that my thyroid count had changed. I had been complaining of hoarseness and having trouble swallowing, so I was sent for tests and the report showed both ends of my thyroid had hot spots, indicating a cancerous condition and I would need surgery, to have them removed. Not good! So I prepared myself, trying to steel my heart for what may eventually happen, as I remembered my aunt and her struggles with Thyroid Cancer the year before.
Of course before these types of surgeries, you are sent to have mapping done. So, off I went to the hospital to have the radiated iodine scan. Lots of prayer surrounded me, and I felt prepared for whatever I was to face. After the procedure, I asked how things went, and of course very little was shared, as usually happens. I was told a report would be sent to my family doctor and he would be in touch with me. Well, the day came for my appointment and I went with a bit of elevated fear, along with as much courage as I could muster, to hear the results and get a sense of what would be taking place. The answer I got was what I least expected. The latest scans were clear and whatever had been noted before on the previous scan had disappeared. So, I was observed for several months and had blood tests to verify the last findings. It has been many years since then, but I will not forget the prayers sent heavenward for me during those weeks.
Did I evaluate life through that trial with the unknown? Absolutely, I did. Have there been times since, when trials have arisen and life seemed unsure, and I looked fearfully at the future? Yes, but perhaps no more than many of my friends and family. Nevertheless it is during these struggles when we find ourselves taking a look at the past, while gazing toward the uncertain future, that we most often take stock of life. On many such occasions I have thought about what could be said about my life. Would I want merely flowery words and sorrowful tears to rehearse my life? Would there be any good or important thing to say, that would add the true meaning of what either my mere living or any striving after a fullness of life had meant, in the context of my years? It was during one such occasion that I had a change in direction, a new vision of what I desired, (if I was to have any say) to be found in my eulogy after my demise.
There is little in life that has true meaning, but that which affects others for good, for righteousness, faith and love for others. We too often measure education, achievements and even single moments, as having value in themselves. It is true, that should one dig up a history of my life, or read a former CV (a resume for employment in general) that there might be milestones, accomplishments and things to warrant some level of praise, but that has become of so little value to me. It is not where I have been, or what it is thought that I have accomplished, that is important… it is how I was capable, prepared, and engaged to undertake, and to some extent, to succeed at what God had seen fit for me to do. Someone asked me one time what drove me to do the things I have done, and the only answer I knew that held any meaning was this; "I have tried my best to follow God’s calling… I know I have fallen by times, but it was God that got me back on my feet and revived my soul toward His ends."
When asked about my education, as I have enough to get me by, my answer has always been since my early adulthood; “I finally know now that I don’t really know anything… education itself has proven that to me!” I have met people with no formal education to speak of, yet they have wisdom beyond our imagination, where experience has taught them far more about life, and existence in this world, than perhaps it is naturally understood in today’s culture. I went kicking and screaming to university as a young adult. I had a wife and 3 children in tow. I wanted a quiet life, yet God took me to situations, position and before people that caused my heart to tremble and He saw me through it all, not by my education, courage, strength or personality, but by His will.
What could my eulogy say that could meet the need of my heart and not the need of family or friends to aggrandize a life that was normal, simple and for the most part shy and afraid? Life plays games in the hearts of the beholders, the onlookers, those who watch from afar, even those who, under the wing of family care and relationship, cannot see or evaluate fully the inner being of the person they have striven to know. We love our loved ones! We care for our peers and community. We hold them in as much respect as their value to us seems worth, and then in death we oftimes heap accolades of praise upon their memories, which may be merely tinkling symbol or sounding brass to our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer God.
You may begin to see that at this juncture in life; I see my life as rather insignificant, other than perhaps the mixed levels of joy at my presence to my family and a close circle of friends. To most we become either a convenience, should we be needed for a specific reason, or merely as a matter of comfort, as people relate to the stability of community and circles of friendship that become more remote as years pass us by. It may surprise you to know that in conversation with many seniors, down through my many years of ministry, even outside the professional context (and I disliked that label, but had to live with it) before I entered pastoral ministry, that many seniors relate to the sentiments of the teacher in Ecclesiastes 1:2-3. "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless…." We find ourselves unable to justify all that has taken place in life, outside perhaps that most meaningful of activities,being childbearing. Yet, even there the context of our influence is so miniscule, as life and its living steers our children, perhaps even more than the training we give during their early years.
I would never want to be thought of as a pessimist. These thoughts today are merely mine in the context of what I value most in life and want said at my death. It is neither meant to change the mind of others, nor to diminish the desire of others to speak of their loved ones departed. It is merely here for some to read and perhaps for others to take into consideration. Should I have family who read this and surrender, bowing to my wishes, beyond any need to speak otherwise... I would be thankful.
(Ps 103:13-19 NIV) "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children; with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts. The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all."
Man is like the grass of the field, and this man we have known, now taken up into heaven, has a desire for 2 things from those who remember. First he wanted no credit for anything said, accomplished, or given in his lifetime that brought joy to your lives. Secondly, for those who may, please forgive, as the Father forgives, for any sin spoken or done in the weakness of the human flesh against you, for we all have fallen short of the glory of God; we all are sinners saved by grace.
Each breath he took, he gave credit to his Heavenly Father, each gift he received, from family to friend, he knew it was a blessing come from God. There may be some here today who will desire to give credit in some way, for a human context of thanksgiving for a life lived, but to God be all the glory! As Edwin most often said following sermons or after long hours of facilitating meetings; “God provides; I am merely the agent of delivery.” Without God, Edwin would not have had the many blessings that he felt he received during his lifetime. Even in respect to God's gifts.. he felt that they were most undeserved; yet he coveted the love of his wife, children, grandchildren, and those who would chance to call him friend.
It is not important to remember the “man”, the flesh that has carried the name Edwin D. Allen up to this day, or into the days following. If you are to remember anything, this is his wish; ”Life brings to our feet the good and the bad, it surrounds us with potentials for uplifting joys and overwhelming sadness, but through it all "there" is God. He is our Rock and our Stronghold.. and in Him I placed my trust! Do not shed tears that my life has passed, only in joy that God’s grace has granted me an eternal home in his presence. Do not be fearful of being alone without me, for I have only been the human touch of God’s hand, if comfort has been known by my presence. God remains, and it is His peace that will carry you through. I have lived by His strength and in the joy of your presence with me, but let me go… this tent of human flesh I’ve shed and a heavenly robe I now wear. Be glad for me. Love as the Heavenly Father loves you … love each other, regardless the chasms of separation you feel… I wish I could have done it better… I tried and sometimes I failed; But I loved the best I could, in God’s strength!”
If there be ears let them hear…
End Note: Be aware… I am not going anywhere yet… scary as the thought of my remaining might be. :)