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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mother's funeral

Stephanie was there; she led the conversation, asking all the people in the room why mom was so special to them. I learned some more things about my mother that afternoon.

The next day Janice and I went to Hennessy’s, and took Beth, to learn. Jan told her, “Mom took me when she had to arrange for Uncle Bill, so I’d know what to do.” In truth, Hennessy had put all the wheels in motion. He laid a certificate on the desk and announced our mother had given us the gift of pre-paying her vault. So, I learned about vaults, and openings and closings. We found a casket, set a time—the following Monday, the day after Easter. My birthday.

Helyn, our sister-in-law told us Michelle was flying from Atlanta. Would we consider getting an interpreter?  She said the Society for the Deaf probably would help. They sent another tiny woman, who became a beautiful accompanist to Stephanie at the podium on Monday. And, we put the notice in the paper.

All details arranged, we passed a beautiful Easter weekend with family and friends. The spring weather continued.  My friend Ann arrived from Wisconsin. We ate countless sandwiches and beautiful desserts that appeared in our kitchen. A perfect run up to a funeral.

Monday morning was bone cold and pouring snow. Many of our guests were in spring coats, spring dresses, pretty spring pumps. Jan and I opened a bag of tricks and produced clothing and boots. Oh, the boots. I had LL Bean footwear for any occasion at a show; I passed out low rubbers, medium rubbers, wellies around. I wound up with the pink boots I’d lent to Bill for his lorry ride. I wore my sorry sheepskin vest, the last warm garment in my closet.

At Hennessy’s we found Linda and Cara, who drove from upstate New York, Molly who I’d taught to skirt a fleece years before. The usher funneled us into the room that already held mom’s congregation. Old neighbors streamed in. A tall slender old woman said “I’m Emma Carlisle”. The Carlisles lived next door when I was two years old. Everyone was saying “Thank you for letting us know.” They ranged from my parents’ wedding guests, to the friends of her granddaughters.

Stephanie moved to the podium, together with the interpreter and for half an hour we listened to Stephanie’s beautiful tribute, mesmerized by the dancing fingers to her right.  Michelle’s eyes never left off watching.

We gave the usher a stack of slips to pass out as everyone left, giving directions to the all you can eat buffet that Mom and Aunt Helen Rita frequented every Tuesday; if they didn't want to come to the cemetery, please be there when we came back; it was a place Mom’s spirit would know.

Cars! All the family in rag tag odds and ends filled the official cars; we started north. What was that? Escort cars were closing the freeway entrance lanes so the funeral procession could pass. I could not see the end of all the waving flags. Jan and I grinned. Take that, Mom! No notice, indeed. Our friend Mary Jane said “That line was a mile long! I was at the end!”

We stood in mud at the cemetery. Many, many had no boots. Tiny Stephanie and the tiny interpreter stood on tip toe, and sank too. Stephanie said her ashes to ashes, and we went back to the restaurant, where we filled a large reserved room, watched children eat as much as they could and go back for soft serve ice cream. With whipped cream and sprinkles. Some more good byes were said, then it was mid afternoon, and we all went home from what we knew was a very fine funeral.

Mom and Dad, 1960

Stephanie’s tribute to our mother. In your mind imagine flying fingers accompanying the words.

Lenore Caroline Rolf Lytle
Monday, March 31, 1997
10:00 am

How do you say “good-bye” to a friend? Real friends are so hard to find that you hate to let them go. For me, Lenore was a friend, not just a parishioner or a weaver or a woman I visited in the hospital because her church was between pastors. Lenore was my friend. It’s hard to say good-bye. Lenore was also a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandma, a mother-in-law, a sister-in-law, and other relationships I haven’t mentioned, but she was also your friend, and it is so hard to say “good-bye” to a dear friend.

Lenore was not a fair-weather friend who was in a relationship for the good times and then disappeared when things got difficult. She took the trying times with the good times. I don’t want to say “bad” times because I’m not sure Lenore had really bad times. But there were trying times—like when Melvin and Helyn, very young newlyweds, moved in with Lenore and painted their bedroom pink—not baby pink, but industrial-strength pink, the kind that makes you think Pepto-bismol, or worse. Trying times—like all the years her beloved children and grandchildren, girls included, rode motorcycles. What caring parent, grandparent or friend wants to see adored children throw a leg over a big, mean bike and roar off down the road? Lenore rode out those years with grace.

Lenore was not a friend who was interested in what she could get out of a friendship. She was the kind of person who saw relationships as an opportunity to give. Unlike most of us, Lenore’s first instinct was to be kind. She didn’t calculate how much time or energy or even money loving another person would cost. She simply opened her arms and took us in. She took in Helen and Hazel. She took in Peggy and other neighbor children. She took in cousins and not-so-cousins. She took in little children and teenagers She took in young adults and old people. She even took me in and I was her pastor—I was supposed to be the one “taking in.” And she loved us, unconditionally, all of us she didn’t have to love. And we are blessed and better people because of her graciousness.

Lenore, as you can see, was not a friend to stick by only when you did things her way, though she did have a definite element of stubbornness. The stubbornness seemed to show up around canning time and then again in the fall. Lenore stubbornly put-up thousands and thousands of quarts of vegetables, fruits, jams and jellies as insurance against long winters and hard times. And even when times weren’t so hard, she stubbornly refused to give up ‘buying by the case:’ green beans, corn, peas, pears and carrots.

Although stubborn about some things, Lenore was a remarkable free spirit about others. She learned to weave late in life, and got really good at it. She moved away from the family home in North Hill and participated in remodeling a shared home with her daughters and son-in-law. I met her when she was 77 or 78, and she seemed perfectly willing to accept me, a woman, as her pastor. Not all folks, elderly or otherwise are able to embrace God’s words in Isaiah 43—“see, I am doing a new thing.” So, how do you say “good-bye” to such a friend?

Lenore loved the outdoors almost as much as she loved children. Does this sound like a vacation—a time of renewal and re-creation—to you? Ten or so kids, two campers, cots and sleeping bags; hundreds, even thousands of miles to travel; cooking, set-up, take-down. Is this a vacation? Well, it was for Lenore! No national park was worth visiting unless you could show it to a child—her own kids, her grandkids, neighbor kids, kids’ friends—all were welcome. And maybe more than welcome. Maybe she needed you kids because life would have been totally meaningless if there had been nobody to “give” to: to give adventures to, to give freedom to, to give encouragement to, to give love to.

Lenore had a sense of humor. She could laugh at a joke whether it was on her or somebody else. Sometimes I like to tell a funny story in my sermon to make a point. I could always count on Lenore to laugh even if she was surrounded by a stuffy bunch who felt that church wasn’t good for you unless it was solemn and somber. How do you say “good-bye” to such a friend?

I know Lenore taught you many things—how to budget, how to say “no” to deferred payment, how to can, how to economize, how to camp, how to have a good time, how to win at cards, how to love unconditionally. How to love unconditionally—that’s perhaps the most important. Each and every one of us needs to know that, in spite of the secrets we hold close to our hearts for fear someone should find out who we really are, that we are loved. Lenore gave us that gift—to her siblings, her husband, her children and grandchildren and countless others. She loved us. Period—no matter what. How do you say “good-bye” to such a friend?

We are not the first people to have this problem. On the way to Jerusalem, knowing what was going to happen to him, Jesus thought about his friends. I can picture him struggling with the knowledge of his coming death and the need to prepare his friends to be alone. “How do I handle this? How do I say ‘goody-bye’ to my friends?”

There is no good way. Even Jesus seemed to be talking in riddles to the disciples. “In my father’s house are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you.” Now what does that mean?

When I look at the passage from John that I read earlier, I learn two things. First, that saying good-bye is very difficult. No matter that Lenore had a long and healthy life right up to the past few months. We are grieved and the world seems unjust—even Jesus felt that way. Secondly, I learn from Jesus’ struggle to say good-bye to his friends that “it simply can’t be done.” Jesus, realizing that his disciples would never understand him, said it in the only way that makes any sense at all, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you may be also.” So, it’s not good-bye! This is the most absolutely amazing gift Jesus gave us and Lenore—the simple yet mind boggling conviction that there are no final good-byes. There is only “see you in the morning.” We thank God, even as we turn Lenore over to the dawn. We celebrate and thank God for the life and ministry of Lenore Caroline Rolf Lytle who will make heaven a far livelier and exciting place. Come on kids—let’s go camping.


  1. It would seem you are very much like her. What a wonderful and moving tribute.

  2. Sounds like a good funeral. Once again I am reminded how far advanced the USA was with colour photography than us early 60s Brits.

    1. My father would have appreciated that. He was a 24 ASA man himself.

  3. Hari OM
    Tremendous tribute...and agree with Delores about the chips not falling far from the tattie. The scene came alive here Joanne; love your writing! YAM xx

  4. Oh Joanne. I didn't know you had Stephanie's eulogy. Thank you. That day was such a blur. Michelle and I sat together and held each others hand and I remember very little what she said. I just remember being in awe that Stephanie put that together from listening to us talk about mom that day. I think both of us nuts didn't fall far from the tree...

  5. Wonderful funeral and your mom had the greatest smile in that picture.

  6. I can feel the chaos and the calm of the day,and the love, very moving.

    what is the plant at the top, witch hazel ?

    1. I shot straight up in the air through the maple tree.

  7. Joanne that was such a great blog post, thank you for sharing. Thank you too for your comment on my blog - 'see you in the morning.'

  8. Thank you for sharing a precious piece of history with us.
    Jane x

  9. What a wonderful, wonderful tribute and post. And what a wonderful mother. Your apple hasn't rolled far from that tree. Do you still see Stephanie? I hope so.
    Thank you so much.

  10. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  11. I did not realize that it was hard even for Jesus to say Good Bye. I am always learning something.

  12. Very nice tribute. I have never been to a funeral with an interpreter for the deaf. Nice to have a memory of it like this one.

  13. Beautiful tribute. I love that photo (1960) of your parents. Your header is gorgeous, Joanne.

  14. Thanks for sharing this about your mom's funeral and the eulogy shared by her friend; I love to watch sign language so I would have been watching that with my eyes as my ears listened to the words. I learned about your mom, thanks for sharing her with us here, and I can see that taught you (and you learned and remembered them) many valuable lessons on how to do life, which I am sure you are passing on to your three grandchildren who now live with you.


  15. What a wonderful tribute to someone you love. I agree with the others, you must be so much like your mother.

  16. I've heard many a eulogy where it was obvious the person speaking did not know the deceased. Your mother must have been a fine woman.

  17. What a remarkable funeral. I love Stephanie's eulogy. Your mother was clearly much loved.

  18. A wonderful funeral story. Most folks don't think to write a story about the funeral of a loved one -- this will become a legacy writing for your family. -- barbara

  19. How very loved she was and is.


  20. I feel I am almost funeral -ed out

  21. Oh, Joanne! Lenore was much loved by all who knew her, especially her family. This is such a tender recounting of your mother.

    You have me choking up.

  22. This was the first time I had seen a service signed..I remember listening to Stephanie but watching the signing. Cara and I did not attend the party afterwards.Out trip from New York state was two-fold. To attend the funeral of the mother of very good friends and then to return to our original property in Eastllake, Ohio to put my husband's ashes into Lake Erie. (he had died the previous December). How often we recalled that God had need of TWO fine hand weavers!! Our trip back to NYS after the funeral and cold bitter day caught us off guard and had so much snow we couldn't find our driveway.God must have put Lenore and Dick in charge of that day. Sad, but so memorable. Isn't that what it is all about-memories.

  23. A moving piece - especially for me to read as later today I am going to a funeral as well. In my case it is someone who I never met, but who was the mother of a close friend. It provides an opportunity not just to remember her, but all those we have known who have died.

  24. A fine send-off for a fine person. I think a funeral is not just a sign of respect for the deceased but a rare chance for family to re-connect. Sometimes weddings and funerals are the only times a family gets together. The increasingly common practice of "no funeral service" is both easier and harder for the family, I think. Easier as in "less work, less expense" but harder because there is not the sense of finality or closure or close support. A good funeral on the other hand has all those, plus the detailed remembering of a loved one.