Two of my recent postings have been essentially eulogies in memory of my undergraduate alma maters (almae matres?), now both tragically gone. I have been wrestling for some time with whether or not to complete the circle in a rather more personal fashion: to post the eulogies that I was privileged to deliver at my family’s request at the funerals of my mother in 2010 and of my father in 2013. On the one hand, they are necessarily common. I certainly would not want to claim that there is anything unique about my losing parents as opposed to anyone else doing so. On the other hand, they were MY parents, two unique children of God, and this is MY blog. Enough of my readers are personal friends (and even family) that there may be some use in sharing my reflections on those occasions, if only to give this form of immortality to two people whom God was good enough to first allow to bear me (and my siblings) and then to raise us.
This entry will therefore be on the long side, as my blog entries go. If it is not of interest to the reader, please feel no opprobrium in skipping it. What follows is first my remarks at my mother’s funeral, then those at my father’s.
PERSONAL REMEMBRANCE AT FUNERAL OF
DORIS ELAINE HARDER HEIDER
ON WEDNESDAY, 11 AUGUST 2010,
AT SAINT PAUL LUTHERAN CHURCH, ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND,
BY GEORGE CHARLES HEIDER III
ON BEHALF OF THE FAMILY
First, a few specific words of thanks are in order. Pastor Liersemann, both for your years of ministry to our parents and especially for your care for our family over the last few days, including your powerful Gospel proclamation at this service: thank you. Pastor Hatcher, to you and the members of St. Paul, Annapolis, thank you for your hospitality today. This is a homecoming in more ways than one. In that front pew, I and my sister and my brother sat on our confirmation days. There in the aisle I sat for my ordination. There also in the aisle Laura stood for her wedding. We feel very much welcomed home, as we celebrate our mother’s homegoing.
In addition, we want to acknowledge with thanks our Uncle Bob, my mother’s brother. You faithfully came and read to Mom the stories of your father and mother, and she treasured those times. We thank you. To our Cousin Ernie Clayton who did so much for both of our parents, taking them to appointments when we could not be here, thank you.
And thanks to all of you who joined us in this service today. Pastors have long observed that one of the downsides of dying at a relatively advanced age is that there are few around to mourn our passing. Thank you for giving the lie to that old saying by your presence.
One of the wisest of my colleagues at Valparaiso University likes to say that we spend our entire lives, especially as we worship, practicing for what we are doing today. We need to know our lines and our parts, both when it comes our time to pass through death ourselves and when we accompany others on their final journey. Today the rehearsals are over. This is the performance.
My mother practiced for this day all her life. Just as importantly, she coached others, especially her children. We three children received many gifts from my father, including his modeling the life of loving husband and father, but it was for us as for so many our mother who was our first Sunday School teacher and teacher of the Christian faith and, more broadly, our comfort and counselor from our earliest age. Each one of us could give specific examples; I’ll offer but a few from my own life:
● It was she to whom I took my tears in late elementary school, when I lost the election for the thing I wanted most in the world—to be captain of the Safety Patrol—by one vote.
● It was she who got me through that first hard year of football in ninth grade at Southern High School by taking me each day after practice for a snow cone.
● It was she who wrote letters to me at college—yes, in the days long before e-mail.
● It was she who gasped at Christmas in 1977, when I mentioned on the phone that I’d given the girl I’d been dating for three months—now my wife of 31 years—a ring for Christmas. It was a nice silver ring with a Christian symbol on it; only the gasp clued me in that she thought it was a different kind of ring.
● It was she who flew out to Nebraska to help at the birth of our first child.
My stories could continue, and my siblings could add their own.
My mother lived for her family, her church, and in service of others. She was never so happy as at the family reunions that we held in recent years. She was a constant volunteer, such as in the library at my brother, Bob’s, elementary school, Carrie Weedon in Galesville. She is as responsible as anyone for my choice of an academic life, as an exemplar of an inveterate reader, whose intellectual curiosity encouraged asking hard questions and who loved knowledge, but not for its own sake so much as for the sake of others.
Her recent years have been hard, but blessed. In 1999 she was diagnosed with a cancer that kills you in three years. Do the math: the last eight years have been pure gift. She took an unending interest and pride in her children and grandchildren. On the last day of her life she expressed appreciation for the care rendered her by the staff at the Hospice of the Chesapeake. And she was much beloved by those who gave her care at Ginger Cove. It was to us kids and especially our father that she reserved her constant pleas to “get me out of here,” when we placed her in the health care facility. As one of the staff said upon learning of her death, at long last she’s not interested in “get me out of here” or “take me home.” She is home.
I’ll take a risk here, Dad, and mention that one of your pet names for Mom was “Hanover.” I hope that’s OK, but it’s too late now, regardless. Anyway, my daughter reminded me that Hanover is, in fact, a very distinguished name. It was the family name of the Germans who were invited to take the English crown and, sure enough, they gave the world a George I, George II, and George III. I hesitate to pursue this comparison any further, as that George III was certifiably insane. In fact, however, the Hanover after whom my mother was named was a horse at a race that Dad and Mom attended before they had children.
In any event, she’s beaten us all to the finish line. She has fought the good fight. She has won the race. She wears the crown promised to all who persevere to the end. She is fully in Christ.
Good night, Mom. Sleep well. We’ll see you in the morning.
PERSONAL REMEMBRANCE OF GEORGE CHARLES HEIDER, JUNIOR,
BY GEORGE CHARLES HEIDER III
ON 4 JANUARY 2013
AT FIRST LUTHERAN CHURCH, HUNTINGTOWN, MARYLAND
My father used to remark regularly that he had two sons, both doctors: one, Robert, was here to bring you into the world, while the other, yours truly, would take you out. He said that with no little pride in us, of course, but also with just a touch of a reminder that we each had our place and so should not think too highly of ourselves. And for that we loved him.
To be sure, it was certain women who were at the center of my father’s life. When last he and I ever spoke, on Christmas Day, he reminded me that his own mother had died exactly fifty years before, on December 27th, 1962. As a man who prized symmetry above nearly all things, I’ve got to believe that Dad took special joy in leaving this world on the same day as his mother. Because even though she had been gone since he was 36, he clearly treasured every thought of her. Much the same was true of his big sister, Mildred; I know that the first time that I ever saw my father cry was at her funeral in 1993. My brother and I have long been aware that there was something very special between our dad and our sister, Laura. Who else could have pleaded with him from Maryland to California and back, “Daddy, can I get my ears pierced?”, and have gotten away with it (actually, I exaggerate: by Kansas, he had caved). Seriously, Bob and I are deeply grateful to you, Laura, for stepping up in recent years and making the lion’s share of the trips to Maryland to be first with both of our parents and then, for the past two years, with Dad. How fitting that he should have died in the comfort of anticipating that he would spend his last days in your home. Then, first, most, and above all, there was our mother, Doris, for whom his love was undying. I told him more than once since her passing that his greatest gift to her had been surviving her, and he agreed with me.
In so many ways, beginning with how he loved his mother, sister, daughter, and wife, Dad mentored me in the ways of being husband and father. He is the single most important reason that I became a pastor, not by ever once saying that I should, but at a far more fundamental level, by the way he respected and befriended those who were our pastors. As for his being a model husband, there was never a moment’s doubt in our home that our mother was the love of his life. To my own children, then, the next time we have one of those moments when I express affection for your mother, and you say, “Get a room,” you can thank Granddad. As for being a model father, there were obvious memory-creating father/son moments, such as when he bought tickets for us to see Maryland play basketball against then-invincible UCLA. But there were innumerable less obvious and even unintentional acts, of which I’ll offer but one example. When once he bought a brand new, red Toyota for that awful commute into Washington that allowed us to live on the water, he took me with him to the dealership to pick up the car. As we were leaving, he handed me the keys and told me to drive the car home. Recently, we bought a car that’s new to us, anyway, and my son was along. There was never a question in my mind as to who was going to drive that car home.
As the father of three children, Dad was scrupulously fair in his dealings with us. He loved us equally, but never identically. In fact, there was something almost Trinitarian about how he did so. The eldest was not the middle child, nor was the middle child the youngest, nor the youngest the eldest, yet all were fully his children, all fully loved. Anytime that a family system calls to mind the being of God, something’s going right.
In recent years, Dad entered that phase of life where he just liked to sit and talk and especially to tell stories. As a result, we children got to know him as adults relating to an adult. A friend of mine who lost his own father at a much younger age recently reminded me that my experience represents a necessary trade-off: the blessings of a long, mature acquaintance are now the cause of a powerful sense of loss of our companion and friend.
Yet even in that parting, Dad was teaching and modeling. He did not “go gentle into that good night”—no one who watched him endure nearly forty years of invasive medical procedures (for which we all thank God, to be sure) could think that he gave up without a long struggle. But neither did he “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He knew that the poet who had it right was not Dylan Thomas but John Donne: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”
So now our father enjoys what another friend of mine likes to call “God’s nearer presence.” Now he enjoys a well-deserved rest. Good night, Dad. We’ll see you in the morning.
REST ETERNAL GRANT THEM, O LORD, AND LET LIGHT PERPETUAL SHINE UPON THEM.