(On Sunday morning, my family lost our dear mom and grandmother, Betty Gibson. Below is the eulogy I wrote for her funeral.)
Today, we gather to say goodbye to our dear mother, grandmother, and friend, Betty Ruth Wilson Gibson. Today is a hard day because "Mother," "Granny," or "Betty" loved us all. For many of us in this room, she changed our diapers, she provided us hugs, she made us grits, crafted many of the quilts that cover our beds, and constantly reminded us to follow the Lord. We have all sat with her in her quilting room as she told stories, sang songs, and counseled us. We have laughed with her, cried with her, and a few of us have even quilted with her. And, even though we know that she is with the Lord, we still grieve her passing because she meant so much to us.
There are many things we could say about our mom, grandmother, and friend. And while time does not allow us to tell all the stories, I will always remember the way she would look up at a person and grin after she told a truth or story. I remember when my cousin Shane lost a girlfriend and she started singing to him with her trance-like voice, "There are so many more fishes in the sea." Shane rolled his eyes, but granny looked up, smiled at Shane, and said, "You'll know what I mean." I remember Granny and Pap enthusiastically handing out Christmas presents to each of us on Christmas Eve and as we opened each present, Granny would be flashing her famous grin as if to say, "See how much I love you." I remember the smile that would light up Granny's face as she would hold a great-grandchild and for a moment, that great-grandchild, would be her sole focus. Many of us would find ourselves in Granny's presence when we were hurting or confused. She would sit, listen, and then speak words to us that always included following Jesus. Her words were followed by loving eyes and a caring smile.
Granny was proud of her family. She was proud of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We all know that because she would tell us. But, most of all, Granny was deeply devoted to the love of her life, "Paul," "Dad," or "Pap." There was seldom a revival or singing school that Pap would lead when Granny could not be found too far behind him. She would always sit in the pew, watch Pap teach, and hum along to whatever song was being played. Paul and Betty would fuss at each other and some of the bickering was, at times, hilarious. I can still hear her call, "Paul" and he would follow back with "What is it, Betty?" I will always remember them standing next to their kitchen table, embraced in a loving embrace. Granny loved Pap.
When I think of Granny, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy:
I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Timothy 1:3-5 NIV)
"Granny was our Lois or our Eunice. She cared for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, making sure that we all followed Jesus in a "sincere faith." And for Granny's influence, we are forever thankful.
We could very easily be tempted to turn today into a day of mourning. Instead, I think we should turn today into a day of celebration. This is not a funeral; this is a going home celebration. Granny does not hurt anymore. Granny can once again walk with her daughter, Sharon. Granny is no doubt grinning, holding her two grandchildren, Devonya, and Gary Jr. She's probably also sitting next to her sister, Sadie, quilting a quilt. Granny, who so many times prayed for us, is now looking at Jesus face-to-face, asking him to watch over us. We gather today to grieve. Granny will be missed. But we also gather today to celebrate. Granny, we love you.
I am extremely thankful for my seminary experience. My short time at SBTS along with my three years at Bethel Seminary provided me expansive theology and practical leadership training. I left Bethel with a very clear understanding of what I believed and what I'd be willing to fight for. However, no matter how comprehensive the education, there are always gaps an eager learner must look to fill or life itself will eventually be the teacher. Two weeks ago, life taught me one of those lessons that I didn't learn in seminary.
The lesson? Grief is exhausting.
Grief is necessary. Grief is natural. Grief is painful. Unprocessed grief is even more painful. Processed grief can lead to closure and healing. Processing grief is, well, a process. Grief cannot be rushed, but it can't be stomped down either. If a person does not grieve in appropriate ways, withdrawal and depression can be a person's master. Trust me, I have seen unprocessed grief in others and in my own soul. I have seen people succumb to panic attacks and depression due to unprocessed grief. But, I have also seen families heal and move on in holy ways when grief is handled appropriately. The hard part is that grieving takes time and...It is exhausting.
Two weeks ago, our community lost someone who was beautiful, impacting, and down-right fun. The grief was over-whelming. I was asked to help many, including the family, handle the difficult time of saying goodbye. The process started early on Monday morning and did not stop until late on Thursday night. I did not feel overwhelmed at the time of helping because I was propelled on by doing what I thought was right. I was doing what I thought Jesus would do. After all, I was only helping the family and community process grief. I was not the one grieving. Why would I have to worry about grief's impact on me?
On Friday morning, after all the initial grieving by friends, family, and the community, I woke up COMPLETELY DRAINED. And, I still had a sermon to write and a HarvestFest event to help our church host. Why was I so drained? Why did I feel like I had just been in an emotional heavy weight fight? I wish I would have known that grief is exhausting.
I once heard a therapist named Diane Langberg state that a counselor's job is to go where Jesus went; into the tombs, expecting a resurrection. Langberg then proceeded to point out that pastors, counselors, and therapists encounter people when they are in the "tombs" of life; they are suffering or grieving and death is or has been in the vacinity. Langberg stated that "tomb work" can be exhausting and then she pointed out that Jesus often withdrew to be alone and pray. For Jesus, handling grief and doing "tomb work" was exhausting. If grief was exhausting for Jesus, experiencing or interacting with grief will be exhausting for all of us.
Below is what I recently learned while interacting with grief: 1. Grief is exhausting. 2. "Tomb work" is exhausting. 3. The power of a small community cannot be appropriately measured. 4. Everyone who deals with grief must, like Jesus, withdrawal to lonely places and pray in order to rest, heal, and engage with God, who brings hope and resurrection to lonely, dark, "tomb-like" places. Lastly, if you find yourself in a grieving state, please do not rush or avoid the process. You are most likely grieving because your lost loved one is worth the grief. So, do your best to honor and love that person by grieving and grieving well.
(Need help processing grief? Check out the book titled, A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser, look into a grief processing workshop at your local church or community center, or contact HBC at 270-756-5230.)
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.