Not one of us escapes a ride in a hearse. As Pastor Erwin Lutzer says, “We’re all born with an expiration date.” Today I was poignantly reminded of that while attending the funeral of a beloved 87 year old friend. Although I knew there would be tears, at this funeral they would be shed through smiling eyes for two reasons: 1) this lady had lived a life that sparkled, and 2) there was no question she was now living in heaven.
Raye Jeanne was the kind of person whose entrance into a room could not be missed. She approached life with an eye to its blessings and looked for the positives in every situation. She loved people, friends and strangers alike, from a heart overflowing with compassion. Her smile was broad and her laugh contagious as she remained future-focused until the day she died.
Traveling the globe in her last years, Raye Jeanne left familiar places and creature comforts to experience foreign lands with strange foods and customs. Her sense of adventure was that of a child. As her children put it, she “grabbed life with both hands.”
Even her death was accomplished with flair. After lunching out with her daughter-in-law, the two of them visited the local grocery store where she conversed lovingly with a stranger in a wheelchair, asking his name, communicating caring. She also bargained with the manager to get the next day’s sale price on the bag of oranges she was buying that day.
Shortly after she put chocolate milk into her cart, they were on their way to the check-out when her body crumbled to the floor. Her heart had stopped without warning or pain. Her daughter-in-law, store personnel, paramedics and a surgeon made valiant efforts to save her, but Raye Jeanne’s expiration date had arrived.
Today’s funeral was a lively celebration of her very full, widely influential life. This morning while dressing, I’d wondered if Nate’s recent death and our funeral for him would come rushing back to me in a way that would cause anguish. I needn’t have worried. The minute we stepped into the funeral home, the mood was ebullient, a reflection of Raye Jeanne. One son read a spirited eulogy, another told of his recent trip with her to Jerusalem. No speech was without points of humor, and all of us chuckled while honoring her memory.
How is it possible to laugh heartily at a funeral? There’s only one reason, and it’s our sure knowledge that she’s in a much better place today than she was in her life on earth. Her family knows the separation is only temporary and that they’ll be reunited with her in the presence of Jesus Christ one day. This awareness makes today’s goodbyes easier.
When I approached the casket, Raye Jeanne’s eleven year old grandson Michael was standing as close as he could get to his Granny. “What are you thinking, Michael?” I asked.
“It doesn’t seem like her because she’s not smiling,” he said, picking up her lifeless hand and lovingly stroking it. “And she’s cold.”
His honest response was recognition that the Granny he knew was no longer there. But Michael is confident he’ll see her smile at him again later, so he doesn’t despair.
The pastor detailed the difference between funerals he’s performed at which the mourners aren’t sure what happens after death and funerals like Raye Jeanne’s where mourners are confident of heaven. One group clings to the body and life on earth. The other clings to Christ and life in heaven. Scripture talks about those who have no hope when a loved one dies and those who grieve in a different way because they have hope that life after death is superior to life before it.
Christ is the doorway to that life, the doorway to God. He says it himself in Scripture (John 10:9) and makes it easy for anyone to walk through it. Raye Jeanne accepted this truth while on earth, and because of that, on Thursday of last week, she stepped into an eternity of total bliss.
“Jesus said… ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’.” (John 14:6)