The Funeral

What makes a perfect funeral? Strong attendance, beautiful weather, meaningful music, a powerful program, an abundance of flowers and good food. Yesterday we had every bit of that.

As with any pre-planned event, there were moments of quiet drama leading up to it. For example, Louisa struggled to find something of her dad’s she could wear or display throughout the day as a testimony of her love for him. We didn’t accomplish that, much to her frustration.

As people entered the room at the funeral home, they could track Nate’s life on 14 poster boards full of photographs, arranged in chronological order. There were also enlargements scattered here and there, along with our wedding album. All of us were greeted with the scent of many flowers, and sunshine streamed through the windows. Crowds began arriving well before the start of the service, and at the stroke of noon, music filled the air.

Family members sat in the first several rows of seats, and I took one last look toward the back of the room just before we sat down. It was standing room only with extra chairs in the hallway, and as we began the service, folks were still arriving.

Planning the program had been easy, once we learned our former pastor, Colin Smith, was available and willing to deliver the meditation. A second pastor, Ted Olsen, agreed to MC the meeting, and our favorite accompanist was at the keyboard, assisted by a beautiful alto singer.

All seven children plus our two children-in-law stood side-by-side facing the audience as the service started. Adam prayed, and the four girls welcomed everyone with thank you’s for the unending loving care so many had shown us during the last whirlwind weeks. Then the four boys read the eulogy, written by Linnea. Several had difficulty but all pushed through their readings with courage. Nate would have loved it.

As I scanned the line-up of our kids, ages 19 through 36, my heart ached with deep love for each one. They were gaining in maturity by leaps and bounds as a result of these difficult weeks and the death of their father and father-in-law, because it’s during life’s crises that we grow.

Nate’s and my brother-in-law read parts of Psalm 103 from the Old Testament, and my brother read from 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, interspersed with Nate’s two favorite hymns: “Blessed Assurance” and “Beautiful Savior.” Pastor Colin delivered an effective message from Revelation 7 with five points highlighting what Nate was doing right now, four days after his death, in heaven. His powerful invitation for others to be sure they would one day join Nate there was an answer to my prayers.

After folks had filed past Nate’s casket giving us the chance to see each one who had attended, we got one last opportunity to look at the body of the man we loved. Standing there crying, there was only one thing to do: pray. My kids put their arms around me and each other as we thanked God for Nate’s life, for our family, for each person who came to celebrate his life and most of all for God himself, the one who’d been with us all the way through and who we knew would not leave us now.

As the casket was being carried out by our four sons, our son-in-law, Nate’s brother and a young man who was like a son to us, the funeral director handed me a small green velvet pouch. “His wedding ring,” he said.

I turned to Louisa standing nearby and said, “Here’s Papa’s ring. Would you keep it safe for me?” Finally she was “wearing” something extremely representative of her father, just as she’d hoped, and I saw the Lord’s tender touch in how and when this had occurred.

Since the cemetery was adjacent to the funeral home, our train of cars, though long, traveled only a matter of blocks. The unusually warm November day helped the cemetery service go well as Nate’s body was committed back to the earth. We each put a red rose on the casket, along with the seven pairs of white gloves worn by the pall bearers.

After the benediction, people hung around the grave site enjoying the sunshine and summery breezes. Although most leaves had already fallen, color was still evident in the mighty oaks nearby, and we all appreciated the beauty of the day. We waited to watch the casket being lowered into the ground until it hit bottom. In my mind, that was the moment when it was finished.

Driving to a local church for a lunch put together by dear friends, we feasted on fruit and salads, sandwiches and cake. Precious moments of conversation with those who stuck with us to this end were especially valuable.

The only thing missing was… Nate.

Isaiah wrote, “The Lord has anointed me to… bind up the brokenhearted… to comfort all that mourn… to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness… that the Lord might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)


Eulogy of Willard Nathan Nyman

(by Linnea Nyman Curington,

read at the funeral by the four brothers, November 7, 2009)


Willard Nathan Nyman, who we have always called Papa, was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on August 18th, 1945, to Willard and Lois Nyman. Four years later his brother Kenneth entered the family. Their father, a jewelry store owner, and mother, an elementary school teacher, instilled in their boys a strong work ethic and taught them the value of education. Papa loved being a student. In high school he was captain of the debate team and editor of the school newspaper.

From there he went on to Northwestern University, majoring in history with a minor in Russian, graduating in 1967. But Papa didn’t just get his degree. The things he learned became part of his identity. He was called by many friends a “walking encyclopedia”, able to recite historical dates and facts quickly off the top of his head. As for his Russian, he continued to practice the language, going through flashcards in his spare time and often announcing at the dinner table the Russian word for “peas” and “chicken” and anything else on the family menu that night.

Education and Career

After earning his undergraduate degree, my dad entered law school at the University of Illinois. The Vietnam War held America’s attention at that point, and Papa joined the military ROTC, entering officer’s candidate school as well. He also served in the active Army Reserves for eight years.

After graduating from the U of I in 1972, Papa began his career in the trust department at a Chicago bank before moving into a law practice with several other lawyers. He went on to develop his own law firm, which evolved into a real estate investment firm. For the past twenty years, my dad practiced law independently in the Loop, working alongside his brother-in-law Tom and a group of lawyers he came to know and love. He also served as a Police Commissioner in Prospect Heights from 1988 to 2009.


Papa loved to work, but his life was so much more than that. He was forever changed the day he met Margaret Johnson during his senior year at Northwestern. From their first meeting (on a blind date!), he knew she was the one he wanted for his wife. They were married at Moody Church on November 29th, 1969, and for the rest of his life our dad was devoted to his Margaret, our mom. Over the years he brought her countless bouquets of flowers, and it was a Nyman family joke that when it was time to buy something for her, he would do it in multiples. Whether it was a camera for Christmas or birthday jewelry, Papa would always give my mom at least two versions. Even when it came to milk from the grocery store, a request for one gallon always meant Papa would arrive home with two or three. He loved providing for her and taught by example that a husband should treasure his wife.


Our dad was also devoted to God. He became a member of Moody Church in 1969, faithfully attending every week for twenty years until he and my mom decided to attend church in the suburbs where the kids could attend mid-week activities. They became members of the Arlington Heights Evangelical Free Church (now called The Orchard Evangelical Free Church) in 1989. At Moody Church Papa was a high school sponsor and Sunday school teacher, rewarding scripture memorization with dollar bills. He continued teaching Sunday school at The Orchard, also enjoying the men’s retreats and his small group, which he liked to call his “Encouragement Group.” He also went with Josh McDowell on a mission trip to Russia to deliver shoes to children, using his Russian to communicate with the locals.


Papa’s goal was to be a good example, especially to his children. He worked hard to model integrity and faithfulness to all seven of us. He also wanted us to have fun – a LOT of fun. He was a master at organizing big outings to places like Great America and Chuck E. Cheese. Traditions were very important to him. Every Sunday after church he took our family out for brunch, usually at Granny Annie’s Pancake House. Each year during the holiday season he treated us to lunch at Marshall Fields downtown. Back before restaurants used pagers, he would stand in line for what was usually a two-hour table wait at the Walnut Room, holding everyone’s coats while we ran around and shopped.

Big vacations were another specialty. For years Papa took us to the north woods of Wisconsin every summer, hauling a trailer filled with motorcycles and go-carts behind the family station wagon. A Spring break trip to Sanibel Island, FL, was another favorite family tradition. So many of the photos displayed here today show our dad in his swimming suit, enjoying the water with all of us.

One of Papa’s favorite trips of all time was to a legendary place he’d been fascinated with for years. We all know how much he loved Elvis, and finally in 2005 he went with a few of us to Graceland. He liked it so much he went back again in 2007, this time taking his brother Ken along for the ride.

As his kids grew older and moved away from home, Papa made more of an effort to communicate with us. Never one to quickly embrace new technology, he instead chose to send each of his kids a weekly note. Every Sunday after church and lunch, he would sit down and write on an index card a brief update on life at the Nyman house. His horrible handwriting made reading the cards a challenge, but it was always worth the effort. The amount of information he included on those tiny index cards was remarkable. Just to prove it, I’ll read you a little sample. This was a card sent to me on August 13, 2006:

“Nels – Weez & Gitta in Covington, Louisiana for Katrina missionary work for a week. Thine mother provided ‘sufficient inspiration’ right up to the closing of the bus door. So left from AHEFC at 9:30pm on a sleeper bus for the 20 hour ride to Dixie. Today Jack the dog gets a shampoo and bath. Then he crawls under the evergreens in a hole he dug. So nice. Hans and Katy come in tomorrow at 1pm per a Saturday morning call. They don’t seem to think any big delays. They fly from Manchester to Chicago. We’ll see about the timing.Next weekend in Shorewood? Love, Papa.


Until this year, Papa led a healthy life, but on September 22nd, that changed. In a meeting with a panel of doctors, he and my mom learned that he had cancer, and not just cancer, but stage four, metastasized pancreatic cancer. The doctors were surprised to see him arrive for the meeting in a suit and tie, straight from a full day of work. From what they’d seen on paper, they’d assumed he’d show up in a wheel chair. Despite his pain, he’d been heading to the office faithfully every day, just as he always had. Quiet perseverance was always one of Papa’s defining characteristics.

Over the following 42 days, as Papa’s cancer spread and his pain level increased, he never complained. He accepted the reality of his diagnosis and bravely discussed his limited future and our future without him. Always a careful provider, he wanted to make sure he left everything in order for us. He stoically endured fourteen radiation treatments, each involving a 150-mile round trip from Michigan to Chicago. Family dinners had always been a highlight of his day, and he continued the tradition even when it was too painful for him to sit in a straight chair at the dining room table. Instead we would pull chairs up around his recliner. As the days passed, he ate less and less, but he still welcomed everyone to enjoy their dinner around him.

My mom has said many times over the last six weeks that God’s fingerprints have been all over these difficult circumstances, and Papa’s death proved the truth of her words. Many pancreatic cancer patients die in horrible pain, but our dad slept peacefully for twenty-four hours before simply taking one last quiet breath. All of his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren were in the house when it happened. And his wife, as always, was right by his side as he entered eternity, kissing his face while her tears streamed onto his cheeks. It was an awful, but beautiful moment – a painful goodbye, but another sweet testimony to God’s gentle care for Papa and the genuine love of our parents’ marriage. We are so blessed to have had Papa for our dad and we are grateful that God has promised a happy reunion again someday to all who believe in him.

The Wake

Walking into a funeral home is never easy. Walking into one with your husband in the casket is excruciating. Although Nate always said I would one day bury him rather than him burying me, the picture of that never formed in my mind’s eye. Today I saw what that looked like and felt the pain of it.

After driving the 90 minutes from Michigan, several of us entered the room together. Not wanting to arrive at the front too soon, we lingered to read the cards attached to beautiful floral arrangements. Waiting for us at the end of that line was the casket with Nate lying in it, cold as ice and still as stone. As we approached, I could feel myself getting nervous, shaking as if a shaft of cold air had whooshed into the room.

I remember seeing my dad in his casket, looking as if he was taking a nap. Mom looked natural, too, outfitted in a silk dress like she was on her way to a party. Today Nate didn’t look good. Although I’ve always thought he was handsome, today he looked worn, like a warrior who’d fought a battle and lost. And of course he had. The angle of his chin and set of his mouth made him look like somebody else. Only by standing to the side and looking from the top of his head did he resemble my Nate.

But what did I expect? The cancer had  eaten him up and he hadn’t looked good for several weeks. How would dying of a ravenous disease and being placed in a casket ever improve his appearance? Even so, something in me wanted him to look handsome for his public.

Once we’d done the hard work of “the viewing,” we turned from the dead to the living. Streams of people began entering the room to greet us, each one sharing comments and stories about Nate. I learned things I never knew about him, even after 40 years of marriage. I met some of his clients, all of whom expressed gratitude for Nate’s patience with them and the legal tutoring he’d provided along the way. Apparently he sometimes did more than that, too. One lawyer said, “When I started my practice, Nate gave me a check to help me get going.” I hadn’t known.

Others described his contribution to our former community as a police commissioner, and the police chief himself gifted us with a uniform patch “to put in the casket with him, if you want.” Nate had been a commissioner for 20 years and had been one of three who had hired the chief. He expressed his gratitude for the job and appreciation for the friendship that had developed with Nate.

I talked with some of his former Sunday School students and a few of his small group members. Many of our children’s pals were in line too, along with their parents, some of whom I’d never met. Friends of ours from 25 years ago were there, reminding me of the fun of those days long ago when we were raising young children together. The security guard from Nate’s office building told me how much she’d loved him and learned from him.

Both sets of parents of our children-in-law came to town for the weekend, one couple from Florida, the other from England. Suffering from jet lag after a long travel day today, they smiled and told me, “We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

A pattern emerged. Nate had made friends all along life’s way, even with lawyers who’d opposed him. When personal opinions differed, he somehow managed to set those aside and connect with people on a different level.

Several parents from our kids’ high school came through the line, as well as the school nurse and those leading the music program Birgitta had been in. The variety of greeters astounded me. We were still chatting with people 90 minutes after our allotted time at the funeral home, but the staff graciously let us use their facility until each person had been through the line.

Although my feet hurt and my stomach growled, it was nourishing to hear accolades and stories about my husband. Many of those in the receiving line had tears in their eyes when talking of how much they appreciated and missed Nate. Somehow hearing how he was loved made me feel loved, too.

Tomorrow will be another full day as we attend Nate’s funeral and then caravan to the cemetery. Although I dread the finality of burying his body, I eagerly look forward to talking with additional friends who will be there. Any friend of Nate’s is a friend of mine.

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” (1 John 4:7,9,11)