Kept the Faith

A few weeks ago my wife’s Nana died, and Kathy flew to Texas to attend the funeral. At the age of 87, Nana’s death was not unexpected, yet in a strange way we were surprised by the suddenness of the end. It reminded me, in an irreverent way, of a scene in the movie Fletch, in which the character played by Chevy Chase pretends to have known an elderly man who has recently died:

Doctor: “You know, it’s a shame about Ed.”
Fletch: [hesitantly -- has no idea who Ed is] “Oh, it was — yeah, it was really a shame. To go so suddenly like that.”
Doctor: [casually] “He was dying for years.”
Fletch: [scrambling] “Sure, but, uh, the end was very, very sudden.”
Doctor: [surprised] “He was in intensive care for eight weeks!”
Fletch: [snaps irritably] “Yeah, but I mean the very end — when he actually died — that was extremely sudden.”

Some of us expected Ida May to pass away some years ago, yet she held on to life in spite of her own vocally-expressed desire. Having lost her beloved husband in 1991, Nana wanted nothing better than to go to sleep one night and wake up in the presence of the Lord, and to “play on those golden streets with Jim Clarence”.

Nana had lived in Rochester, Minneapolis for much of her married life, but retired to Fort Clark, Texas, some years after her husband’s death. I think we were all a little surprised at the impact she made in that community in such a short time, particularly in light of her limited mobility and hearing ability.

David and Nana, 2001

I didn’t know Nana very well, and I knew her only in the twilight of her life, but there are a few things that I can offer in tribute, in no particular order:

  • She was generous. Over the latter portion of her life, she distributed lump sums of her wealth to her children and grandchildren, helping many with the purchase of homes and substantially easing financial strain. She frequently bore the cost of travel and accommodations for those willing to visit her in Texas, and was always ready to help with tuition costs for a variety of degrees among her grandchildren. She routinely gave away her cars to family members who needed them and was often eager to help out with unexpected expenses.
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    Daniel, Nana and David, 2004

  • She was opinionated. One of the things she liked to do best was to argue … not in a hostile manner, but in a calm, measured exchange of ideas. Her years of experience and depth of scriptural knowledge made her a worthy adversary on nearly any topic, and she really seemed to enjoy the thrust and parry of an intellectual discussion. One of the things I learned from Nana’s example is that it is possible to sharply disagree with someone on an important matter, yet still communicate love for that person.
  • She loved the Lord. Throughout her life, Nana remained committed to loving Jesus, relentlessly studying the Bible and faithfully serving the Church. She attended adult Sunday School and helped to start Bible Studies, even though her loss of hearing made it difficult. Nana was not shy about evangelism and cheerfully would talk about Jesus even with family members who did not believe. You could not be around Nana for very long before you would hear the name of Jesus on her lips … over the course of her life she accumulated a large store of spiritual wisdom and a calm assurance in her place in Christ.
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    Rachel and Nana, 2002

  • She loved her family. Nana used to sign her letters and e-mails, “You are all my favorites.” She would seize on anything unique about each of us so that she could truthfully say (as she did to me), “Dear Favorite Grandson-in-Law” (since I am the husband of her only grand-daughter). Somehow those humorous words had power, and she made me feel as though I really was especially loved.
  • She was committed to marriage. She passionately believed that the job of each married person is to make their spouse happy, and she loved to give advice about building a good marriage (although it made her sad, after Jim Clarence had died). After many years of practice and discussion, she and Grandaddy came up with Cain’s Axioms of Marriage, shown below:
    1. Vocally and frequently declare your love.
    2. Make your spouse happy — this is your most important job and function in life!
    3. Never even look at another man or woman.
    4. Never do anything that you anticipate will be fun without including your spouse.
    5. Plan and do extra and unexpected things.
    6. If away from home, contact your spouse every day.
    7. Beware criticism of your spouse.
    8. Eschew gossip and unilateral advice.
    9. Plan and arrange time alone with your spouse.
    10. Beware “money” problems.
    11. Never compete with your spouse.
    12. Go to the same church — go regularly.
    13. Read the Bible and pray together each night.
  • She exercised self control. Although she, like many of us, struggled with her weight throughout her life, she gained some measure of victory over her body and kept faithfully to a healthy lifestyle in her last years. She swam every day when her health permitted. Many visitors will remember the thick brown bread she made and ate … yet she also knew how to enjoy a Dairy Queen blizzard from time to time. She had a strong will and knew how to apply it.
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    Nana and Sarah, 2003

  • She was a faithful communicator. Where many her age would not take the trouble to master e-mail or other advantages of modern technology, Nana learned to use e-mail early on and helped to found the ‘E-Mail Family’ (EMF). I remember teaching a week-long computer class (complete with T-Shirts) in our basement in Michigan for her and Mamie and Aunt Kate about ten years ago … Nana made such things a priority. Each morning Nana would retrieve her mail and would send out responses to yesterday’s mail, sharing her love and wisdom to her scattered friends and family. Over time the EMF grew to include a number of friends and forged a close bond among its members … it lives on as a sort of legacy to Nana.
  • She was kind. Although we inevitably disturbed her tranquility when we would visit, I never heard her speak a harsh word to any of my horde of children. She was always very affirming in the things she would say about our family, and even her rebukes were tempered with gentleness.
  • She knew how to laugh and to enjoy life. In spite of the pain of her body and her failing health, Nana lived with gusto and joy, laughing and chuckling over the antics of her great grandchildren and participating in the witty banter around the card table. Some of my best memories of Nana are of sitting at her kitchen table in Fort Clark and playing “Seven Ups and Downs” (a simple card game) with others in the family. Nana’s acerbic wit and extensive vocabulary made discourse with her a pleasure to be savored.
  • I loved her. Nana and I disagreed on a lot of things, especially in the political and social arenas … but somehow she managed to make me feel as though she still liked me, even if I was a brash young punk who didn’t know what I was talking about.

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    Cindy, Nana and Kathy, 2004

    And now Nana is with the Lord, and I can’t help feeling a little jealous. Like Paul, Nana could say:

    “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day … and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” II Timothy 4:7-8

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