Last Sunday, June 23, 2019, my paternal grandmother Dorothy died. She had spent two weeks in the loving and tender care of Hospice following a massive stroke. She was 93-years-old, which was, truth be told, a bit on the young side for her long-lived family. I was in the Holy Land during most of her time in Hospice, and thanks to the wonder of the internet, a FaceTime call put me in the room with her from halfway across the world. My father said that she visibly brightened when she heard my voice, though by that point she could not talk. She could barely squeeze a hand. I lit a candle for her in the “upper room” in the Old City, a peaceful place that beckoned prayer. The tears I shed for her watered the dusty ground of Jerusalem.
Today’s sabbatical notes are an example of what I often invite family members to do at the funerals of their loved ones. The Episcopal Burial Office does not include a eulogy. The rubrics (that is, the interstitial directions found in the various liturgies) allow for “a homily by the Celebrant, or a member of the family, or a friend.” As the Celebrant, I offer this homily at every funeral over which I preside. But before I preach, I offer time for one to three family members or friends to preface the homily with their memories.
During the planning process, when people express their desire to speak at the service, I counsel them to think of a single memory that expresses their relationships with their loved one who died. A wide-ranging biographical eulogy tells us what we already know about the person (which is really the responsibility of the obituary), but a personal remembrance can shine a light on the deep connection that we have with one another within the ever-weaving love of God. The funeral is a celebration of the Resurrection, which reminds us that our deceased loved ones are still woven into this love despite being gone from our sight.
Here is my remembrance for Dorothy Thomas, my grandmother.
I don’t have any milk and cookies memories of my grandmother. Unlike my cousins, I spent my childhood a long airplane ride away from where she lived in San Diego, California. She moved to North Carolina when I was in my teens, and I saw her a little more then, but still nowhere close to frequently. We went white-water rafting together once when she was in her late-70s, but that’s not the memory I’d like to share.
My remembrance is filled with deep gratitude for Dorothy Thomas. I’m not sure she ever knew how important she is for the trajectory of my adult life. Without her steadfast interest in my writing, this website, which is now eleven years old, would not exist. I would never have written my books. I would not have the web presence that convinced my mother-in-law in the days after I met her daughter that I really was a pastor (though, honestly, who would make that up to try to score a second date).
WheretheWind.com has been a part of me since the week before I was ordained to the priesthood. And its all because of my grandmother Dorothy.
I started the site following seminary on the suggestion of my thesis advisor. A blog would do two things, he said: (1) keep you writing and (2) build you an audience, which is the only thing publishers look for these days. I knew I needed to keep writing; after all, writing is on the same list as breathing and eating for me. I need it to stay alive. I was less enthusiastic about the second reason, but that’s the way the game is played now. You could be the most brilliant undiscovered talent in the world, but if you don’t have a measurable following online, your manuscript will still go in the bin at the publishing house.
So what’s this have to do with my grandmother? Well, for the first year of WheretheWind.com, I was writing every week. Sometimes multiple times a week. I would stuff my missives into empty bottles and set them afloat on the vast ocean of the internet. And the void swallowed them with little to no response. After a few months, I considered shutting it down. What was the point of what by then felt like a glorified vanity project? I threw myself a little pity party (I’m good at those) and resolved to shutter WheretheWind.com as a failed experiment, killed by my lack of patience.
But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it for one simple reason. My grandmother Dorothy read every word I put up on the blasted thing. By then she was having a hard time getting to church, so she considered my website to be her main connection to it. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the words I wrote became for her the words of life – sustenance for her journey as they were for my own. She may have been my only constant reader, but she was more than enough. For those first few years, I wrote WheretheWind.com for my grandmother and for her alone.
Over a decade on, I wouldn’t say that WheretheWind.com has gone viral or anything, but it has faithful readers. It brought me to the attention of my publisher. It gave my mother-in-law something to find when she googled me. And it continues to be a source of meaning for my own journey in faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. And for all of this, I have one person to offer my gratitude, a person who blessed me with her steadfast commitment and unwavering love.
Thank you, Grandma. I love you very much. Rest in peace and rise in glory.