Our church had two funerals in the last five days for two very different men. Or were they so different? Both men impacted the life of our church and the lives of the people of the church. Both cared for us in their own ways. Both are blessings to have known.
Last week we held a funeral for Frank. I guessed his age between 45 and 70. He was right about in the middle. He was a man who had a number of mental health and physical issues. To me, he appeared homeless, but he wasn’t. He had little to live on, but he made the most of it. He could be rude, but his heart was in the right place. He asked a million questions and then asked them all over again and again, but he was listening. He listened more than he spoke, but I didn’t know it until now that he’s gone.
Frank knew us. He knew who we spent the most time with. He knew what we liked to eat and activities we liked to do. He knew our health concerns. This man often came across as confused because he would mix up our names and repeated his questions countless times, but he was paying attention.
So far as I know, Frank never rode the elevator. I saw him put items on it to go down to the Free Store, but he would go around and take the stairs. We found out the hard way that if we push the help button on the elevator and help comes, it’s a huge bill for the church. If we can find help in another way, we’d prefer to do so. So far, the button has only been pushed when other options were available or on accident. At last year’s church Bazaar, Frank came running to me and said, “some lady just pushed that button we’re never supposed to touch on the elevator!” Because he got help right away, we were able to divert the emergency assistance that was not needed because the button was pushed on accident. Yet Frank didn’t use the elevator … he knew because he was listening to us.
Frank was at the church daily. Sometimes it seemed he was under foot. Yet he often offered to help carry things for us. He loved coffee first thing in the morning, and many people made sure he had access to those first few cups of that morning elixir. He brought chocolates and doughnuts for birthdays and after worship gatherings. He badgered many for rides to purchase and turn in lottery tickets. He would bring hot dogs and pizza for meetings and activities. He gave us things he thought we’d like because he was listening to our likes and dislikes. He had little, and he shared much.
Frank started coming to Sunnyside about five or six years ago. At first, he stayed out doors on the bench and smoked his cigarettes. Over time, he came in to shop at the Free Store or to use the Loaves & Fishes food pantry. Eventually he was a volunteer at the Free Store. In the last couple of years, he would sometimes join us in worship on a Sunday morning. He found that we welcomed him, even when we didn’t want to. He found that he had a place, and we knew his name. He found that when he was away, we asked where he’d been. We have come to miss him when he’s not present.
I don’t know more about Frank because he was always asking us 100’s of questions about us or the activities of the church, and it was so exhausting that we didn’t get around to asking about Frank. Sometimes, we’d be honored with a story about him. Only in the last few months did I learn he was once married, and he didn’t often have kind words for her. But recently he shared some kind words about his ex-wife and a story or two. He opened up. Frank had become one of us.
Then there’s Vern. Vern was in his late 80’s and had surpassed his expiration date several times. He and his family have had ties to the church for decades. He was a well respected elder, and there remains much love for this kindest of men. Vern made it easy to respect him with his constant joy no matter his pains or difficulty breathing. The only thing that annoyed me about Vern was that he could find the good in any situation. You couldn’t complain to him for long, because he’d find a way to make you smile and even laugh.
I’ve gone to this church since I was a small child. Vern was there long before me. He was one of the many people at Sunnyside I looked up to and have attempted to emulate. This was true for many who knew him. He was a polio survivor and strongly encouraged parents to immunize their children. If he didn’t feel well, and you asked after his health, he would say, “I’m vertical.” He wanted a better world for everyone in his life, and he made it better with his constant and genuine positive outlook.
For decades he was a member of the church choir. Music brought him comfort and joy. Our church is blessed with numerous musicians who share their talents in the form of music therapy. Vern was glad to share their company and sing with them in these last few years. He even enjoyed not only the old, standard hymns, but also the newer music our younger musicians are bringing to the church. He knew beauty when he heard it, saw it, and lived it … and he made this world a beautiful place.
Vern was a staple at Sunnyside. When he wasn’t there, people asked after him. And in these last few years, he missed much. Yet the man bounced back from needing hospice care at least twice. He was a genuine survivor throughout his life on numerous occasions. Each time, he believed that God needed him still to share Christ’s amazing grace. And that he did without fail.
He found love twice, and we were blessed by the presence of these women at Sunnyside. He was married to his first wife for over four decades, and they brought each other much delight. She was sick in the end, and he cared for her with ceaseless kindness. A few years after her passing, he fell for his second wife. When they married, it was a ceremony during worship and they danced down the isle after their nuptials and provided a reception for all that included a disco ball and special lighting. She is now surrounded by our love as she grieves.
Vern was vital to our longevity as a longstanding member who helped to keep Sunnyside moving forward through the decades. Frank was vital to our longevity because he taught us to find kindness in unexpected places. Both men taught us to love as Christ loved. Both believed in us when we may not have believed in ourselves. Both men cared for us whether we noticed it or not. Both are now in the loving hands of God with no more pain in any way. We on earth grieve the loss of this remarkable men.
Moral of the Story: God gives us love in the form of people we meet in our journey. Sometimes those people vary greatly from one another, but the message is the same. Love One Another!