Eulogy for Judy Holloway
22 March 2017
By Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
Based on Psalm 121, Isaiah 25:6-9, and Matthew 11:28-30
I told Judy this story after she shared the diagnosis of being clean from leukemia. The day she first told me of her leukemia, I immediately prayed “O crap. God, you need to do something, because this is a funeral I do not want to officiate.”
Let me be clear: there’s no funeral I want to officiate. With every death, there is a loss to the universe, the loss of a unique expression of what it means to be made in the image of God, what it means to bear the image of God into the universe and demonstrate what it means to be a child of God. Some of us do that with more grace, with more ease than others of us. Some of us share the image of God more naturally than others. Some of us are able to accept the responsibility of being God’s hands and feet for the world. Judy was one of those spirits who shared God’s care naturally, someone for whom the daily yoke of Christ was easy.
She bravely faced and then overcame the leukemia, and yet we are here at her funeral, and here I am officiating. Because even though we are made in God’s image, we are not made immortal. We are made with vulnerable bodies that change and weaken over time. We are made with of this corruptible matter that is constantly battling to remain organized. We are a bunch of miraculous and intricate biological systems that at some point don’t work together well.
And even though Judy’s physiological systems were unable to sustain her, her spirit remained strong. The last time I spoke with her, she asked for prayer. You see, the first time I visited her I did not pray. The second time I visited her, she gave me “the look” and said, “You left last time without praying.” “Yes,” I said, “because you did not ask.” “Well, I am asking this time.” So, the last time I spoke with her, she asked for prayer – for herself, for her physicians, for her family – and then for people at Lyonsville that she knew were also ill.
And she said she was praying for me. I suppose that is an important reason why I wanted to delay arriving at her funeral: I did not want to lose a dear woman who I knew has praying for me even as she was facing numerous health problems.
I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?
My help comes from the creator of heaven and earth.
and also from people like Judy.
As I departed the hospital that day, I found myself making a list of questions I wanted to ask Judy next time I visited her. I had done this before: I ‘d leave a conversation with her and list so many more things to talk about. In those summer days of isolation at home, I would return to her with questions about what she was missing about the lake house, what activities she was looking forward to when she could leave the house, what foods she was missing eating (fresh tomatoes and fresh corn on the cob and, of course, cheetoes.)
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people
a feast of rich food,
a feast of well-aged wines, of delightful foods filled with flavor.
But as I left the hospital that day, my list of questions for Judy were about prayer. How did she learn to pray? What was the first prayer she remembered offering? How has praying for others changed her relationships with people? Other than her leukemia, what prayers had been answered in her lifetime? How did she share her prayers with Chuck, with her children, with her grandchildren?
I did not get to ask those questions.
My next visit with Judy was very short. She was very uncomfortable. After about five minutes she asked me to leave because she needed a nurse. As I walked out the door I said I was praying for her and I would see her soon.
I did both of those – pray for her and see her soon –but I am not sure she was aware I was there. She was sleeping.
I think sleep is a holy time, especially when we are healing. I did not hold her hand or brush the hair from her face, because I did not want to wake her. I stood by her bed and prayed. And it was a familiar prayer: “God, you need to do something, because this is a funeral I do not want to officiate.”
There’s some things in ministry we have to do even though we do not want to do them. We have to find a way to love people who are broken by the world. In love, we have to challenge behaviors that disrupt love in the community. We have to say farewell when God calls us to new places of ministry. And we have to say goodbye when friends die. I watched Judy do all of those things with graciousness. She was a great teacher, and could have been a great pastor.
I believe God’s love and grace are most directly delivered to the world through our intentional relationships: our congregations, our spiritual friendships, our families. I know the grace that comes through the particular love of spouse, mother, teacher. We are here today because we have each received God’s grace through Judy’s life. We are here to thank God for the ways Judy was able to share God’s love with us. In days to come, as the sorrow softens and the memories continue, we will be reminded that Judy would want us to find our own ways to share God’s love with others, and she would be humbled by our admission of the legacy of her role in our lives.