A Well-Nourished Tree — Funeral for Lois Eastman, 93

I offer my personal sympathy and the condolences of St. Paul’s parish at the passing of Lois, whom you know and love. In this church, 69 years ago, Lois married Jerry, her husband of 42 years. They went on to be blessed with six children. Today, we pray for Lois to have a special place among God’s children at the wedding feast of Heaven. No brief homily can capture the full mystery of a Christian life. At funerals, I just try to preach about one true aspect of the departed person’s life that reflects an important lesson for us with Jesus Christ and his Church.

Lois’ family told me a number of stories about her, and one theme I noticed was her fierce independence. For many years now, until quite recently, Lois always lived on her own. Not long ago, when her children suggested she use something to help her keep her worsening balance, she replied, “Canes and walkers are for old people.” Lois was 93 years old. Lots of people are set in their ways or stubborn, but here’s the really remarkable thing: not long after that remark to her kids Lois actually took their advice and started using a cane. In this and other things, Lois’s independence did not prevent her from accepting the help she needed.

Years before she absolutely needed a cane, Lois had trouble negotiating steps. But she would drive somewhere, by herself, with a plan: ‘someone will help me up and down the stairs when I get there.’ She would show us and say to someone she saw, “Hey, you over there, can you help me?” If the streets were icy in the wintertime, she would stand by her car until a person came along to help her up the curb and across the sidewalk to where she was going.

Lois was fiercely independent, but she acknowledged her need for help – and Lois knew she needed Jesus. Lois prayed every night, and until a couple years ago went to Mass every day, every day of the week except Sunday. (That’s because she went to the Sunday vigil Mass on Saturday night.) She sat in front pew to hear Jesus’ word and receive his very self. Lois knew that other people needed him too, so she would pick people up to bring them to church and brought our Lord in the Holy Eucharist to others at their houses or nursing homes.

We all want to be free. We all want our lives to be full and fruitful. And Jesus wants that, too. But people imagine that living their best life means keeping Jesus away while we do our own thing. Do you keep Jesus at arm’s length? Hear then the Parable of the Solitary Tree:

Once upon a time, there was a tree. This tree wanted to be free, to be its own tree, free to do its own thing, and not rely on anyone. So it told the Sun to go away, along with the rain clouds above it, the air all around it, and the ground beneath it. And the tree soon found itself in cold darkness – thirsting, gasping, and falling. Realizing its serious error, the tree asked, the tree begged them all to return, and they returned to the tree; which then lived and grew and produced much fruit.

In the same way, you and I were never meant be completely independent. Almighty God, the source and the sustainer of the universe, is not a solitude, but a Trinity, a loving communion of persons. So we are most fully ourselves when we’re connected to God and each other through Jesus Christ.

Pray for Lois, but do not fear for her. You know how she loved and relied on Jesus. And if you’ve been away from Jesus, I urge you to call him back and return to his house, his Church. Do not be afraid to rely on our Good Lord. To quote one of Lois’ favorite songs:

If you wonder how long he’ll be faithful
I’ll be happy to tell you again
He’s gonna love you forever and ever
Forever and ever, amen.

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