On Wednesday, I preached my grandmother’s (Mommo as I called her) funeral. It was a difficult task for sure. It was strange, and difficult, and also a blessing to be both the only grandson, but also a pastor to the family. I wrote my first Obituary, preached the homily at the service, and led the graveside service. If you’re interested, I’ve attached the obituary, and the manuscript for my homily below.
I love you Mommo. May you rest in peace. We will meet again…..
Mary Beth Brian, 73, of Clovis, died Saturday, October 8, 2011, in Lubbock, TX.
Beth was born on December 10, 1937, in Clovis, NM. She married Russell Eugene Brian June 13, 1955.
She was a homemaker, and she also worked as a secretary for the Clovis Hospital, Steed Todd Funeral Home, and Central Christian Church.
Survivors include her husband, Gene Brian; mother, Enola Echols; siblings, Dick Echols, Jim Board, Judy Board, and sister-in-law Darlene Harrison; three sons, Randy, and wife, Barbara, Ken, and Steven; three grandchildren, Rusty, and wife Lauren, Kara, and China; one great-granddaughter, Lily; two nieces, Casey Board-Bender, and husband Andrew, Kari (Board) Johnson, and husband Mark; and many other cousins, nieces, and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her father, J.K. Board, step-father, Horace Echols, and two siblings, Jesse Irvin Board and Nancy Echols Garrison.
The family requests that instead of flowers, memorial gifts be given to your favorite charity in Beth’s name.
Services to be held at 2pm, Wednesday, October 12, at Steed Todd Funeral Home, with a graveside service for family to follow.
For more information call 575-763-5541.
I am the Resurrection and I am the Life, says the Lord. (John 11)
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though they die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed themself to me in faith,
shall not die forever.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives (Job 19)
and that at the last He will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, He will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in themself, (Romans 14)
and none becomes their own master when they die.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.
Happy from now on (Revelation 14)
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray:
O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister Beth. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I should state right up front how strange it feels to keep referring to my grandmother as “Beth” rather than Mommo. And yet Beth was her name, and that is how almost all of you know her, and so I will stick with Beth. Forgive me, though, if I slip in a few Mommo’s here and there!
I believe that there is something very powerful about a name. In ancient times, names were given to children less for novelty, and more for destiny. It was believed that to name a person, was to bless and direct them toward becoming who God wanted them to be. And think of the stories of people like Abram whose name was changed to Abraham; Sarai, whose name was changed to Sarah; Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel; and Saul, whose name was changed to Paul. In each of these instances, the changing of the name was a changing of identity, and of destiny. Each of these figures had their names changed by God, and each of these figures went on to do great things in service to the Lord.
While we don’t often name our children in the same way today, a name still has a high degree of power. The mere mention of a name, evokes memories and emotions, a name can even bring particular smells and tastes, and experiences to the brain. In short, a person’s name, is powerful, because a person’s story is intimately wrapped up in their name. And so, by merely saying the beloved name of Beth Brian, I have brought up the story that is Beth Brian. It is her life, her story, that we celebrate, and mourn, this afternoon.
Beth’s story is a good story. Though not as long as we would have liked, it is a long story. It is a story of love, and laughter, of family, and friends, and perhaps, more than any other word, it is a story of help, of being helpful. As I listened to stories from the rest of my family about Beth, a single, unifying theme began to emerge – Beth always desired to be helpful. She wanted to help others. When I think back to my own memories of my “Mommo” I can only affirm that thought. And so, Beth’s story is one of help, or helpfulness. And finally, Beth’s story, is a smaller story in a grand narrative. She was a wife, a daughter, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother, a great grandmother, and she was a friend. All of those stories continue, and so Beth’s story, and her legacy, continue as well. Moreover, Beth was a firm believer in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In that, she was a part of God’s great story of redemption. She was a child of God. In all of these ways, Beth’s story continues. Hers was not an isolated life, but rather a life lived with family, friends, and Her God.
I can honestly say to you this morning, that when her life was finished, and when she stood before her Lord, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, I have no doubt that the Lord God said to her, “Well done, my good, and faithful, and helpful (!) servant.”
This story – Beth’s story – begins on December 10, 1937 here in Clovis. Her mother, Enola (or Mommo Echols as I know her!) said that as a little girl she was very helpful. “She always wanted to help.” As well-intentioned as she was, though, she was only a little girl, and sometimes her desire to help did not bear the intended fruit! Enola told me of one particular incident, where she needed her Duncan 5 dining room table extended and the leaf put in. Beth wanted to help, and so she climbed under the table and attempted to spread the table apart. She certainly did spread the table apart! She accidentally knocked the braces for the table over, and the table came apart so far that all the plates came crashing down!
Enola had many other such stories to tell. Beth’s desire to be helpful seemed to resonate in all of them.
Her desire to help often led her to help her mom do the grocery shopping. Like a lot of folks did back then, they went to the local grocer Hubby’s. Often, Enola and Beth would go to Hubby’s to buy their groceries, or sometimes Enola would call to have something delivered. This is yet another instance, though, of where Beth’s desire to help backfired a bit, or at least her mother would have said so for a few years. I’m confident that she no longer feels that way today.
You see, there was a young man who worked at Hubby’s, by the name of Gene, and he tells me that he always looked forward to Beth coming into Hubby’s with Enola! If you haven’t guessed, Gene is Russell Eugene, my grandpa, Beth’s husband of 61 years!
- Do you know that years later my dad, Randy, and my uncle Steven (who went by Greg at the time) worked at Hubby’s, and I was going to as well, but they closed just before I was able to start working.
Anyway, apparently Enola had spotted the loving glances between Gene and Beth, for Gene tells me that one day Enola called and placed an order for a loaf of bread to be delivered. The person who took the order, after hanging up the phone, told Gene that Enola requested, “a loaf of bread as ‘fresh’ as that delivery boy!”
Pretty soon, Gene said that he and Beth, “started going together and never quit.” Yesterday, Gene told me, that while he did date a few girls before Beth, he said, “I don’t really remember any other girls.”
It wasn’t long before they wanted to get married. Beth was only a Sophomore, though, and Gene a Senior. They talked to Enola, and she said, “absolutely not,” that they were too young! Knowing how two young people in love can be, however, she told them that if they would wait until Beth graduated from High School, she would give them her blessing.
Usually, young people in love are so impetuous, that asking them to wait, would be just fine, as they would probably break up long before graduation day. Enola will tell you that is exactly what she figured would happen.
Well, Gene and Beth’s love for one another proved to be far more than a fleeting fancy! After his senior year, Gene moved off to join the Navy. He told Beth that he’d be back after boot camp, after her graduation, to marry her, if she’d still have him, and off he went to San Diego.
Beth graduated from CHS in May 1955, and in June, Gene came home on leave, after having completed boot camp. He arrived on a train, and if you’ll notice one of these pictures is of the first time that they saw each other when he stepped off the train. Just after Gene stepped off the train, I’m told that Beth ran to him, and put her arms around him, and the rest, well, is history!
Just a few days later the two were married, in Central Baptist Church. According to Gene, Beth was a “derned-old-Baptist” when they got married, and he was determined to fix that! He went to Central Christian Church here in Clovis his whole life, and the couple alternated Sundays between CBC and CCC when in Clovis. Years later, when they moved back, Beth joined CCC and they two have gone there ever since.
Shortly after they were married, Gene and Beth moved to Norman, OK for Gene’s Aviation Boot Camp. Gene’s Navy career also took them to Memphis, TN, Pensacola, FL, and Jacksonville, FL. In Jacksonville, their first son, Randy, my father, was born. In 1959, Gene got out of the Navy, and the family returned home to Clovis. Soon after arriving, their second son, Ken, was born.
Upon moving back to Clovis, Gene began working for the railroad. Gene’s job had him living out of a suitcase a good deal of time, and during those trips, apparently Randy and Ken liked to wreak havoc upon their mother. I’m told that Beth had terrible eyesight. One morning, the two boys hid their mom’s glasses, and then proceeded to systematically dismantle the kitchen, taking everything out of the refrigerator, eating what they wanted, and just basically making a huge mess! Beth finally called her mother in tears, who promptly came over, set the boys straight and helped retrieve Beth’s glasses!
I’m also told that a common practice during this time was for Gene’s sister Darlene to come over when Gene was called out for work. Darlene and Beth would make sausage pizza at night for the family, and then in the morning they would use the leftover sausage to make a big breakfast for the whole family.
Five years after Ken was born, a surprise named Steven came along, and the family moved to a bigger home – the house on Sandia where they live today!
With three boys, and the way they behaved, Beth clearly had her hands full!
I’m also told of a comical, almost “I Love Lucy-style” birthday party at Aunt Ibby’s house, when Beth tried to help Ibby cut her home-made layer cake, which proceeded to slide all over the place!
During the early years of their marriage, Gene attempted to introduce Beth to his second love: fishing. Gene has two types of photo albums: those of family, and those of fish! (There may be more of the latter.) Gene tried repeatedly to get Beth to go fishing with he and the boys. She went at first, but never really enjoyed it. The family said she was much happier just sitting and reading a magazine.
You might have heard that magazine sales are down dramatically today, with many people choosing to go to online sources for their news. Well, Beth, was doing her best to keep magazines in business. Her magazine subscription list rivals that of a public library in a major, metropolitan city! Gene’s going to have quite a chore, cancelling all those subscriptions…..
Once the boys were older, and had left the house, Beth began working as a secretary at a few different places. Perhaps the title, “Professional Helper” might be more apt, though.
She worked for the old Clovis Hospital, Steed Todd Funeral Home, and Central Christian Church – working as a secretary at each. The job she held the longest was here at the funeral home.
Steven recalls her saying that while it was a job that many would find difficult or unpleasant, she believed it was a job where she could help people at their most vulnerable – when they were most in need. She said she was there to help and love people. She loved the funeral home’s values, and their constant attempts to help families who were grieving.
Gene said she took great pride in tracking down help for families from insurance companies. It is often the case that insurance companies sell off their policies to other companies, or banks, and so on. In the pre-digital era, tracking down a person’s policy info, on a policy that they might have held for 40-50 years was difficult. Beth prided herself in doing this. You would think, then, that with the introduction of computers into the funeral home, that she would have found this to be an even easier task – but not Beth!
She hated computers! As a matter of fact, we all remember the day when she was told at work that in six months, the funeral home would be fully computerized. Beth’s response was, “well then, in six months, I’ll be gone!” She held to her word, and after 20 years here at Steed Todd, when the computers came in the door, she went out it!
At the hospital, she prided herself in helping others, at CCC she did the same, and especially, here at the funeral home, Beth helped many, many families who found themselves in the same position that we find ourselves in today.
In reflecting back upon their long, happy life together, Gene said that one of the things that stuck out to him the most was her constant desire to help him when he was called out for work. “Being a railroader’s wife must have been very difficult on her,” he said. Gene was a railroader for 44 years, and in the Navy before that. These two jobs are both difficult jobs for a spouse, and Beth always maintained a helpful, supportive role. Gene said that when he was called out, no matter how late, or early it was….2am, 3am……she would wake up, make him a homemade breakfast, and help him get out the door. I know that was true, because I remember sleepovers where I was awoken early in the morning by the smell of bacon and eggs, and saw Beth fixing her husband breakfast.
Beth loved and served Gene, was a faithful wife, and their love has left a lasting imprint upon many of us here.
During all of this time, I remember sleepovers, weekly lunches together in the summer, a cabinet full of treats, and many, many wonderful family dinners, Christmas’, and so many more wonderful memories. I was glad to hear that Casey and Kari both had fond memories of Mommo’s assortment of candy that she kept out for her visitors (us, really). They also recalled sitting at the little bar together, because the large kitchen table was just too full of family – all of whom were older, and took precedence over us kids.
In recent years, Beth took to helping her mother Enola a good deal. And then over the last few months, as Beth’s health deteriorated, the two were a help to one another, and Gene was able to return some of the help that Beth had always given to him. I can’t tell you how glad I was that last month Lauren and I were able to bring our new little daughter Lily home to Clovis, to introduce Beth to her only great granddaughter. I knew when I saw Beth last month, that she was not doing well. But her eyes glowed with joy when she held Lily. She was so excited. I was able to get a photo of five generations of Brian women all together. Little did I know, that it would be the last time those five generations would be together in this life.
I was told that a few weeks ago, when Beth was taken to the hospital after a suspected heart attack, the doctors were asking her about her family, specifically how many children she had. She spoke up, though, and said, “and one beautiful little great granddaughter!” I’m so glad that she was able to hold little Lily even if just a few times, before she passed away.
Beth’s life, her story, truly was one of help. Beth helped others, she took joy in that. On behalf of all of those who Beth loved and helped, Beth, I say, “thank you.”
In the last days, Beth suffered some. The doctors were able to ease her pain, but it wasn’t pleasant. Its hard to accept, its hard to see your wife, daughter, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, your friend suffer, and as we close, I want to read you a passage of “good news” – a passage that Beth fully believed in. It is a passage about the end of all things, about God’s plan for the redemption of the world. Its about the hope we have for the Resurrection of the body, and of life everlasting.
This is a passage of hope. It is perhaps my favorite passage in all of Scripture, and I hope that it offers you comfort as well.
Closing Scripture – Revelation 21:1-7
And now let us pray,
“Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of humanity; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created us, saying, ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
– Turn to face the casket. –
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Beth. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen”
Benediction: “Family and friends of Beth Brian, go forth in the strong hope of an even stronger Savior, trusting in the Father who raised the Son from the dead, and relying on the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, both now, and forevermore. May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
May you go in the comfort of this: that you will meet again. Until that day…. Go in peace.
You are dismissed.”