Homily of the Repose of the Soul of Ruth Dana Rasmussen 1939-2017
Today we gather to say goodbye to Ruth Dana Rasmussen – or to her sisters Ruthy May. Also known as wife, mom, sister, grandmother, grandma great or as she preferred G.G., aunt and friend. A life well lived and for us that remain a life gone too soon. But this service is not about our grief but about new life. We are a peculiar people in the church. The service today is an Easter Service because we believe that life does not end but changes. And we know that mom is now no longer suffering and is in that place where there is neither sorrow nor crying but life everlasting.
That doesn’t mean our grief is not real or should be ignored. Grief is a journey. I am not one to subscribe to a set number of steps for grief. Grief hits us in many ways and the length of the journey is different for each every one of us. So we should honor the grief and the mourning as we move forward. We should embrace that fact that it is out of deep love that our mourning comes – it is not out of weakness but out of love.
I choose the readings for the service today because in many ways I think they epitomized my mom. As in the reading from the book of Ecclesiastes mom saw things in seasons. She experienced the joys of childbirth and also the soul wrenching death during birth of her first born child. Mom loved her family, both biological and the expanded family of in-laws and friends and friends of her children and so many people she met. Mom was quick to smile and loved to tell stories.
Mom loved the different seasons and would decorate the house and her apartment – as much as she could get away with! In Benicia mom was known by the neighborhood kids as the bag lady because she made special bags of treats for Halloween for every kid who came to the door. Mom loved to decorate for Christmas and host family and friends for the hang-town oyster breakfast on Christmas morning for many years.
For years my parents hosted a huge fourth of July party for their friends and anyone who showed up. We literally had at least a hundred-people come through the back yard! And I should know as I was the under aged bartender – which we could get away with in those days! We had so many of the locals at the party that one of the local bar owners said the only reason he stayed open was to give directions to our house!
Mom and Dad loved to travel – particularly if it didn’t include an airplane! Mom was never all that convinced that we were meant to fly! Although in later years she loved her trips to Hawaii and their wonderful trip to New Zealand where they rented a motorhome to explore the island for a month.
One of my memories of growing up was the frequent camping trips. We started out with a small second-hand camper and a huge orange canvas tent for the kids and eventually – after the kids all left – mom and dad bought a motor home. We loved to go anywhere we could fish – or get crabs or abalone. We frequently had anywhere from one to four extra kids – our friends – camping with us. Along with mom and dad’s friends. Mom and dad’s camping adventures led them several times up to Alaska – with their mini-poodle Dobbie, where they would travel, dad would fish, and mom would buy ivory. Dad said recently that mom loved the drive up to Alaska as much as she loved their summers in Alaska.
On one of those Alaska trips dad had been down at the Kenai River fishing for Salmon in the morning and when he returned he took Dobbie the poodle out for a walk. Mom realized she was low on fizzy water so went out to get more form under the tarp where they kept extra supplies that the bears wouldn’t bother. Soon my mom heard the motorhome door slam and she walked back – hands full of water and said thru the door “That was a quick walk” to which my dad replied there was a bear in the campground. Mom asked where and dad looked up and said, “right behind you”. Mom said she had thought she couldn’t run any more after the hip replacements or perhaps she just levitated but she found her way quickly into the motor home.
Like the reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians mom embraced the notion that the greatest gift is love. She strove to lead a life full of faith, hope and love and from my biased opinion did a mighty fine job of it. She loved my father for some sixty years – through good times and not so good times. There may have been moments in their marriage where they didn’t like each other that much but the love never left. Mom’s love was limitless that she loved to take in strays – which started when she was a small child dragging home stray animals which she hopped to keep, to adopting stray kids and friends and giving them a place at the table.
The neighborhood kids all loved my mom. In fact, sometimes they would come to the door to see if mom could play because mom would let them help her bake or do whatever else she was up to. Mom loved having kids around and would babysit or just enjoy all of our friends who would hang out at the house. She even took time to be a den mother when I was in cub scouts so that she could end up with even more kids to love – and she continued to be a den mother for several years after I graduated to the boy scouts. One time mom commented that she would never be a sex symbol but she made one hell of a mother goose!
Which brings me to the reading from the gospel of John. Jesus said he was going to build many dwelling places, or rooms or mansions – depending on the translation. And that we would know the way. One thing that I am convinced of is that Jesus was trying to get his followers to adopt a different kind of economy and a different way of living. God’s economy is different than man’s economy and God’s dream is for us to initiate a society that has love and mercy at its core. One that doesn’t wait until some future place but where there is a place of mercy and love on this earth. In our own homes and in how we interact with other people.
Mom lived that life in many ways. She would make homes or dwelling for anyone who needed it. When one of my Aunts had a serious illness my mom and dad took in my cousins so that we had nine kids under the age of nine living in a 3 bedroom, one bathroom house for a period of time. While the house was small there were many dwelling places in my mom’s heart. I am still not sure how we managed that time but I do remember walking up to the local market - a block or so form our home with an envelope of money and a list of what we needed – at the age of eight. The shopkeepers would be alerted by phone that I was on my way and they would wait to walk me across the main street, fill the order, make change, and send me back home.
Mom welcomed several of my sister’s and brother’s friends into the house to the point where they may as well have been siblings. One of my sister’s friends was there so frequently and it seemed we had an extra sister. Lori was so funny that she would get us all laughing so hard that we were gasping for air. Mom loved the levity and the joy that a house of happy kids brought.
In more recent years she has enjoyed watching her grand-kinds grow up to be fine adults starting families of their own. When I look back at pictures of mom she is always the happiest when she is holding one of her children, grandchildren or great grandchildren. Or any child for that matter.
When I left home for college and then for a career – or is it four careers – I came to realize that in monetary ways we were not very well off. But we were rich in what counted. We were rich in love and in experiences. Mom made sure we had great meals on the table and even let me loose in the kitchen to cook starting at a young age – which my sisters hated because they swear to this day that I used every pot in the house when I cooked and they had clean-up duty.
There are so many stories that could be told. About growing up with mom. About mom and her beloved poodles. About all of the camping trips – and the notorious exit from the back of a camper after four to six or more kids where – well - being kids and siblings – you know the kind where the older brother is annoying his younger siblings. I could tell stories of mom and the school district and how when Prop 13 passed she managed to buy a year’s worth of supplies so that the district didn’t lose the money. There are so many stories and activities that will call us up short over and over again as we remember them. Many times we will remember Ruth with a smile and perhaps a tear. Mom will continue to live with us in our memories and in our hearts.
After the service, during the reception which will be here in the church, I invite anyone who wishes to tell a story about mom to do so. We will have a slide show and some music. After the music we will have a microphone on the floor in front of the lectern on my right for those who might want to share a short story or memory of mom.
As I started this homily we are a peculiar people in the church. We grieve for Ruth – and part of that grieving involves telling these stories. But we also give thanks that she no longer is putting up with a body that was betraying her. We give thanks that she is now in that place where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. We believe that Ruth has gone to a better place. Another good friend Stephanie, the daughter of mom’s best friend commented that mom and Jeannie, her mother, can be in a place where they can shop at a heavenly Nordstrom’s without a limit and without sore feet and the other things that limited them! We believe that mom’s perishable body is being replaced with an imperishable body. As our opening anthem said that even at the grave, even in the midst of our grief, we make our hymn Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! For death does not have dominion over us but life everlasting.
Let us celebrate and give thanks, the life of Ruth Dana Rasmussen.