Sunday, March 26, 2017

Free to Fly (for Tom Southard)

Free to Fly

A funeral homily delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

March 26, 2017

For the funeral of Tom Southard

At Preddy Funeral Home, Gordonsville, VA

Isaiah 40: 6-8, 28-31

Philippians 3: 20-21

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

. . . our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

I was only blessed to know Tom for just over the last five years, and I will say without question it has been a blessing, perhaps because in all of my life I have never seen a more devoted couple, completely and hopelessly devoted to each other than Tom and Mary. They both just exuded a warmth and a compassion for eachother that was unmissable. You could not spend a minute in their house and not see it and describe it in the oh so familiar, but no less perfect word than cute. . . after 60+ years of marriage, they were just the cutest couple you have ever seen. . . the kind of cuteness that, that kind of love and devotion brings to bear. We are blessed, anyone who has gotten to see them and be in their presence, we are just blessed by the example of them, of Love and Marriage. . . which is exemplified in a million little things, like glances and inside jokes, the witty ways they would talk together, working together filling up the communion cups at church, the gleam in their eyes as they listened to the other talk, there are so many, but one that Mary shared with me the other day, just sums it to the quick, and captures it so beautifully and touchingly, and that is that Tom, every night before he went to bed, all the way to the end, said thank you to Mary for taking care of him that day. . . how perfectly beautiful is that, because he knew that it wasn’t easy, as parkinsons in it the slow, but steady and constant decline of his body, placed much of the burden of care for him on her, a burden she gladly carried in her love and devotion for him, but it was not easy, and such a statement of gratitude, simply and genuinely given let her know that he knew, and was forever grateful. . . it’s a little thing, and it’s that important. . . an all too important lesson we often miss, but that Tom’s life can teach us. . .

In addition to Tom’s love for Mary, he also loved his family, and it was a large family, a slew of brothers and sisters. . . I have often heard stories from Mary and Tom about family gatherings at the Inwood. . . I too have a fondness for that great old place and had sought to capture my thoughts of it in a poem, and it inspired her to tell me about how much those family gatherings meant to Tom and to her. . . it is the little rituals and memories that mean so much when it comes to family. . . and the larger the family, and the closer the family, the more vibrant and vivid do those memories fill our lives. I could hear listening to them talk how fond those memories truly are.

Mary told me that I had to mention one of Tom’s great passions, for Model Airplanes. . . that he so loved to build and to fly them. To create something that could go up in the sky as an extension of yourself, higher and higher, farther and farther, but still controlled, the controls always firm in your hands as your thumbs control the propellers, the slightest twitch, creating the distant turns and patterns above and free on the wind. . . I was struck immediately to the metaphor. . . of Tom himself now. . . flying free, like one of his airplanes. . . up in the air, above and looking down, lovingly from his new perspective, on high, raised up as Isaiah said on the wings of eagles, with renewed strength, and health and vitality, away from the pain and frustration of a failing body, ravaged by a cruel disease that struck his limbs, his muscles, his throat, but left his mind as sharp and intact as ever, his heart as full of love as ever, now free again to love and fly and watch over Mary, his brothers and sisters, and us all. . . I was so moved by Mary Bomar’s song. . . how Amazing Grace is that Tom is set free now from the chains, his chains that have bound him, the shackles of his mortal coil no shaken and looseed and set free to fly, and Paul’s own words. . . that in our citizenship in heaven, Christ has transformed the body, the body of our humiliation. . . Tom’s Parkinson’s is no more, for his body has been made new, conformed to the body of Christ’s glory. . . we do not ask to for our lives here on Earth to be changed, for the struggles we bear form us. . . and we know of God Sovereign Will, and certainly those struggles, they have formed and strengthened the bond between Tom and Mary. . . but we do find comfort and peace that when we are set free to fly with God in heaven, those struggles are no more. I heard no better testament to truth in two things Mary said to me this week. One before Tom’s passing and one just after. She said, “The Lord will take Tom on His time, and it will not happen one minute sooner nor later than that time.” And then she said, “Tom is in a much better place now.” Such truth has the power to heal the pain of our broken hearts. . . it doesn’t change our perspective on how much we will miss Tom, but comforts us in our love for him, and warms us to the time of reunion, when our own time in turn comes, and we get to see him again. . . until then we can share our love, and empathy, and compassion. . . shedding the tears of loss, and sharing the laughter and smiles of memory for a life lived, full and overflowing with love.