A Sermon Preached at the Liturgy of the Burial of the Dead for Loretta Jean Paroline (nee Schwartzmiller), February 16, 2014
by the Rev’d Dane E. Boston
Texts: I Corinthians 13; John 6:37-40
May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When my dad called to tell me that my Grandma Loretta had died, I sat on the couch in our living room and wept. The day came faster than anyone had anticipated, and still the news hasn’t sunk in completely.
But on that first night, after I had done my fair share of sobbing, I looked up, and began to laugh. Sitting there, looking at the room around me, I realized that there was nowhere I could turn without setting eyes on something grandma had given us. The clock ticking on the mantle was her last Christmas present to me. The lamps on either side of the couch she had bought for my college dorm room. The book case, and many of Eleanor’s books on it, were from her. The picture frames on the wall, the silverware on the table, the trashcan in our kitchen, even the shirt on my back—it was all from her. She was all around me. Her presence was palpable. And even in the first raw moments of grief, it made me smile.
Those of you who knew my grandmother—who knew the way she showed her love and affection—will not be surprised by my realization. My cousin Kyle, my sister Kasey, and my brother Chad might all have experienced the same thing. My grandmother loved to give. Indeed, she loved by her giving, and she gave readily, freely, joyfully, quietly. To think of all the back-to-school shopping trips, or the astonishing ordeal of buying four pairs of shoes for four young grandchildren—both routine activities of my childhood. She delighted in filling in the gaps—giving us all the little odds-and-ends, the necessities big and small that made our lives comfortable and happy: a little easier and a little fuller.
But it wasn’t just things that she gave us. Grandma gave abundantly of her time. The summer days and sleep-over weekends; the afternoons home sick from school and the mornings by the soccer field or the hockey rink; the Sunday dinners and the school plays: in all of these, grandma was prodigal in the gift of her time. In the whole course of my childhood, I cannot once remember having a babysitter. She gave us her time as a matter of course. The question was never whether grandma would be a part of something, but only when she would arrive. She poured out upon us her minutes and days and weeks and years, lavishing on us her care, sharing in our lives.
And as I sat there in my living room, looking at all the things grandma had given us and thinking about the intangible gifts she gave, I had another, better realization. You see, all the stuff—the presents and practicalities, the gifts of time or money, or care—these were never the true aim of her giving. For in the twenty-seven years that I knew her—in the seventy-four years she spent on this earth—what Loretta Paroline gave continually and freely and abundantly and extravagantly was…herself. In all those years of Christmases and birthdays and little packages and unasked for new underwear, she was showing us that her greatest joy was in sharing the blessings she had received with the people she loved. In all of those things, those gifts great and small, she was giving us herself. And when the things wear out, and the money is spent, and the warm care has departed, and the helping time has ceased, that gift—the gift of herself—will abide forever.
That abiding gift does not, of course, mean that the pain of her loss is lessened. In fact, it means we feel it more keenly. It hurts to lose someone who loved us so deeply. It hurts to lose someone we love. It grieves me beyond saying to know that my son—born three days before grandma’s death—will never know her. It pains me beyond expression to think of a woman who was, to me, a tower of strength, lying in great weakness, being tended and cared for by the people she loved to tend and care for: my Uncle Roy, and my mother Denise; my Aunt Mary, and my father Ethan.
Let us make no mistake: the separation that death wreaks on us hurts. Loretta knew that pain herself. She knew it as a twenty-one-year-old widow at the tragic death of her husband, Ronald Skrzypinski. She knew it in early 2005 when cancer claimed my grandfather, Thomas Paroline. She knew it in the loss of her parents, and in the deaths of friends and family over the years. She knew it, as we now know it. And I make mention of that pain now that we may not hide from it. I name it here in order that we may have permission to grieve—to acknowledge and bewail the bitter pain of our loss.
And I name it because it is here—here in the depths of pain and the reality of loss—that the full significance of grandma’s enduring gift of herself to us becomes clear. For what we come to see is that Loretta’s life of self-giving love was a mirror—small and simple, but clear and bright—of the self-giving love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grandma’s life—a life spent in giving herself—was a parable and a portrait, pointing us to the true fount of that selfless love. On the canvas of her life, Loretta was painting for us a picture of the love of God: a love that gives and does not ask in return; a love that shares and does not count the cost; a love that hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things; a love that never ends.
That love cannot be conquered by grief and pain. Indeed, it is in the greatest grief and the bitterest pain that we see that love clearest. For the self-giving love that grandma embodied has been shown in its perfection in the death of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. Grandma’s days of self-sacrifice point us to the profound paradox made manifest in Christ’s death: the truth that God is present with us in our grief and pain; in our days of darkness and times of loss. And in the bright light of Christ’s Resurrection, we have the assurance that while Death appears to us to be strong and terrible, yet he is not so. While Death has still the power to cause us grief, nevertheless he has not the power to bind us forever. While Death can remove the gift of grandma’s self-giving love from our earthly sight, still he can do so only to return her to the source and summit of all love.
So it is that we commend our sister Loretta into the embrace of the God who loves us and who has given himself for us. In unending gratitude for the gift of her life—with profound grief at her loss, and in sure and certain hope in the Resurrection to eternal life in Jesus Christ—we yield her up to the Lord. May the memory of the love she so freely gave inspire us to love one another with the same selflessness. May the strength of her example and the knowledge of her deep care sustain us all the days of our lives. And may the power of the God who gave her to us bind us in the living tether of his Holy Spirit, one to another, and the living to the dead, in expectation of that great day when sorrow and pain shall be no more, and death shall be swallowed up in life.