All of my aunts and uncles are gone. Aunt Toad (Flora Wolf) died Oct. 24, 2000 at the age of 101 years and 5 months. She was the last of Jack's mother's siblings. My aunt Cecilia Smith passed away April 3, 2004 at the age of 96 years and 1 month -- the last of my dad's immediate family. I met her in 1937 when I was sixteen, and employed as secretary-bookkeeper for the McKenzie Roofing Company. They leased most of the warehouse and half of the office space of Hedges & Smith, my dad's paving contractor business. Cecilia was his secretary. We'd go to lunch together; walk downtown to shop; or just go walking on our lunch hour. She was fun to be with--always happy, congenial, a Proverbs woman (from Proverbs 31:10-31). It's no wonder my uncle Ed (Dad's youngest brother, who also worked at Hedges & Smith) fell in love with her. They were married October 31, 1938; had two sons, Gary and Edward; celebrated their golden anniversary in 1988. Uncle Ed died 1-7-1994 at age 85.
During World War II, you could always find a Canasta game at my parents' home on weekends. Aunt Celia (as the family called her) and Uncle Ed were often there. They loved the game, as did all of our family! We played other fun games, too: Uno, Skipbo, Rummy, Rook, Spades, Hearts, etc.
In the 50's, Aunt Celia and I both mimeographed the Sunday church bulletins for our churches. We shared information to put on the back page, which was all ours--poetry, stories, inspirational thoughts. She was a beautiful Christian, devoted to God, faithful to her church, using her talents to inspire others to follow Jesus. I've loved her ever since we met. She's special!
Visitation was set for Monday evening, April 5th, 4:00-8:00. I knew I HAD to go; but I grieved that I couldn't bear to see her in her coffin. I cried and prayed. It was just three weeks ago that 150 friends and family celebrated her 96th birthday at her son Gary's ranch in Plantersville, Texas. Aunt Celia and I were partners in card games, "Hand & Foot" all day. About 2:00, between games, she began reminiscing about her school days. She and I were playing against my brother Jerry and sister Kathleen. We didn't even begin shuffling cards for the next game because we were so content to listen to her talk about childhood days for at least 30 minutes. We were in the middle of the next game at 4:00 when the party was supposed to be over, so we could get home before dark. But we were having so much fun, Gary said we could finish our game. Aunt Celia was a shrewd player, successfully daring to make plays no one else had the courage to do. She expressed a strong desire for us to get together more often. I began exploring the possibility of freeing up one day a month to grant her wish.
I had scheduled services for this Monday: the changing of filters in my water softener and yard work. The grass cutting crew came at 4:00. It was 6:00 when I arrived at the church. I took a long, slow walk to the front where my beautiful, sweet, precious aunt lay so very still. There were tears; yet, I closed my eyes and thanked God for all the many years He let her be with us. I felt God's presence stronger for a longer period of time than ever before on this night and the next day. He was there comforting us all, giving us that "peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
He revealed His presence in the gorgeous Spring flower arrangements on pedestals and in sprays all across the sanctuary. They are never more beautiful than at this time of year, especially the lilies -- some like angelic trumpets shouting the good news that Jesus arose from His grave. Death is not the end, but the beginning of eternal life for all who believe. Jesus said, "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26). God must be disappointed if we walk through a field of beautiful flowers, or stand at the foot of a majestic mountain and see the patches of colorful blossoms like the covering of a quilt gracing the slopes and valleys, or sit beside a river with floating water lilies, or view countless other places where flowers bloom, and do not notice, truly notice, that He made them as a gift of love to us. Can't you see and hear Him saying "I love you" in His grand creations? He is awesome! He knows each one of us.
There were always flowers blooming around Aunt Celia's home. Uncle Ed would bring boxes full of them to the office and I'd make bouquets in vases for desks in every room.
One of the many funeral sprays on stands was of purple gladiolus and had a note something like
"Thinking of the many bouquets of gladiolus you gave me from your yard." Another spray had red roses as big as my hand! There were pot plants and huge arrangements of mixed flowers in baskets.
A display table held photo albums and framed pictures; some on a back drop of good times and highlights of her life. Across the top was a display of her baseball caps for the past years announcing "I turned 91 on March 3, 1999" to March 3, 2004, which she wore to the annual parties at Gary's ranch.
Before we said "good-night," we stood around her coffin while Bro. Martin Rodriguez, one of the church pastors, led us in one of the sweetest prayers I ever heard. It was so very precious. I hated to leave. But as my sister Cora told me over the phone, "We can only imagine the joy Aunt Celia is experiencing in Heaven." It is written in I Corinthians 2:9, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things, which God hath prepared for them that love Him."
We were concerned about the weather report that night warning of severe storms, tornadoes, hail--really bad--to begin early Tuesday morning, the day of the funeral which would begin at 10 AM. Dortha met me at my home at 9AM on what appeared to be a lovely sunshiny day. As we entered Parkwood Baptist Church, we were handed a memorial celebration program. On the front of the brochure was a picture of Aunt Celia sitting in a field of blue bonnets. Very, very pretty. I placed my copy in my purse. When the program began, I picked up a brochure in the hymnal rack on the back of the pew in front of me. I thought, "I'll save this one for Kathleen." She came to the visitation but could not attend today. Then I thought of my other siblings who could not come. Two brothers were here. I'd need four more programs for Son, the brother in Henderson, Texas; for Elaine who was in the hospital; for Cora who was recuperating from surgery; and my sister-in-law, Vaada in Colorado.
The service was out-of-this-world inspirational, beginning with Pastor Mark Thrift giving Aunt Celia's biography, followed by the congregation singing "Amazing Grace." Then, my brother Jerry sang Aunt Celia's most favorite, "When They Ring Those Golden Bells." There were solos and duets accompanied by the piano, guitar and recorded orchestration; one duet, a cappella. I could not hold back my tears when Bro. Thrift sang "Precious Memories" followed by "Beulah Land." How much closer to Heaven could we be? The songs were among Aunt Celia's favorites: "Thank You, Lord," "I'm Not Afraid to Die," "Thank You for Giving to the Lord," and "He's More Than Enough." Four people shared memories. After Bro. Thrift's closing message, we all sang, "I'd Rather Have Jesus." We all felt God's Spirit flowing through the room. Aunt Celia was much loved.
Dortha and I. were among the last to leave. I asked the usher if I could have four programs. He gave me three saying, "This is all that's left." Then, Dortha saw one someone left on the back pew! Don't I always remind you, "Delight thyself in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart" (Psalm 37:4). God was with us today. He is good every day.
As we walked outside to go to our cars, the atmosphere felt like the lull before a storm. The sun had disappeared, replaced by low overcast. It was like God was holding back the curtain, behind which were the anxious storm elements, ancy to perform. The temperature had dropped several chilling degrees, and the wind was gathering momentum. By the time we reached the cemetery, a soft mist of rain began to fall. Everyone was prepared, holding colorful umbrellas as we walked these last earthly steps with Aunt Celia. We were at peace, aware that only God could hold back this eminent rain. He cares. He loves us. Psalm 100, "We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture; be thankful unto Him, and bless His name; for the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting."
On the return trip to the church, the force of wind and rain was increasing. We hurried into the gymnasium where food had been prepared. Just before one woman reached the door, the wind turned her umbrella upside down forming a huge "bowl" over her head for catching rainwater. She struggled to get it through the door since it wouldn't fold up the normal way. Tragic, but oh so funny! A terrible turbulent storm was raging with crackling lightning and boisterous thunder. Twice the lights went out for just brief minutes. We were consoled with thoughts from Psalm 91, "I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in Him will I trust…Thou shalt not be afraid for the…destruction that wasteth at noonday…for He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." By 2:00, the storm had passed. We had feasted and visited with loved ones, and most of all, experienced God's presence, His love and comfort. I felt like I had lived Psalm 19.
"Have a happy forever, Aunt Celia. I love you. I'll see you soon."
> Aunt Celia