Funeral Homily, Annette Jopson
I’d like you to join me for a moment. We are at a mountain lake. The green hills surround us and small wooden dock juts out into the lake. Looking down the dock, we can see, sitting at the end of the dock, a boy and his dog. And from the perfectly round shape and baldness of the boy’s head and long floppy ears of the dog we know immediately they are two old friends of ours — Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
We can’t quite hear their “conversation” but fortunately the artist has drawn bubbles above their head. Charlie Brown, staring out at the beauty surrounding him says, “You only live once, Snoopy.” And Snoopy replies, “Wrong! We only die once. We live every day.”
Leave it to Snoopy to see something deeper and ultimately truer than the humans surrounding him. And while Snoopy never really talks in the Peanuts comic strips, he imagines somehow to speak, and his wisdom comes from his careful study of the people in his life, and the silence that allows all he sees, hears and experiences to form his heart and soul.
The characters in the Peanuts world said things to Snoopy that they dared not speak to any others. He held their secrets, their insecurities, their hopes and dreams. And he never judged. He simply was present to them.
There is poster of Snoopy that points out all of his most endearing qualities: he’s always happy to see you, loves to share a smile, has a warm spot for you, stands by your side, is full of great advice, always ready to listen, available to lean on, and is good for holding and helping.
For several years now, Annette and Snoopy have been constant companions. Whether at Mass, at the dinner table, in bed, at just about every function, Annette arrived with Snoopy embraced in her arms.
For a while I thought it was about who Snoopy was for Annette — and all of those qualities that I just mentioned were available to her in some way that we may not understand when Annette could no longer relate to us. But slowly, as I got to know Annette as much as I could given her health, I realized that what Annette was embracing was herself. I think Snoopy was her constant companion because she didn’t want to forget who SHE was — and she didn’t want us to forget either.
Annette was a mostly silent presence for the last few years. She was attentive and if we were attentive to her, we knew that she remained engaged in life as much as she could. For quite a while, every day when Annette left the chapel after Mass I would greet her, wish her a good day, and she would look at me and whisper “Thank you.” That brought me so much joy. But it also was a source of sadness when after a few days of her not responding I realized that she’d never say that again. Often when that happens people begin to drift away. But Annette’s silent presence seemed to invite her family and residents, and staff, and Sisters to engage with her. She communicated to us in unspoken ways that filled us with a sense of peace and joy.
If any of you visited Annette over the past few weeks as she entered into those final days of life here with us, you discovered a room that was full of life. Great-grandchildren playing, stories being told, moments of silence that just allowed love to flow. Work was going on, prayers were being said. And while we all knew that life was ebbing from Annette, we were also aware that she was still giving us life by her calm presence and her patience not only with us, but with God who was preparing a place for her. Annette, during these final days of this life was inviting us to live into her death - to find the same peace that she seemed to have found as she awaited that moment.
As I talked with Ed and Mary Agnes over the past few weeks, something struck me. There were several times in Annette’s life that she had no place of her own to call “home.” Her mother died shortly after Annette was born, she was sent to be raised by her paternal grandparents. She grew up largely separated from her thirteen siblings. She lived with Ed and Mary Agnes for almost a quarter of a century, and she has been here at St. Martin’s for six years. So for about 50 years of her life, her place was always in someone else’s home.
Yet when she did have her own home, raising her children, she always created a place for others. I hope I don’t steal Ed’s thunder, but he told me that when he was growing up, the other children in the neighborhood were always welcome in their home, and she had a special place in her heart for the kids who didn’t have a parent, or had difficult home lives. Perhaps the space left empty by the absence of her mother was filled as she provided something for the children who also experienced that emptiness in their lives.
The Gospel of John that we heard just a few moments ago takes on a special meaning as we come today to pray for Annette and ourselves. “I am going to prepare a place for you...and I will come back for you,” Jesus tells his disciples — and he’s saying that to us, as well. Throughout our lives we will find times and places when we feel we don’t belong anywhere, or to anyone. We long to have a space that is just ours, someone who will fill an emptiness left by the absence of another.
Our deepest longing is to belong to someone and to some place. At times like this, many of us come to find that those longings are only temporarily filled by the people and places of his life — but our home isn’t really here. Our home is in the heart of God. We come from the heart of God, and in death we return to the heart of God. And all along the way, in this journey of life, we are held in the heart of God. All the loves and joys we experience here in this life are but glimpses of the depth of love that is constantly available because of God’s presence to us and among us.
There is another version of that scene of Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting on the dock. In this one Charlie Brown says, “Some day we will all die, Snoopy.” To which Snoopy replies, “True, but on all the other days we will live.”
That is our Christian hope. Death is not our final destiny, life is. Death is but one moment, a transition from this limited and finite journey on this earth into the very heart of God where we will find the place we always belonged, united with the One who called us into being through love, sustained us through grace, and now invites us to dwell in the eternal presence where death is destroyed and life is unending.
Just two days ago we entered the season of Lent. We know how the Lent story ends — the death of Jesus. And as Lent ends, we celebrate that as Jesus gave his life, he gained new life. A new life that he now offers to us.
Annette invited us to live into her death these past weeks. And in doing that she gives us an example that we have nothing to fear. Instead, we can stop clinging to the securities and joys of this life and empty our arms, our hearts, and our souls so that we can then be embraced by God who will say to us “Well done good and faithful servant, you have been faithful in a few things. Come and enter into the happiness I have prepared for you.”