What I Learned at My Aunt’s Funeral

I’ve walked through their front door dozens of times, for Thanksgivings or July 4th pool parties or some other family gathering. My aunt and uncle’s two-story Texas ranch house is perfect for get-togethers, with horses in the pasture and a pool in the backyard, and my aunt always made sure that marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate were available in case anyone wanted to make s’mores over the firepit.

But this gathering was different.

My aunt died four weeks ago at the age of 61. The 500 or so miles between us kept us from being very close, but as I walked into her home this time, I felt her absence everywhere.

Aunt Laura was always ready for a party, always up for going shopping or riding horses or playing piano while we sang Christmas carols. The night before her funeral, we decided to make s’mores. All the ingredients were waiting on the kitchen counter.

A simple act
Like most family gatherings, this one became an opportunity for reminiscing, particularly among those older than me. It’s always entertaining to hear stories of people I’ve known all my life but didn’t know way-back-when. I heard about a kitten in a washing machine and my uncle trying to cheat in a youth group game and my grandfather stopping in a parking lot halfway to Alaska because it was time to change the oil in the car.

At dinner the night before the funeral, I sat next to the woman who, years ago, invited my preteen aunt to church. It’s hard for me to imagine Aunt Laura not in church, as it always seemed like such an integral part of her life.

But Laura was not raised in a Christian home and did not go to church until the neighbor girl invited her. She went, heard the gospel, eventually accepted Christ and was baptized, and met another churchgoing family in the neighborhood: my grandparents and their four kids. She married my uncle several years later. “Never doubt that a simple act can change everything,” my uncle wrote on Facebook a couple weeks ago about that neighbor’s influence in Laura’s life.

Let them see You
Surgeries and treatments messed up several of my aunt’s plans over the past few years, but she volunteered in prison ministry for as long as she could. She played piano in church when she felt well enough. She took on more piano students as she was able, and last summer, during COVID lockdowns, she and my uncle and cousin transported some of their horses to a retirement home to greet residents through their windows.

There is nothing like reflecting on a loved one’s life to push us to think about what we’re making of our own. About a week before she died, my aunt shared what would be her last Facebook post: a memory of something she had shared three years earlier. It was a simple photo, a gray background with chalk-style letters that said simply, “Lord, let them see You in me.”

It seemed so appropriate, a fitting conclusion to her social media presence. From all the stories, eulogies and Facebook comments that have been shared since her death, it’s clear that so many of us did see Christ in her.

Holy moments
Funerals are unusual things. Not fun. Never easy. But in the midst of all the tears there are usually a few smiles when funny stories or memories are shared. And for the Christian, a funeral is even more emotionally mixed: full of grief but also overflowing with hope.

The eulogy was given by my aunt’s friend, who shared about when they went on a missions trip to Romania. Laura had insisted on taking along a piano keyboard despite her friend’s concern about the hassle of packing it.

Once my aunt began playing “Amazing Grace” in a small village church, “something holy happened in that moment,” her friend said. Even without knowing each other’s language, the Romanian believers and American believers worshipped God together through the song they all knew.

Because of a friend’s simple act, my Aunt Laura was introduced to Jesus. Because of her lifetime of little acts, countless others were also introduced to Jesus.

Never doubt that a simple act can change everything. You won’t recognize the impact of many of your simple acts until, like Aunt Laura, you stand in the presence of your Savior and see the many for whom you made a difference — an eternal difference.

James Clapper

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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