BOSSIER CITY, La. (BP)–I recently spoke in Pensacola, Fla., with Art Linkletter who is 96 years old. He showed me a set of keys and said that when you don’t know where they are, that’s old age, but if you don’t know what they are, that’s Alzheimer’s. He has a great sense of humor, and as I listened to him, I thought about how much longer people are now living. I then received a call that my mother-in-law, Jane, had just died. Jane had a great sense of humor.
She listened to and laughed at all of my mother-in-law jokes. Like the one about the man who said he was going on a pleasure trip — he was taking his mother-in-law to the airport. Or the classic one in which a tourist visited a town and saw a very unusual funeral procession. A horse-drawn buggy carrying two caskets led the procession. Behind the buggy was a man leading a dog and behind him walked one hundred men in single file. He was so curious that he just had to ask about the funeral. When he asked the man with the dog, the man replied it was a tragedy. The first casket held his wife, the second casket held his mother-in-law, and the dog had killed them both. The tourist gasped and said how awful that was. He then asked if he could buy the dog. The grieving husband told him that he would have to get in line.
Jane howled at that joke and said that it would be better if the husband and father-in-law were in the caskets. Of course I told her that it wouldn’t be as funny because all mothers-in-law weren’t as wonderful as she. She often gave me that silly “I-know-you-are-lying” grin.
I have to admit that our relationship didn’t start out very well. Jane was a classy lady. At Trinity Lutheran Home, they called her “Miss Hollywood” because she wouldn’t leave her room without her makeup and jewelry. Her husband was from upstate New York and he was a dignified, well-educated, formal guy. They were shocked that their daughter would marry a PK from “LA” — lower Alabama. They believed I was culturally challenged.
Every Thanksgiving, Penny and I argued because it was an event that I had never quite experienced. We arrived at a perfect house that had been perfectly cleaned and sat in perfect chairs with perfect manners and ate exactly at 4 p.m. and not a minute earlier. We sat at a perfect dining room table with a perfect turkey and used perfect silver. I won’t bother you by describing the perfect Christmas with a paid professional Santa Claus and rounds of perfectly wrapped presents. I think you now understand that by the end of most holidays I was perfectly ticked. Of course, our kids enjoyed every minute of it!
I then remembered a message I gave about accepting people. I used the phrase, “By their fruits you shall know them, but by their roots you shall understand them.” I realized that this is the way Jane showed love. She had the house perfect for us. She shopped for the perfect turkey for us. The china and the silver were perfect for us. I started to receive the kind of love she gave instead of demanding the kind of love I wanted. It was the beginning of Penny’s family becoming my family.
Over the years, they left their downtown high church with its liturgy and rituals. Jane became the pianist for the little country church down the road. Her husband Ken was a second father to me, and I baptized him in that country church at age 74.
Jane would tell you that the worst joke I ever told was about a funeral procession. The procession was going up a hill and the coffin fell out. It went right down the hill, through a parking lot and a shopping center, and into a drug store where it stopped directly in front of the pharmacy. As it hit the counter, the coffin’s lid popped open. The pharmacist looked down, and a lady looked up. He didn’t know what to do, so he asked, “May I help you?” She replied, “You have to give me something to stop this coffin.”
Jane was right. It is a bad joke, but it does make a point. Someone had to stop death. Jesus did when He rose from the dead. Some believe we live in the land of the living and we are headed for the land of the dying. It is really the opposite. Because of His perfect love and the blessed resurrection we celebrate, we live in the land of the dying and are going to the land of the living.
Death is a departure. Airport monitors show arrival and departure times. In order to arrive, you must depart from another place. If you try to fly to Dallas without departing from another city, they will call the men in the white coats.
We can’t arrive in heaven without departing from this earth. Death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity. When you put relatives on a plane with someone waiting to meet them at their destination, you say, “There they go.” They are gone. But guess what? At their destination, someone’s saying, “Here they come.”
My wife talked to her mother the day before she departed. She was sometimes confused. Some days she didn’t know why we needed car keys. This particular day she was upset because she couldn’t find her husband Ken who, by the way, had departed several years before. She was confused on Friday because she couldn’t find Ken, but happy on Saturday because she found him. On Saturday, we said, “There Jane goes.” But Ken said, “Here Jane comes.” We are sad; but we didn’t lose Jane that day, we know where she is. We are the ones that are lost because we miss her, which makes me think that we would all be better off dead. I bet Jane thinks that is a funny one-liner.
Charles Lowery is a member of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, La., founder and president of LIFE, Inc. He is in a fulltime speaking ministry.