We were officiating at the funeral of our dear sister, Maryanne. Both being close to her family, we shared the thought that standing and speaking might introduce some difficulty into the experience.
I had previewed just a minute or so of three different audio-visual presentations. And in the brief glimpse, I made the judgment that the first collection of music and pictures would not trigger our emotions like the last two. The good news was that both Bob and I would have our part of the program completed long before the last two were played.
After a few songs, I welcomed those who had gathered on that overcast March afternoon. A brief prayer later and Bob and I stepped off the platform to watch the first video. With baby pictures of Maryanne displayed above and before us, I breathed easily as Brown-Eyed Girl echoed through the auditorium. I silently prayed a thanksgiving for the way that churches now allow the families to plan services that memorialize and celebrate. Happy pictures spun through happy music. Minutes later, we were on far more difficult ground.
Maryanne was, for almost five years, a cancer survivor. She was a hero and a champion of her faith. For some of us, our memories of her battle were incomplete. We could remember when she and her husband, Darell, would travel off to a distant hospital for surgery or chemotherapy or the stem cell transplant. We missed much of the struggle. We rejoined their story when they returned home.
Now, from the front row, I was watching pictures that recorded those incredibly hard times when she was away. Each photo spoke of her incredible courage and longsuffering strength. They also told stories of tears, fatigue, and pain. Ron, a family friend and a photographer from the local paper, had lovingly and carefully documented each stage of their journey.
"I thought you said we'd be fine," Elder Bob whispered.
"I thought wrong." I turned away from the images — concentrating on my notes — hoping against hope that I could fulfill my duties that afternoon.
As He so graciously does, God did provide both Bob and me with the words we needed and a measure of tranquility. When we were sitting once again, the second presentation rolled. It was a beautiful collection of video brought together by Nellie, a friend of the family. There were times for laughter and sadness. The way the message was presented was a glorious testimony to Maryanne's family and the way that they walked together over the years of pain and suffering.
I was unprepared for the final clip.
Maryanne sat gazing into the camera with those big brown eyes. The ones that captivated Darell so many years ago. The ones that welcomed visitors to her home and eventually to her hospice room. Those eyes that would open to see Darell or one of her children or a dear friend. Those eyes that would say, even when her lips could not, "I'm glad to see you. I love you."
She began speaking with her eyes. Her voice was soft. Her words were for Darell. For the one who had been at her side for more than twenty years. For the one who led the parade in being positive. For the one who refused to accept setbacks like denial of insurance coverage for new procedures. For the one who was always there. For the one she loved.
For just a few seconds, we were all eavesdropping while Maryanne talked to Darell. "I could have never made it through this life without you."
A long line of well-wishers crowded by the open casket, stopping to speak and to hug the family. The family said their touching good-byes.
In the back of the limousine on the way to the cemetery, Elder Bob and I talked about the impact of Maryanne's life and witness on us all — how God had spoken through her.
I told Elder Bob that I thought we would be fine.
How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord's work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)