I would love to take any credit for the brilliance that follows here, but all credit goes to Deanna Watson Clarke, the widow, who spoke these brilliant and grace filled words at her husband’s funeral this week.
Thanks to Deanna for letting me share her words here. If you agree with me that she should really get busy writing her book, feel free to leave a comment to that effect. I am privileged to serve with Deanna at Southminster.
The Eulogy of John Clarke
On behalf of the family of John Clarke, thank you for being here. We know that funerals are not pleasant. I know you would have been more comfortable somewhere else and yet everyone in this room chose to forsake your own comfort so you could be here to give comfort to us. We appreciate the choice you made.
I need to say another thank you. As many of you know, John has had sporadic struggles with his health for years. But this last year the intensity “intensified” as we contended with open heart surgery, his second big brain surgery, a stroke that robbed him of his ability to speak clearly or to walk and then the infection that swept in and took his life. We ended up on a treacherous road with dangers, and snares and big boulders closing in all around. We had no choice but to face what lie ahead. Others did have a choice. The deeper we got into the wilderness the more we became aware of those who saw the difficulties and pain of our journey who could have stepped to the sideline but didn’t. Your resolute presence with us….has been among the greatest blessings of our lives. You know who you are. We know who you are. And God has taken note as well!
Today is the day we have set aside to, in a group setting, grieve the loss and celebrate the life of John Thomas Clarke. As part of that process,I want to introduce you to the man who stole my heart and has taken it with him to Heaven. I want you to know what made him so special to me.
I had not yet laid eyes on John before meeting him for our first date. I had some basic information. I knew he was 6’1″ (usually a disqualifier for me), that he weighed about 190 pounds, that he worked in construction, that he seemed sweet on the phone, and that he had two young sons who were his pride and joy. He knew more about me. Not only had he seen a few pictures, we had held several conversations over the telephone and had established that I was a good talker, and he was an even better listener!
We agreed to meet at the Chapala’s Mexican restaurant on Glenwood. As I turned my car into the parking lot, I saw a tall, good looking, wrangler clad fellow begin crossing the lot. And I said a quick prayer. it was: “God, please let that be John Clarke.” And as John looked at me and gave me that first smile, I heard God speak to my heart and say, “Your prayer has been answered in the affirmative!”
Dinner went by way too fast. Neither of us had dared hope the connection would be so strong and so immediate. We decided to drive to the Magestic theater to see a movie….any movie. That part didn’t matter.
Afterwards we returned to the restaurant and as John walked me to my car, I realized he had a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Doubtless, they were bought with the idea that if it didn’t work out with the girl, he could always give the flowersto his Mom. Sorry Mom! As he extended the flowers to me he noticed the price tag still attached to the cellaphane and so in one suave, smooth motion he removed the tag as he picked up his left foot and stuck it to the bottom of his heel
As we spent time getting to know one another, I grew to love how safe I felt with him. Not just physically safe but safe in the sense that John appreciated me being me. He also demonstrated early on that he got my sense of humor and was my match in banter. One evening he told me, “I saw three deer on the way to work this morning.” I said, “How could you tell they were going to work?”. And he replied, “They were carrying lunchpails.”
He was thoughtful and kindhearted. I stopped by his home after having attended a football game in a cold, windy rain. I was still freezing to my core after I arrived at John’s home. He welcomed me and then left me alone while he continued puttering around the house. I didnt realize he had put a homemade quilt in the dryer to warm it up until I felt it being wrapped around my shoulders. I think at that moment, when he did for me what my Mom used to, I knew I was in love.
Before long, it was time for me to meet the boys. The first time, only Stephen was there. In Stephen I saw John’s kindness, his sensitivity and capacity for compassion. I saw depth of character in a 10 year old, and I fell in love with my second Clarke boy! The next time, I met Michael. In Michael, I saw thoughtfulness and energy, a curious mind an adventurous spirit and charisma. And I fell in love with my third Clarke boy!
In the years we all had together, I think it is significant to note that not once has a cross word been exchanged between me and Stephen and Michael. Ok, there was the one time when Michael got a little upset when, in the heat of a nerf gun battle, his face accidently got in the way of where I was shooting, but other than that we have stayed in tune with one another, and I have felt so welcomed into the fold.
There are so many ways of John that I loved. He was a man of integrity with a strong sense of right and wrong. He was considerate and caring. Plus he was so dang cute! At the top of the list was the love and devotion he had for his boys. In the limited time he had with them, he proved to be very adept at finding teachable moments in everyday life…Everything from why it is important to wear seatbelts, to table manners (those lessons might have been designed for me as well), to how to handle conflict, to how to shake hands with a person when you first meet….He so wanted to be here long enough to put every tool they would ever need in their tool box and instructions to go with each tool.
At the funeral home Wednesday, after we had said our last goodbye to their Father, I heard John’s voice of instruction as I watched Michael square up his shoulders as he stepped up to meet the funeral director. I watched as he looked the director in the eye, extended his hand for a firm handshake and said “thank you”. And I realized as I observed that Michael carried out the instructions with military like precision.
And how John loved the connections Stephen and I made over books! neither he nor Michael could see anything fun about our love of spending hours at Barnes and Noble. We would enter the store together and then go our seprate ways to gather stacks of books. Then we would meet in the cafe for a snack while we reviewed each book to help us decide which ones we would purchase. Sometimes we would get lost in our reading. One time I sneezed and I think it was a couple of minutes before Stephen looked up and said, “What?” And I said, “Oh I just sneezed” and he said “God bless you” and then we both disappeared into our books again. When John teased us about the hours we spent at Barnes and Noble I told him to be glad that I got a fun date with a Clarke fella, and he didnt have to take me.
In the last 11 months that John has been either in the hospital or the nursing home, it has been difficult to figure out how to include him in the lives of his sons. Stephen had choir concerts and piano recitals that John could not attend. Even though he is quiet and somewhat reserved like his Dad, Stephen decided that he could play his music for his Dad on the piano in the dining hall of Samaritan Village. It was a special treat for John and me, as well as the residents and staff at the nursing home.
And Michael had his first special date. The evening included dinner out followed by a dance at BSU. Michael decided dinner out would be in John’s room so his Dad could be a part of his son’s first date.
Even though Ashley was nearly an adult when John came into my life, he became the best father figure she had and theirs was an ever sweetening relationship.
John and I both shared the practice of ending every conversation with our kids and each other with the reminder “I Love you” subscribing to the belief that this would ensure that our last words to one another would be the most important ones of all.
As you can tell, there really is no question about what John leaves this world. It may not be much in the way of money or material possessions. No, it is way more significant and valuable than that. His legacy to the world goes by two names: Stephen and Michael. My time with the boys is and will for the rest of my life be, time with the best of John. For that I will always be grateful.
He leaves us but his love remains.
I watched John suffer so greatly in these last months. He was so brave and so strong and so determined to get better. Even as recently as April when I was sidelined with back surgery, he stayed motivated and even became more so as he told others he had to get stronger so he could get home to take care of me.
You might think that he lost his dignity when so much of his independence was taken. And if all you saw was surface, it is easy to understand why that might be your conclusion. He didn’t make it an hour into his day before he had spilled coffee down his front. He had trouble speaking so that others could understand. He had trouble swallowing. He couldn’t walk. But his dignity was what stood out the most.
Was he frustrated with the turn his life had taken? Yes. Did he mourn what was lost? Absolutely. Did he cling with all his might to what he had left. Oh yes. Did I share his emotions? Every one of them. But if anything, what John lost, made us both appreciate more what we had left. Every element of John that I had fallen in love with was still with him….even more prominent now. All we wanted was to get him home with the dream of sitting out on our front porch again together enjoying the evening air, the border collies, and just being in one another’s company. We wanted to share front row seats to our kids unfolding lives. We wanted to go for rides in the country, read good books, listen to good music, spend time with our friends and loved ones. All those things were within our reach and then even those were snatched away.
Those who think that the ability to walk, and speak clearly, and independently tend to their individual needs is a prerequisite to a life worth living have missed the point. The supreme joy of life is the conviction that we are loved. We had that without question. And to a depth we never could have reached without our struggles. And we still had hope until the last days of his life.
So, as I enter into the Valley of grief, I know there is much still for me to learn. Here are some insights that have come to me, formed so that Irecognize them, in these last few months.
Life is a gift not a given.
Sometimes the most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.
When we become fully aware of how fragile life is, we realize there are no ordinary days.
We learn that a lot of the stuff that commands our attention and energy is trivial, and a lot of the little stuff is really the most important stuff. We learn the depths and breadth that friendship can go. We grow more gentle with one another and more generous with grace. We learn to pray for those who need grace but for whom we are not in a position or inclination to give.
We learn that we cannot possess the ones we love. We hold them only on loan. This makes the courage to love also the courage to lose. This hard truth speaks most clearly when everything we hold dear is slipping from our grasp and there is nothing that we can do. When life as we have come to expect it to be is being hijacked by death. Our consolation is that even though people die, love doesn’t. And love is the vehicle that will transport us to Heaven when it is our time.
We learn that we pay for love with pain but love is worth the cost.
We learn that having our hearts broken by profound loss also means we were blessed with great love.
We learn if we try to protect ourselves from suffering, we will succeed only in denying from ourselves the very thing that makes life bearable and worth living.
We learn that life isn’t about waiting for the sun to come out. It’s about learning the art of dancing in the rain.
We learn that we live basically by two things, love and fear. Every choice we make, every action, every thought stems from one or the other. And when when our time comes and we reach out, it’s love that will save us.
We learn that what really matters in this life, isn’t in this life.
The Bible tells us that Love bears all things, believes all things, Hopes all things, endures all things….and I might add, outlasts all things.
I believe that the principle question which will be placed before us individually as we stand before the gates of Heaven will be “How well did you love?”. Not how much and not how many but how well. Stephen and Michael, we can rest assured your Dad just got an A+ with his answer.
The loss of John Clarke is so profound because the gift of John Clarke was so great. I’ll take the loss because I had the gift. And even though he is gone, the gift of him remains.