I’m behind on posting this week, in part due to the passing of my Aunty Betty. I promised her some years ago that I would officiate at her service. That happened today. There were so many people there who loved Betty and her family. This post is my homily delivered at her graveside service in Neosho, MO.
There are those people in your life you believe will always be there. On August 22nd, my spouse, Charla, and I were just finishing dinner when the text message arrived letting me know one of those anchors had left this world.
Aunt Betty, it’s hard for me to call her anything else, was that person for so many of us. She was always there. Lots of things might shift and change, but Betty was a constant. She was always so thrilled to see any of us who would stop by to say, “Hi.” She certainly had her opinions about what you might be doing, involved in, or involved with, but her overwhelming love for her family was at the center of her acceptance of each of us.
As I reflected on her life, I had an insight that surprised me because I had not thought of it before. Betty was the bridge between the Montgomerys and the Gwartneys. As the baby of the Montgomery children and the one closest in age to the Gwartney kids, Betty became a natural connector. My dad, Gene Gwartney, was her brother just as much as Howard Montgomery, her oldest brother. You only have to look at those of us gathered here to see the power of her ability to love people into relationship with each other. The rest of you may have figured that out long ago, but it was a revelation to me.
There are so many memories I have about my aunt who lived in the distant land of Neosho. You know, kids aren’t the best at understanding geography. We’ll have some time to share our recollections as we come together after this service and these memories will differ depending on our relationship and proximity.
For some reason lost to my personal history, my Aunt Betty is tied to the music of Boots Randolph and Floyd Kramer. Throughout my life, whenever I hear those artists, I think of her. The image isn’t clear but it includes a Boots Randolph album cover. Google it or look it up on YouTube if you’re too young to have an idea who I’m talking about.
While Aunt Betty was not one to wear her faith on her sleeve, she had confidence that when her life ended, she would live on in the arms of God and in the memories of her family. Kristi and I visited her at the Joplin hospital when she had hip surgery. She was doing well and wanted out of the confines of her room… and another cup of coffee. We prayed together, holding hands, confiding in the healing love of God. I could see a peace come over her as she settled into her faith.
The faith she lived was tested in the loss of two daughters and her husband. There are people who would give up when faced with losses like this but not Aunt Betty. She never gave up and could do most anything she set her mind to. Now, the other side of that coin, as I’m sure her boys know, is that if she set her mind on something, it wasn’t very likely you were going to change it.
One example I’ll always remember is well into her later years when she quit smoking. This is something she had done her entire life but when she knew her health was really at risk if she kept it up, she found the will to quit. When I asked her about that, rather than going on about how hard it was or how she missed smoking, she told me, “I would’ve quit years ago if I would’ve known I’d feel so much better.”
There are many things in life we can look back on and think, “If would’ve made that change years ago if I would’ve known how much better my life would be.” But most of us lack the will, faith, and persistence that Betty lived each and every day to tackle those difficult changes.
I do know one thing that never changed for her and that was her love of our big, crazy, imperfect, quirky Montgomery-Gwartney family, especially her children and grandchildren. I know it’s a sad day for us as we say goodbye, but I also know Aunt Betty wouldn’t mind if we had a little fun.
So in a moment, as a remembrance, I would like, if you’re willing, for us to gather around for a picture of this holy and special time in memory of the life we’re here to remember. In the name of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer, Amen.