I was out-of-town last weekend at a family funeral.
Who passed away was my sister-in-law, Shirley. The “in-law” part always feels inaccurate because she was so much more to me.
Shirley (formerly Brummel) married my oldest brother, Noe, when they were both very young and I was just 18 months old. I really don’t know my brother without his wife! Shirley played a very important role in my life and I was honored to be have been asked by the family to deliver the eulogy at her memorial service in Holland, MI.
Here’s (part 1) basically what I shared:
Onefleshness. I want to begin at the beginning of the Story. In the earliest pages of the scriptures, God looks at the man and sees that it is not good that he would be alone. So, the Lord made him a helper. When He brought the helper to the man, whom the man called wo-man, the story says that they were instantly joined in a special bond that was described as one flesh.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
This story mirrors Noe and Shirley’s story. God knew early on in Noe’s life that it wouldn’t be good for him to be alone. He was prone to some wild behavior and had a bit of a rebellious attitude which was seized when he saw Shirley for the first time. Noe was so struck by her beauty that when he noticed her he called out, “Wooo…. man!” And he began to pursue her with great passion.
They were married not much later. This was 1970, and at the time, theirs would have been considered a mixed marriage but they didn’t care. They sensed God’s great purpose in their lives. Noe surrendered his life to Christ at Shirley’s urging and they were married.
Not perfect in those early years but clearly in love, Noe and Shirley really lived out of onefleshness in Christ. There are so few couples these days who are like that; where they are so close their names fuse. They’re not Noe and Shirley. It’s like NoenShirley.
The Lord underlined this unique bond when Noe was paralysed in a motorcycle accident just over 25 years ago. He began a quadriplegic and Shirley became his full-time and sole caregiver.
For the last 25 years, Shirley performed every task that Noe could not for himself, which was many of the most basic. She would gently touch the back of his neck and sense exactly what he needed. Her body became his body and his body became hers.
In their wedding vows, they promised before God to love one another in sickness and in health. This commitment was tested and found to be solid.
Shirley’s hope was to care for Noe until he passed. But cancer entered their story and took her life very quickly. Despite many prayers and the best level care available, Shirley died just 4 months after receiving the diagnosis.
It’s probable that she had cancer must longer than they knew. It is possible that she was so focused on caring for him that she ignored her own symptoms?
On my early run the day of the funeral, I came across a dead monarch butterfly in the parking lot of the hotel I was staying. I caught my attention because I realized that it too passed on before it finished its expected journey.
But its beauty reminded me that we don’t get to write our own stories. We don’t get always make the entire journey that we set out for. We can only fly gracefully until the Lord calls us home.
I grieve for and with my brother on the loss of his partner and the pain he feels for having his onefleshness torn apart by the death of his beloved wife and caregiver.