Betty Marquis was known by many names. A few of you called her mom. A few others of you called her Gram. Most of us called her Betty. Just don't call her Elizabeth. That always elicited an eye roll! Betty was a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a "fairy" godmother, a sister, a niece, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend to many.
Born and raised in Berlin, Betty was a life-long member of this congregation. She was shaped by early events in her life: helping her dad with his florist business - and then losing him when she was only 13. How many of you know that she started driving at 13, to help her dad deliver flowers. She told me THAT story last week, with a gleam in her eye.
Her dad's death was hard on her. She never forgot the pain of losing him so young, and what that was like. His death also meant a move to a new neighborhood, where she would eventually meet Jim. After marriage, they lived in the house Jim grew up in, on fourth street for all but two years of their married life.
Betty had hoped to go to nursing school, but there was no money for that training. Instead, she worked in the office at the Brown Company and she worked seasonally at Gill's. She did book-keeping at home. She raised wonderful children. She crafted and knit. And she contributed much to the life of this congregation.
When Rev. Ellie arrived at St. Barnabas, Betty handed her a piece of paper onto which she'd written all of the things that she did for the church. It had 27 different things on it. And, she'd say, with that characteristic Betty twinkle, that's not all of it.
Usually in a funeral homily, the preacher tells a bit about the person's life, and then tries to connect it all to God. With Betty, there was no distinction. All that Betty did flowed out of her love of God and her faith.
On Sunday, Leo and Pamela Carrier and I were talking about Betty. Leo said that Betty was responsible for the character of this congregation. "If we are welcoming, and hospitable, and have a sense of mission in the community," Leo said, "it's because Betty modeled that for us." We are a better place because of her being in the midst of us. She taught us all, by word and example, how to live.
Last night, Scott's friend Dave, one of the pall bearers, essentially said the same thing. Betty and Jim welcomed him into their home when he was young. "I was like the fourth child," he said. "And now, as an adult, I try to model that same behavior for my boys, so I can pass on the gift and values the Betty and Jim gave to me."
The gospel reading that Rev. Ellie just read for us from John's gospel is part of the service that we use in this church for communion under "Special Circumstances." Betty and I had many communions under special circumstances in recent months. At home, when she didn't feel well enough to come to church. And several times in recent weeks at AVH. I always read this passage to her, and then, in my reflection I would tell her that I'd chosen it because it reminded me of her.
Betty's faith was a deep part of her life. Her conviction was always strong. Even in the hospital, even when she felt really lousy (though she never complained about that), her faith and trust in God, and her joy in life never failed. A few days before she died, I told her that on the outside, she seemed really cheerful (despite being in the hospital and being enrolled into hospice). "How is it in here," I asked? "Just the same," was her smiling reply, that twinkle in her eye.
On Friday night, the night before Betty died, her friend Sophie had a dream. Betty (and all the knitting ladies, I think) were in Sophie's kitchen. I have to go home now, Betty said, standing up. She buttoned up her coat. I have to go home now.
Friends, the grief that we feel now at Betty's death is normal. Our hearts are broken because we loved her, and she loved us. It's hard to imagine a world without Betty in it. But Betty is home. She is reunited with the God she loved so well and loved so deeply.
And, she lives on in each of us. She lives on in the stories we tell. She lives on when we are loving and hospitable. She lives on as we pass on the values she taught us to the next generations.
And so today, I give thanks for the life and witness of Betty Marquis. I give thanks for having known and loved her. And I give thanks for what I have learned from her. I also give thanks that the physical suffering that she endured in recent months has ended and that she is free from her earthly body and is now living in closer communion with her God. AMEN.