- - Friday, November 18, 2016

After all the anger and bitterness of this election, it’s a respite to think about the eternal verities and ponder the importance of family and the traditions that unite us. Aunt Alice, age 98, died last month. She was the last of the “original” nine Crouse siblings and their spouses. With all 18 now gone, her death marks the end of an era for the remaining Crouse clan.

After marrying into the huge and very close family, I’ve been part of numerous family gatherings at weddings and funerals over the years. This one was especially meaningful since Aunt Alice maintained a prayer list of more than 170 family members for whom she prayed every single day. She kept her list on a regular lined yellow notebook pad beside her chair. Each morning, she sat there after breakfast and for 2 hours she went down that list and prayed for every family member individually and specifically. Then, she moved to various slips of paper torn from the notebook. On those scraps are the names of friends in various groups that she also prayed for –– neighbors, colleagues, her own birth family, the sick and those who were hurting or in need for a wide variety of reasons. If a family member called with a request, she had a list for those special requests and prayed for each one specifically until she was notified that the need had been answered.

The funeral service featured the old hymns of the church, sung both by the congregation and various talented family members who have blessed the hearts of the family over decades at such occasions. As we gathered in the church, the organist and pianist played some of the all-time favorite hymns –– “Victory in Jesus,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Blessed Assurance” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The congregation sang “How Great Thou Art,” “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” “Amazing Grace” and “Lily of the Valley.” Soloists sang “No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The music pastor of the church and his wife sang a duet, the beautiful “Far Above Riches” which describes the powerful and eternal influence of a Godly woman. Alice’s son, daughter and grandson gave moving, emotional personal reflections about their mom/grandmother’s life.

I wondered as the emotions swept over me. Will Aunt Alice’s death, marking the end of an era, also mark the end of the shared family traditions and deep faith that unified the strong-willed, opinionated individuals of the family into a close-knit clan? I remembered hearing the older generation poignantly recall the words of Granny Crouse, matriarch of the clan, who moaned as she was dying, “Who will now pray for my grandchildren?” Aunt Alice took on that mantle.

The title of her pastor’s eulogy said it all, “The Blessing of Alice.” In the chaos of today’s hectic lifestyles, it is so important to be reminded of the blessing that one life can be. It is a cliché to say that life is all about family and relationships, but Aunt Alice’s funeral was a potent reminder that those really are the only things that matter in life. One woman, in a small Kentucky town, not only unified a family spread all across the U.S. with several families living abroad, she had worldwide impact through her faithfulness, her devotion to God and her prayers. Truly, her life was “Far Above Riches.”

The benediction at the conclusion of the church service was given by my sister-in-law, Dr. Bette Shipps Crouse. We had attended a family wedding just two weeks prior to Aunt Alice’s death. After the wedding party assembled at the front of those gathered, the officiating minister stepped forward to welcome the bride using the dramatic King James version of a Bible passage, “Behold She Cometh.” Before giving the benediction, Bette beautifully described the wedding scene for us and then asked us to picture God, standing with his arms wide open to welcome Aunt Alice to heaven by exclaiming, “Behold She Cometh.” There was not a dry eye in the church as we each imagined God warmly welcoming and giving honor to the blessing that was Aunt Alice.

As Aunt Alice’s blocks-long funeral procession slowly moved from the church to the cemetery, a long line of cars had pulled over to wait for the procession to pass. Then, instead of going straight through the small Kentucky town, the procession took a slight detour through the local liberal arts college semi-circle. Aunt Alice graduated from Asbury College (now University) and remained a faithful alumnus, including the institution’s leadership and students in her daily prayers. The procession’s unprecedented farewell detour was especially emotional as we could see students and professors stop to stand quietly in the time-honored Southern tradition of showing respect.

At the burial cemetery, cousin the Rev. Dr. J.L. Crouse gave brief remarks based on Revelations 8:4, “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” (New American Standard). Each mourner was aware of the “incense” of prayers on our behalf that ascended to God every day through the “angel” voice Aunt Alice.

No wonder the church overflowed with friends and loved ones. No wonder the sincerity of the loss and grief was palpable among those in the church and standing by the grave site. I found the beautiful words that the Greek poet Simonides carved into the rocks at Thermopylae to be the only appropriate response to such a solemn occasion marking the end of an era.

Go, passer-by, and to Sparta tell

That she in faithful, devoted service fell.

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