Doris Aas(Feb. 12, 1924-Aug. 10, 2009)
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral, Fargo
August 21, 2009
Psalm 36; John 14.1-6
In these last several days, I’ve found myself doing something I don’t usually do. Whenever I have thought about Doris, I have found that I must remind myself that she isn’t with us. And that’s been very difficult for me. Doris isn’t with us. And when I do remind myself, I am somewhat amazed by the absence of Doris in my life.
Doris was one of those people who seemed, to me anyhow, like a solid rock. She was always there. You knew that she was there and knowing she was there, just made everything a little better.
When I served here at Gethsemane Cathedral as an Assisting Priest, one of my favorite services was of course, the 8:00 Rite I Eucharist. I could almost always guarantee that Doris would always be there with Arlene, always in that back pew. And I always knew that at the exchange of peace, she would always give me a hug. For those of you who know me, I’m just not a hugger. Blame it on my WASPy, straight-laced upbringing. I am just not a big hugger. You will see me kind of stiffen up when anyone tries to hug me.
But it was different with Doris. When Doris hugged you, you knew you were hugged. You knew you were enveloped in those arms of…love. And although I didn’t normally like hugging, I did like when Doris hugged me. When Doris hugged you, it was good. It was beautiful. And when she hugged you knew you were loved and cared for. No matter how hard life got, no matter how alone or scared you might be about life, when Doris hugged you, you knew there was someone out there caring for you and loving you and praying for you. Always.
And that is one of the things I have been missing in this last week or so. I have been missing that fact that, on this side of the “veil,” so to speak, I won’t be hugged by Doris again. And that reality has caused a sad absence in my life. Of course, for those who don’t have faith, who don’t hope in that place Doris hoped in, this might seem tragic or overwhelmingly sad. But for those of who do hope, who do believe there is something more, who do strive for that place we have been promised by Jesus does exists and does await us, this realization that Doris has left us for a temporary period of time is a time of sadness, yes, but not despair. We shed tears at this temporary separation, but we don’t give up and allow ourselves to wallow in our sadness. I can tell you right here and now, that Doris would not put with up with any wallowing self-pity over her death. That’s the kind of person she was and we all know it.
Last night, I was reading one of my favorite psalms, Psalm 36, because I cannot read verses 9 and 10 of that psalm without hearing Doris’ voice. For several years we had a noon healing service here at the Cathedral, in the chapel. Doris always attended that service and, for a few years anyway, lead the intercessions. At one point in those intercessions this portion of Psalm 36 was used.
“For with you is the well of life,*
and in your life we see light.
Continue your loving kindness to those who know you,*
and your favor to those who are true of heart.”
To this day, whenever I come across that psalm in the Daily Office or anywhere else, I cannot read or hear those lines without hearing them in Doris’ voice. Last night it especially struck me how appropriate those words are to remember Doris. In many ways, Doris really was one of those “true of heart” people. She was a woman of immense strength, immense independence, immense integrity. And, she was a woman of immense faith.
The other day when I was talking to Arlene, she related to me about how her mother talked non-stop for the last 18 hours of her life. At one point, she was teaching a class, I believe, which is very telling. Even at the end of her life, we know where Doris’ thoughts and affection lay.
But more interestingly, at some point in those last hours, she started folding her clothes and packing her suitcase. She fixed her hair and put on lipstick because she was preparing for her last trip. That, to me, was the most telling aspect of Doris’ last day. She knew she was going. And she knew where she was going.
In our Gospel for today we hear that wonderful promise from Jesus: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” I have said it before and I will say it again: I love that image of mansions. I truly believe that this is what God provides us with after the turmoils and troubles of this life. Now, by mansion, I don’t necessarily mean gabled roofs and oak-paneled drawing rooms. But from a spiritual perspective, God does provide us, in that place toward which we are headed, with something truly beautiful and wonderful God does provide us with a place of absolute beauty. And I can’t imagine anything less for the place to which Doris was traveling to last week. I can’t imagine anything less than that for the place Doris lives in at this moment.
Even now, today, Doris, the quintessential teacher, is still teaching us. She is teaching us the value of how important this life is that God has given us. And she is teaching also how to pass on to the next place when this life is over. Doris is teaching us that death is not something to be feared. It is not something to cowtail to. It is not something to shiver in fear before. Rather, Doris teaches us, death is to be faced.
Later in this service, when we commend Doris to Christ, we will say those words that pack such meaning in moments like this:
“All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song, ‘Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.’”
Facing her own mortality, facing the grave, Doris taught us that invaluable lesson that the greatest victory we have is being able to say, even in the face of death, “Alleluia.” And we, today, celebrating her life and her influence on all of us, are also able to say that same beautiful, joyful word.
Yes, I feel her absence in my life. But, I also feel her presence. And that presence in my life is now even more real, more present, more helpful than it has ever been before. Her presence is more encompassing than those hugs I am going to miss. Her presence now is more solid and real than before. And it is more eternal. Now, “always” means something more. In this life, we know impermanence—we know things will come to an end. Everything is temporary. But there—in that place Jesus has promised us is full of mansions—“always” means “always.” There, she is being hugged…hugged in the arms of God’s mercy. There, she has been welcomed into the “blessed rest of everlasting peace.” There, she is a part of “the glorious company of the saints in light.” And knowing she is there and rejoicing that she is there, we can, even in this moment of sadness, feel also joy. And we know that when this life gets hard, that when we have difficulty finding joy in this life, when are frustrated and ornery and depressed, that there—in that place “where sorrow and pain are no more,” she is awaiting us with Christ our Lord. And know she is there, waiting for us, we know that, more than ever, we are loved and cared for and looked after in a way we never have before.
So, on this day, even through our sadness, even through our tears, even through that quivering ache of loss, let us say that one word with the true joy she felt when she said that word herself,