The memorial service for
Jackie M. Parsley
(April 11, 1971-April 19, 2013)
Saturday, May 4, 2013
+ As we gather this morning, I think most of us can agree: None of us want to be here this morning. After all, how can we even be here, now, in this moment, saying good-bye to Jackie? How can Jackie—Jackie!—be gone?
In these last two weeks, I can’t tell you how many times I have asked myself—and others—that same question: How can Jackie be gone?
As many of you might know, I am Jackie’s cousin. She was a year younger than me. And, certainly in our late teens and early twenties, with her being the celebrity she was at NDSU (she would’ve hated me calling her a “celebrity”), I would often joke about the fact that anywhere I went at that time, someone would invariably ask, “So, are you related to Jackie Parsley?”
Whenever I would bring that up to Jackie—and I often did—she would smile that smile of hers and shrug her shoulders in that way she did, and act all embarrassed about it.
But the fact is, we all have to admit this: she was special. Those of us who knew her and loved her knew she was special. Special, not perfect. I can tell you, if she were here this morning—and she is here this morning with us—she would take issue with me if I made her out to be anything close to perfect. She knew she wasn’t perfect. But she was special. There was truly something special about her.
In these last two weeks, I thought a lot of about what it was. And I have heard from others about that specialness. So many people in these last few weeks have shared their thoughts and their feelings about that specialness—that extra something she had—that made her who she was. And I think it was some kind of brightness about her.
Anyone who knew her, saw that brightness in her eyes. It was a sparkling there in her eyes. It wasn’t always there. She had her moments. But when it was there, it was so bright. And thinking of that brightness, that life that was within her, I have to admit: that makes today harder for me, and I’m sure for many of you as well.
How can that brightness, that life, be gone? And so quickly and so suddenly? It just doesn’t make sense.
But the fact is, that brightness, that life, isn’t gone. It is still here with us. It is with us in the love we felt—and still feel—for her. It is with us when we think of her in those good and special moments. It is with us when we miss her and wish we could have a bit of that brightness back with us.
In moments like this, I get asked quite often: why? Why do things like this happen? Why do things like this happen to people like Jackie? And although people seem to expect people like me—people who are priests and clergy—to know, we don’t. I don’t know why this happened.
But I do know this, without a doubt. I do know that despite these bad things, we can’t say that God was somehow absent. God was not absent in any way in Jackie’s life. That light and brightness and life we saw shining in her eyes was God’s light. It was God shining through her. And I believe and know in my heart of hearts that when Jackie passed from this world two weeks ago yesterday, she did so in the loving and caring Presence of her God, and that she awoke from this world in that loving Presence, enfolded and loved.
For us, however, it isn’t easy to believe that at times. At times like this, this world seems cold and dark and unfair and chaotic.
In moments like this, I often refer to the very common image of a carpet. Maybe you’ve heard this image used before. If we take a look at a carpet, we know there are two sides to it. The bottom of the carpet is kind of ugly. It’s all matted and full of glue and stray strands of yarn. It’s not very pleasant. But the topside of the carpet can be beautiful. It all comes together on the topside of the carpet.
Life is like that carpet. We, here, now, in this moment, are looking at life—and at Jackie’s death— from the underside of the carpet. It doesn’t seem to make any sense sometimes. Especially if we don’t know what’s on the other side of the carpet.
For God—and for Jackie, in this moment—they are viewing the carpet from the topside. For them, it is complete. It all, somehow, makes sense. And for us, left on the underside of the carpet, all we can do is guess and conjecture and hope in the completeness we will one day see on the topside of the carpet.
In our reading from the Book of Revelation this morning, we get his wonderful glimpse of the topside of the carpet. We heard,
“See, the home of God is among mortals. [God] will dwell with them; they will be [God’s] people, and God…will be with them; [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
We are still living in this time in which there is death. We are still living in this time of mourning and crying and pain. We still living in this valley of tears. This morning, we all know what it is like to live in that sad place.
But we know—and Jackie herself knew—that ultimately, these things will pass away. Ultimately, death will truly be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will truly be no more. And God will, one day, wipe every tear from our faces, and we will never cry again, except, maybe with joy.
Jackie is there now in that place. And we too will be there one day.
So, yes, today we are sad. Yes, we are mourning today. Yes, we are struggling with these questions and these tears and this gnawing ache within us. But this is temporary. That joy, that light, that brightness is eternal. And one day—one very glorious day—it will never be taken from us.
I will miss Jackie. I will miss her vibrancy and her joy and her specialness. But I know that one day, I will see her again, as we all will.
So, for now, let us, who here, now, celebrate her life. Let us give thanks for her and for all she gave us in this life. And let us know, as we go from here today, that her brightness goes with each of us. Amen.