(March 9, 1955-April 30, 2014)
Faith Lutheran Church, West Fargo
May 5, 2014
+ For those of you who might not know, I am Rick and Renaye’s cousin. And like most of us here this morning, I will be blunt with you: I don’t want to be here today. I do not want to be here this morning commemorating the life of Rick Clemenson. We shouldn’t be gathering today to be saying goodbye to Rick, who has been to us a husband, a father, a son-in-law, a brother-in-law, a cousin—and most importantly to evertyone here this morning—a friend.
This morning I can say—and say so with no apologies— I am angry. I am angry at an illness like ALS. I am angry and frustrated over the fact that there is an illness like this. And I am very angry that ALS is what took Rick from us.
Nobody deserves ALS. But Rick especially did not deserve ALS. I can be angry and sad about it this morning. I know many of you are angry and sad about it too.
But the one who never seem angry, was Rick. And I think that tells us more than anything who Rick Clemenson was.
Now, I need to be careful. I don’t want to make Rick out to be some kind of saint. Let me tell your, Rick would not be happy with me if I did that. But I am going to say that Rick was one of the genuinely good people I knew. And most of us knew that about him.
His daughter Mandy shared these beautiful thoughts about her father:
My dad was a happy go lucky guy with a kind heart who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He worked hard and he played hard at his many hobbies including fishing, hunting and golfing. He'd be the first to admit he wasn't particularly talented at any of those things, but he enjoyed them nonetheless
Now, that is Rick. That is the Rick most of us knew. And because it is—because he really was that good guy we knew--it makes his absence from us this even more sad.
But the fact, he isn’t really absent from us. He is here with us this morning. He is here with us, celebrating this wonderful life of his with us. And as we leave here today, we will continue to feel him with us. He will stay with us as long as we have those memories of him. He will stay with us as we long we remember all those good times we had with him. And when we do that, we will continue to celebrate his life again and again. And that is the best thing we could ever do for Rick.
I am particularly happy this morning that Rick’s family chose this reading from Ecclesiastes. I love this reading. As I was pondering it these last few days, I realized, more and more, how these words really did come to speak loud and clear about Rick, especially in his last days.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
Rick was a fiercely independent guy. He might not have seemed like it to some of us who knew him. But he really was. He did things his way. And the final thing he did his way, was his passing away.
Last Wednesday, as that hospital bed was wheeled in, it seemed as though Rick said, “Alright. That’s enough.” He understood fully well at that moment, yes, there is a time to live, and there is a time to die. And now was the time to die.
Death by ALS can be unpleasant. I will spare you the details, but Rick knew full well what death by ALS entailed.
But, for Rick, there came that moment when he was defiant even of that. Instead, he went quietly. He went in his favorite chair, having spent time with his family and his closest friends earlier that day. He went in the way he wished to have gone. Because it was time. And even in that, there was a kind of defiance. A defiance of ALS. And a defiance even of death.
There is a great tradition in the Christian faith, summarized in the well-known phrase.
All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
Now those words might seem archaic. We’ve heard those words so many times probably that they don’t mean anything anymore. But, if you listen closely, they words of defiance. Those words speak to us and tell us that, even in the face of all that life—and yes, even death—throws at us, we can hold up our heads with integrity, bolstered by our faith.
Even in the face of whatever life may throw at me, we can almost hear Rick say, I will not let those bad things win. I will not let ALS win. I will not let even death win.
“…yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
Even you, death, will not win out over me. Even in the face of these awful things, I will hold up my head and I will face you with strength and defiance. And, because I have faith, because I am loved and I have loved, you will not defeat me.
Today, all that Rick Clemenson was to us—that man of strength and love and integrity—all of that is not lost. It is not gone. Death has not swallowed that up. Rather all of that is alive and dwells with us who loved him. And dwells in Light inaccessible. All of that dwells in a place of peace and joy, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. And for us who are left, we know that it awaits us as well.
See, Rick is still showing us the way forward. He is showing us by his very life and faith, and even his death, how to face these hardships life throws at us. He is even showing us how to meet these days ahead—these days in which we now must struggle with a life in which Rick is not here with us physically any more. He is showing us to face it all with our heads held high, bolstered by our faith and out integrity. He is showing us that, in the midst of all of these hardships, we must do so with class and dignity and strength.
I will miss Rick. I will his smile and his kindness. I will miss the joy he brought to Renaye and to his children and to all of us who cared for him
But I am thankful to God that I got to know him. And I am even more thankful for all that he has shown me in this last illness of his and in how he met death with dignity. People like that come along only rarely in our lives. And when they do, we are not the same people we were before we knew them.
So, today, yes we are sad. Yes, we are in pain over this loss. Yes, we ache deeply in our hearts and in our souls.
But we are also thankful today. We are thankful for this man whom God has been gracious to let us know and to love. We are for thankful for his example to us. We are thankful for his companionship and the love and care he showed each of us. And we are grateful for all he has given us in our own lives.
See, even we, today, are defiant. With all this sadness, with all this pain, we can still, like Rick, hold ourselves and say, Yes, even now, even here at that grave, here in the face of sadness, here, on this sad day of death and darkness, we can still sing: