I haven’t posted on this blog for months now. Writing has been limited to a few sermons and gun violence presentations. But yesterday I had the privilege of giving a brief eulogy for a very dear friend. She was a 3 year survivor of pancreatic cancer. The progression of the disease kept her from a 4th year of celebration. And she loved an excuse for a party! There was so much I could have said, but I had a 3-minute time limit that I needed to respect. What follows is the best I could do, given my sadness and fear that once I started talking about our friendship, I might never want to stop.
Gail Haverdill was my very good friend. We did all the things you’d expect in friendship — meeting for lunch, going out to dinner, talking about our grown-up children, and sharing photos of our grandchildren. But there was more to our friendship than even that. Twice in the last 9 years, we went on week-long mission trips together. One to New Orleans and another to Cedar Rapids. Doing clean-up, demolition, and rebuilding work to homes damaged by flooding. The trip to New Orleans was the more memorable of the two. David and I had been 2 other times post-Hurricane Katrina and knew a little of what to expect. For Gail, this was her first time. As you might expect, she took to it immediately.
Gail worked as hard that week as anyone, probably harder. Gail already had a good skill-set for the work — she was certainly more skilled than I. But even if she didn’t already know how to do something, she was more than willing to give it a try. The only thing she didn’t do well was to pace herself. She worked herself to the point of exhaustion and dehydration on more than one occasion.
But through it all, as you would expect from Gail, she was smiling and laughing, being social and encouraging everyone else. Until Friday – the last day of work before we’d head back home when she was really out of sorts. On Friday, she was not herself. So much so that you sorta didn’t want to be around her, especially if she had a power tool in her hand! Now at this point in a week of mission work, everyone is tired. Everyone wants to be home and sleeping in their own bed. But this sort of mood was unusual for Gail.
I was her pastor and the leader of the mission trip, and so it was up to me to say something. To try to draw out what was really going on with her. I approached her gently– she was in no mood to be messed with. But you know Gail — it didn’t take a minute for her to let it all out.
Simply put. She wasn’t finished. And she didn’t want to go home until she was. Gail was a bright woman — intellectually she knew these 15 amateurs weren’t going to finish a house in a week. But as David reminded me, I also had to remember that Gail was an artist. Even in putting up drywall and laying floors, she was an artist. Artists complete their work. Her frustration in not being finished was boiling over and causing this foul mood that was so unlike her.
So, I did what pastors do. I talked to her about how a complete job is not what we expect of ourselves. That we have to look at our efforts as part of the total effort. Someone had started the job when we came arrived – and someone will follow after us, and someone after them, etc. It’s good counsel for pastors and congregations in any sort of church work!
Gail and I have talked about this several times since. Because situations come up all the time when whatever it is we do, we know there’s more to be done.
But I’m no longer Gail’s pastor. I no longer have to be pastorally correct. And I know that there’s just not another Gail out there to pick up where our Gail left off. In New Orleans, I doubt seriously that the next mission-tripper gave the effort that she did or put as much heart as she gave. Back here at home in the church that she so loved, we know there’s just not another Gail who will replace the Gail we relied on. She was beloved by her family and among her friends who know there’s no one who’s going to come along to replace her.
We’re not going to know another Gail Haverdill in our lives.
That doesn’t mean my earlier pastoral advice was wrong. We should pick up Gail’s mantle and carry on the work she started. We shouldn’t just admire her strength and resilience, we should try to be that ourselves. We should do more than be amazed by her capacity for giving and loving, we should emulate it.
I’m gonna work on all that because I know that Gail wasn’t finished yet. With me or anyone else she loved. She had more to do, more to learn, more people to meet, more friends to make, and more love to give. Her body just couldn’t keep up with her spirit, and she had to go home. Of this I am sure. There will never be another Gail.
Today I sign as Friend.