Meditation for Gretchen Frueh

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:2a
Memorial Service
Elizabeth M. Deibert

I stand before you as a pastor, who is still serving Peace Presbyterian, in large part because of Gretchen Frueh. I am still here because she was compassionate and caring enough to offer meaningful support to me in the crucial early years of this ministry. Secondly, I am still here, because Gretchen was warm and engaging enough to everyone who visited our new church, such that most of them stayed. Shortly after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so many people spoke to me of their sadness over her diagnosis, saying things like, “Gretchen is the person who reached out to me when I first arrived at Peace. She called me after my first visit. She made me feel welcome on Sundays. I came back the second Sunday because of Gretchen.” All of you are here because you have your own Gretchen stories – ways in which you experienced her bountiful love. Each of us, but especially her family, felt a tremendous loss when Gretchen was first diagnosed, and with each steady step toward the inevitable, we experienced a greater loss.

With her wonderful service in Hospice and her active involvement in Stephen Ministry, Gretchen knew how to walk with others through the grieving process. So when she got the news, she quickly and diligently began to prepare for her own death. But much to her surprise and often, frustration, she lived much longer than she expected. Her outer nature, her body, was very slowly wasting away, to use the language of Paul, though her inner nature, her true beauty, was being renewed day-by-day. But she grew weary with her inability to accomplish things. Because, you see, in all of her life prior to diagnosis, she had managed so many things so well. Some people are task-masters; others are caring toward people. Gretchen was both. So while Gretchen in her faith, was prepared for what our scripture calls “the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” she never completely stopped caring about this temporal life. And if she could not engage in the activities of this life, she was ready to go, to be with Christ.
She was ready for the new body, promised in the resurrection.

But she never stopped being interested in the people in her life here. Even near the end, when I would visit, Gretchen wanted to hear all about the church which she helped plant. She was always eager to talk about her children and grandchildren, whom she adored. She was so proud of their gifts and accomplishments, always expressed in her own manner of humility. And her deepest concern was how John was handling his grief; she wanted him to be as prepared for this loss, as one can ever be. Part of her was ready to go as soon as she knew death was coming, but the other part of her wanted to make the next date, not to miss anything, like Sarah’s initiation into P.E.O., and her 55th anniversary which she did make with John, while still at home, before her final trip to the Hospice House. Even her death on the very last morning of the year 2011, as Carol and John were on their way to the airport to send Carol home after weeks of caregiving, had a remarkable completeness. She finished the year, completed her race, kept the faith.

What was so great about Gretchen was that she brought a graceful, dignified completeness in her death, as she did in everything she accomplished in life. She was gifted in making transitions and starting new initiatives. Moving to Germany with John in early marriage was the beginning of many transitions that she made with grace. Perhaps these family transitions enabled her to become such a vital part of new initiatives in the church, in P.E.O., in Cancer Support, and in Hospice. What a leader she was – strong, wise, kind, and diligent. She had the vision to see beyond the temporary, to the things are eternally valuable, both in her life and in her death.

This vision, rooted in deep Christian faith, helped Gretchen to prepare well for the final transition through death to life again. She showed us, and perhaps in some mystical way is showing us even now, that the temporary affliction of our dying process prepares us for “an eternal weight of glory,” as Paul puts it. Gretchen was eager to look beyond what could be seen to the things which cannot be seen. Her inner nature was being renewed day-by-day, as her outer nature was diminishing.

With weakened physical strength, Gretchen put all the energy she could muster into making it to worship at Peace and to attending P.E.O. meetings, and cancer support groups. She was committed to meaningful visits with the family and close friends, who came often, never knowing which visit would be the last. And she determined to do it well every time, to be at her very faithful best every time.

Several years ago, Gretchen shared with me a hymn that she had learned as girl, perhaps from her mother, the church musician, or her father, the minister. It is a prayer, one by which I believe Gretchen defined her Christian existence.

She asked that I use it in this service, which she so carefully planned. I invite you to pray now with me, using these words from this 16 century English poem:

God be in my head, and in my understanding.
God be in my eyes, and in my looking.
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking.
God be in my heart, and in my thinking.
God be at mine end, and in my departing
. (Sarum Primer)

And now before we recite together Psalm 23 from the NKJV, let me read for you a brief meditation on it, which Gretchen handed me about a year ago. At the top of the page it reads, “During a memorial service John Smith suggested that Psalm 23 could have been written by someone looking back on a long and full life.”

God has walked with me; I could ask for nothing more. God has given me green meadows to laugh in, clear streams to think beside, untrodden paths to explore.
When I thought the world rested on my shoulders, God put things into perspective. When I lashed out at an unfair world, God calmed me down. When I drifted into harmful ways, God straightened me out. God was with me all the way. I do not know what lies ahead, but I am not afraid. I know you will always be with me. Even in death, I will not despair. You will comfort and support me. Though my eye dims and my mind dulls, You will continue to care about me. Your touch will soothe the tension in my temples. My tears will fade away. I am content. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with me. All through life, I have found goodness in people. When life ends, I will be gathered into the ultimate goodness of God.


Now let us say together Psalm 23, printed in your bulletin.
(Richard – Prayer of Thanksgiving)

Commendation

You only are immortal, Creator and maker of all.
We are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth we shall return.
All of us go down to the dust;
Yet even in death we sing our song,
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

O Christ, give rest to Gretchen with all your saints,
Where there is neither pain nor sorrow nor sighing but life everlasting.

Please stand

Into your hands, O merciful Savior,
we commend your loving, diligent, graceful servant Gretchen.
Acknowledge, we humbly pray, a sheep of your own fold,
a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.

Receive her into the arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

God of Grace and God of Glory