One month ago today, my mom passed away. We held a Memorial Service / Hymn Sing. You can see a recording of the service here. What follows is a written (and slightly expanded) version of the words I spoke at the service.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ” (Hebrews 10: 23-25
I chose the passage from Hebrews for a reason. A few days after she died I was looking through her Bible and noticed that passage was underlined. I read it and thought, “Wow, that’s her!” She never told me it was her life verse, but I think it was.
I would first like to say something about what we called her. Most of you knew her simply as Grace. There are many my sister and I grew up with in Pakistan who called her Auntie Grace. To some of you, she was Grandma Grace and to little Cohen, she was “Triple G” — Great Grandma Grace. Those of you who got to know her in the past ten years might call her Gracie. A college friend of mine started calling her that, and it stuck. It suited her.
I would like to remember Gracie by focusing on 8 words.
She knew the meaning of perseverance. When her beloved Sam died I remember her saying, through tears, “God hasn’t let me down so far, and I don’t think he’s about to start.” Rather than giving up she persevered for another 22 years, not just surviving, but thriving. And in the last 2 years when her health challenges and physical limitations began to mount, she never doubted God’s faithfulness.
She lived a life of gratitude and expressed it to everyone, no matter who they were or what they did for her. In the past 3 years when I was caring for her, she thanked me every night. She thanked her doctors, nurses, therapists, and nursing assistants, no matter what awful procedure they may be performing on her or the painful exercise they wanted her to do. Once we were in a Burger King in a small town in Nova Scotia. As we entered she put her arm around a worker mopping the floor and said, “Thank you so much for keeping this place clean.” I like to think that woman is also still repeating that story.
She loved adventure and was always up for doing or trying something new. In her 96 years, she visited almost 40 countries and loved all of them (except for 1, which will remain nameless). She traveled around the world with Northwestern students. When I moved back from China 10 years ago we started a family tradition of taking epic 5000-mile road trips every summer, starting with a drive to Alaska. The last one we managed before her physical limitations began to increase was to the Adirondack Mountains of New York in 2021. Even 3 months ago she was begging me to drive her to Bend, Oregon. And then there was her love of taking rides in big machinery – tractors, Zambonis, combines, and big rigs (to name a few).
She was enthusiastic. To her, every new experience or place that she visited was “so nice.” Even interstate rest stops. Every single time we stopped at one on our road trips she would declare “This is a nice rest stop!” After she died we joked that she probably stepped into heaven, looked around, and said, “This is a nice place!”
She was a musician, something that she expressed through her piano playing. Her father knew this at a young age and drove her from Bend to Portland so she could see Rachmaninov play in concert. Music was in her soul and she loved using it to minister to others.
She was hospitable. She loved nothing more than getting out one of her many tablecloths, fixing a big meal, and then waiting to see who might show up. In the past few weeks, we have received countless notes from people who talk of being welcomed into her home and to her table over the years.
She was a lifelong learner who embodied the wonderful Chinese idiom. Huo dao lao, xue dao lao. Literally, “live until you are old, learn until you are old.” In other words, you are never too old to learn. Mercifully her mind remained sharp until the end, and she still loved learning. When she heard that Bethlehem College and Seminary would offer classes here at The North Church, she announced to me that she wanted to sign up.
She was a cheerleader. If you were embarking on something new, she would cheer you on, reminding you to never doubt God’s call on your life.
I think her life can be summed up this way: GRACIE WAS AN INFLUENCER BEFORE IT WAS A THING!
She influenced people to live lives of gratitude and hospitality.
She influenced people to follow God’s call on their lives.
She influenced people to take the gospel to the nations.
Most of all, she influenced people to love and follow Jesus, because, in her heart of hearts, she knew that CHRIST IS ALL!
I close the same way I closed the tribute to my dad at his memorial service 22 years ago: When I reach the end of my days, I will be happy if people simply say, “She was just like Gracie.”
Thanks for everything, mom. I love and miss you.