For my birthday, my Washington sister-in-law gave me the book Writing Down the Bones. I suppose it sounds rather gruesome, but it isn’t. The idea is just to write. Sit down. put pen to paper, crayon to paper, hands to keyboard. Don’t worry about what it sounds like. I just read the chapter entitled “Writing is Not a McDonald’s Hamburger”. We writers want to shape it all, have it come out looking all recognizable and stuff. It simply isn’t like that. We can’t have it “made to order”. Sure, we can edit afterwards. But even then, our roles are limited. Let it come out, uncensored and wild.

This is where I have struggled in wring about Barb. I am having a tough time getting the words out in any coherent fashion. We were in Wisconsin for 3 services – a viewing, a funeral and the interment at a VA cemetery in Union Grove. One of the speakers at the funeral used the word “fierce” to describe her. I suppose it has negative connotations, but it fit her. She was fiercely loyal to her family. She stood up for her friends. She believed wholeheartedly in the power of the cross and in the United States itself; no half-measures for her. She was all in with every art project…though she did not finish them all, we discovered as we attempted to excavate her studio/craft room/lair.

I did okay at the viewing. Not a fan of them as a rule, but understand the necessity. All of my father-in-law’s siblings and spouses showed up, one from as far away as Florida. Some of the cousins came, too. That felt like a reunion. We caught up, laughing and talking and sharing stories. I suppose it was the Nazarene equivalent to a wake, minus the food and liquor.

The funeral was tougher. The songs reminded me of how Barb served the children in the church and community. She taught Sunday school, helped with VBS and supported missions. She and George were missionaries in Kenya for a year. Ruby and I cried together. Barb and Ruby had a special connection. Her creativity inspired Ruby. She encouraged Ruby to make things, draw and paint. She taught Ruby to use a sewing machine. The American Legion supplied a small cadre of soldiers, some old and young, one elderly gentleman bent almost double, another sporting a ponytail. They all proudly saluted the casket. We trooped outside for the 21-gun salute and “Taps”. I flashed back to my grandfather’s funeral, Col. Daniel Murray Cheston III. He was a West Point graduate who helped plan the amphibious invasion at Normandy. Back then,  we stood outside in the May air for the flag folding and everything. The officers folded the flag and presented it to my grandmother. “Your country thanks you for his service.” I also remembered Grandpa Giles’ Isham’s funeral, with similar honors.

The flag presentation for Barb happened at the VA cemetery. It rained that day, cooling things down slightly. The floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the chapel revealed a moody sky. The very brief service in the chapel contained scripture readings by one of the pastors of the Nazarene church and the flag folding by a white-gloved officer and enlisted man, all sharp synchronized movements. Another 21-gun salute went on outside during the flag folding. And “Taps”.

Life isn’t “made to order”, though we dearly wish it was. We don’t get to choose the things that happen to us, because wouldn’t we choose better?! Less pain and sorrow, please. Despite some rough experiences during Barb’s brief stint in the Navy, she never stopped believing in the mission of the armed forces. She was proud of Zac’s decision to enter the Air Force and looked forward to his bootcamp graduation. She never lost faith in America’s military or her God. As we drove to her final resting place at Q-24, I considered what it means to press on, even when circumstances turn against you. She was fierce, and she will be fiercely missed.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. – 2 Timothy 4:7

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