Clotine Irvin, a.k.a. Nanny, did her own funeral planning and pre-paid for her arrangements. Nanny’s plan was to have family and friends come together and tell stories. The intimate family funeral that occurred to remember her did just that.
As the family gathered, I met her son Jim outside the funeral home. He said his mom, at age 81, was ready to go. Her husband had died 20 years ago, her boyfriends had died, and she herself almost died a year ago. A great-granddaughter gave me a pack of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum as a memorial gift. Clotine always had a supply of gum on hand, and anyone coming to visit her could get a pack.
About 30 people seated on couches and folding chairs filled two combined staterooms at the funeral home. Along one wall, Clotine’s cloth-covered casket held a floral display of red roses and a picture of her from a few decades past. The more recent photo in the memorial program showed a woman with a big smile and wavy dark hair.
Granddaughter Lilly Irvin-Vitela facilitated the service. “Nanny was a woman of faith, but she didn’t show up in church,” she said. “She felt that it’s all about treating people in a decent loving way on a daily basis.”
Nanny was fondly described as lovable and fierce, frugal and resourceful. She cheated at cards and board games, and everyone in the family knew it. She called it playing by her rules. She loved to dance with her husband, go fishing, work puzzle books, do crafts and spend time with her loved ones. Another memorial gift offered was a collection of hand-stitched bookmarks in the shape of crosses that Clotine had made.
Lilly read from a letter she had written to Nanny last Christmas. Here are the last few paragraphs from her letter:
Your love for our family has taught me so much. The was you cared for Grandma, Pa, us, your nephews, neighbors, friends and strangers… it’s amazing. When we needed a snack, a meal, a rough over the head, something to occupy our time… you fed us, sheltered us, played with and taught us. You helped teach me to paint, cook, fish, clean, make do with what you’ve got, make it through a day, and behave like a lady… even when I didn’t want to. You’ve helped make me who I am. I’ll carry you with me always.
Everyone needs someone in their life that sees them for who they are in all of their glory and all of their faults and loves them anyway. I think we are that for each other. You have taught me how people can grow in their love and friendship. You have showed me that things don’t need to start off ideal to become beautiful and treasured.
I will always carry you with me I will always love you and know that you will live on in us. You’ll live in our hearts, minds, spirits and actions… you’ll live on in stories we tell our kids and grandkids. You’ll live on in meals we eat. You’ll live on in my prayers, my sadness, and my laughter. I love you.
“Storytelling is important in our family,” said Lilly. She invited all branches of the family, the Irvins, the Hastings, the Bentons, as well as present friends and neighbors, to share stories and memories.
Hilda Irvin, Jim’s wife, said, “I met her when I was 17 and dating Jim. She was really another mother for me. Usually we’re not getting along with our own parents when we’re 17, and she was a steadying force for me. She gave me an opportunity to look at life in a different way and prepared me in so many ways for life than I realized.”
Nanny loved jewelry, and upon receiving a pair of earrings for her birthday asked, “Where’s the necklace that matches?” A great-grandson told about how she cheated at board games. She loved oranges and hated raisins, because she thought they looked like cockroaches. When she was young, her brother Pete tried to take some food from her plate and she stabbed him in the hand with her fork.
“She could be fierce and then turn around and give you everything,” said Lilly.
It was important that the kids were respectful to their elders. She was quick to bandage up a skinned knee, and whether it was hurt or not, she’d give attention and loving to make things better.
She loved photos. She had some particular images blown up to 8×10 size and had extra copies made. She said, “Give them to the kids when I’m gone. They won’t appreciate them now.” Hilda learned to make double prints because Nanny would just take any photos handed to her. She said Nanny’s philosophy regarding photos was, “If you touch it, it’s yours.”
Lilly also mentioned how proud Nanny was of her son Jim (Lilly’s father). She said Jim’s daily care for his mother and love and respect for Pa who died 20 years ago truly lived up to the spirit of honoring your parents. Jim left the room for a few moments, overcome with emotion.
Yes, Nanny wasn’t church-going, but she was a woman of faith. In her honor, Lilly read this passage from Philippians Chapter 1: Verses 4-13.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me.
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
The 30-minute service wound down with instructions to get to the burial immediately following at Sunset Memorial Park. That’s where Clotine’s parents, husband, brother and nephew are buried. The red roses that graced the top of the casket would be given to each person to place as they said their goodbyes. A reception at the family home for great food and more storytelling would follow. “The Irvin girls can cook!” declared Lilly.
We listened to Alan Jackson singing “The Rugged Cross” (although they wanted the Johnny Cash version) and “Amazing Grace.” What a graceful, loving way to celebrate Clotine Irvin’s life.
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