At St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, the memorial service for Geraldine “Gerri” Stivers provided a lovely remembrance and celebration of her life.
The pastor, Dr. Russell Lee, offered a cordial welcome to everyone attending and thanked them for their presence and prayers. He also thanked the people providing the music, singing, and audiovisual assistance, and invited everyone to stay and visit at the reception in the social hall after the service.
After an opening prayer, he shared two Bible passages – Psalm 103, a psalm of thanksgiving, and John 14.
The passages from Psalm 103:
Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
And the John 14 passages:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The song “Amazing Grace” was played on piano and sung by a lovely woman singer. Gerri’s daughter Cheryl provided a tribute letter for the pastor to read. It was titled “My Best Friend.”
Gerri was born in Rehoboth, New Mexico, near Gallup, one of six children. Her mother passed on at 104 years. She left the Navajo reservation to join the Navy after high school. She got married and had a baby. After the Navy, she started a career with the Federal government that spanned almost 40 years in New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma. She submitted her retirement papers when she found out she was going to be a grandmother.
She had a great love for her granddaughter Sarah, whose 6th birthday was this day of the memorial service. She also got the “traveling bug” in 2006, when she visited Australia and New Zealand. From sea to shining sea – the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge to Plymouth Rock – and beyond U.S. shores, she traveled mostly solo and made friends everywhere she went. Even though she was terrified of water and heights, she still tried parasailing and snorkeling.
The photo montage tribute, set to “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole, documented the many places she visited. Sites included U.S. national parks, Machu Picchu, the Amazon, Tanzania, Mt. Kilamanjaro, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Egypt and the pyramids, and Paris. She took a train across Europe and cruises to Mexico, Alaska, and the Greek islands. As she said to her daughter at one point, she came a long way for a Navajo girl from New Mexico.
Dr. Lee spoke about Psalm 23 and he said it was Gerri’s favorite prayer. “It’s amazing that something written so long ago still resonates throughout the world and the ages,” he said. “It’s popular with both Christians and Jews.”
“Psalm 23 reminds us of the goodness and brightness of life. Gerri appreciated, loved and enjoyed life. What an adventuresome person she was. She loved and appreciated so much – reading, gardening, a runner who liked being physically fit, camping with her husband and playing with her granddaughter. And her faith in the Lord was important. We can learn from Gerri.”
“The psalm also reminds us that there’s a dark side to life – struggles, hurts, pains, disappointment, loss and suffering. When losses come to us, we need to seek and find restoration. We can do this by praying, talking, crying, reading, and writing.”
After his talk, a closing prayer was followed by Navy military honors. A folded U.S. flag had stood on display during the service. The honor guard of three, wearing dress blue suits and white gloves, came to the front of the church. With military precision, two unfolded the flag, and held it open over their heads. The third played “Taps” on a bugle. Then the flag was folded back up and presented to daughter Cheryl, with the thanks of a grateful nation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church.
Inside the memorial program was this poem by Colleen Corah Hitchcock:
And if I go,
while you’re still here…
Know that I live on,
– behind a thin veil
you cannot see through.
You will not see me,
So you must have faith.
I wait for the time
when we can be together again.
Until then, live your life to its fullest.
And when you need me,
Just whisper my name in your heart,
… I will be there.