Merline Beverly Wright
June 24, 2017
Order of Service
Welcome, and thank you for coming. We are here this morning to say goodbye to Merline Wright. Not just to say goodbye, but to remember how she touched each of our lives. I’d like to begin with two scripture readings.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
1 Corinthians 15:53-55
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
O God of tenderness and mercy, be with us as we gather this morning to honor the life of Merline Wright. We are here because we love her and miss her and we want to cherish our memories of her. Help us to turn mourning into a celebration of a life well-lived, and a passing from life here to life eternal. Fill us with joy and hope. Give us peace today and always. Amen.
Words of Remembrance
No mournful words. That was not Merline’s way. I think she would prefer if we were having a party with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing the the background. And we may yet get there. But first, I wanted to take some time to remember Merline.
Just about everyone here is a close friend or relative, so most of you know her story. Merline was a true pioneer. The oldest child of Merwin and Arline Child, she was born in 1930 in Bucyrus, North Dakota. Her name, Merline, is a blend of Merwin and Arline’s names. Son, Gordon, and daughters Doris and Ellen rounded out the family.
Her father, Merwin, was a railroad maintenance engineer, and as a child Merline helped paint railroad signs. The family moved along the railroad, from Bucyrus to Hettinger, then to Bismarck.
Merline graduated from high school and began studies at the University of Montana in Helena. It was there that she met Jim Wright, who was attending college on the GI Bill after his time in the Navy during World War II. They married in 1950 and were getting ready for Jim to pursue his PhD in physics when he was recalled for the Korean Conflict.
Upon Jim’s return the family moved to Aberdeen, Washington, and eventually settled in Torrence, California, near the Redondo Beach area. Jim was an aerospace engineer with Hughes Aircraft, designing components for the early satellite program. Merline had taught math for awhile, but stayed at home to raise her three kids, Peter, Laura and Amy. The whole family were avid readers, and discussions of science filled their conversations.
When Jim retired from Hughes Aircraft, he and Merline moved to Samish Island, Washington in the 1980s. Peter had died from cancer as a teen, and Laura and Amy were off working on their own PhDs in Chemistry at the University of California, Riverside. Merline continued her love of reading and became active in Island life, taking part in the garden club and other activities.
I met Jim and Merline in 1988 just after Laura and I were engaged. Merline struck me as a quiet, intelligent person who was rarely ruffled. When Jim died in 1990 Merline became more of a fixture in our lives. She would come spend a month with us, a month with Amy, and a month with her sister-in-law Marie in California. As the years passed she began spending more and more time with us. Eventually it got so that she was spending most of the time with Amy and Laura, and a little bit of time on the island during the summers. The standard joke is to complain about one's mother-in-law, but I never had occasion to do so. We always got along great, regardless of extended stays with us.
Until Alzheimer's began taking its toll, Merline loved reading and taking trips to the beach. She loved the water and boat rides. One of her favorite things was to take the ferry from Anacortes over to Friday Harbor. She always wanted to be near the water.
When I made martinis for Laura and me I would make an "ultra dry" martini for Merline. This was just three olives on a stick in a martini glass. One time she told us the story of the olives. In North Dakota her aunt owned the general store. As a treat she would occasionally give her one olive, and exotic treat at that time.
Merline grew up in the Great Depression when frugality was a survival skill. Yet, she was always generous. I heard many stories of how Jim and Merline had helped out those in need, and I was able to witness this first hand. I was a minister of music at a small Presbyterian church and we had called a young single female pastor with two daughters. That year Merline had received a significant tax rebate. She donated it to this struggling young minister so that she could buy Christmas presents for her daughters.
Merline loved music, and had very eclectic tastes - everything from Celtic music to sea shanties to Jimmy Buffet. She especially loved folk songs and music from the 1960s - The Beatles, Peter Paul & Mary, The Beach Boys. And as I mentioned before, she loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. One year for Christmas she asked us for a copy of Iron Butterfly’s “Inna Godda Davida,” which blew me away. I’d grown up in a household that didn’t allow rock music, so of course, we had to make this happen. It makes sense, though. These songs reminded her of a time when her house was filled with the laughter and energy of teenagers.
Her final years were spent in Florida with Amy. Even with ever-increasing health issues and memory loss, she still enjoyed trips to the beach and to Kissimmee Prairie. Laura and I had been trying to get down to Florida as often as we could, and a couple of weeks ago we headed down. Even though she couldn’t respond to us, she still tapped her fingers to the music. We left Monday for the drive back to South Carolina. Tuesday morning Laura was on speaker phone with Amy and her mom talking with them. Shortly after the daughters said goodbye on the phone, Merline slipped away. Amy said it was as if Jim, Pete, Marie, and all the others who had gone before were calling her on the the next stage.
Amy had found a poem by Henry Van Dyke that describes that feeling. Given Merline’s love of boats and the ocean, it seemed appropriate, and I’d like to read it now.
Gone From My Sight
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"
And that is dying...
But really we can still see her. We can feel the impact she has had on all of our lives. We can remember the stories and bring back memories when we hear one of her favorite songs. I’d like to end my comments with a medley of some of her favorite songs.
Music - Medley of Favorite Songs
At this time I would like to invite anyone who has stories they would like to share to do so.
[pause for remembrances]
Once again, thank you all for coming this morning. I would like to close with a final prayer, then end with several of Merline’s favorite songs.
Lord God, creator of all,
you have made us creatures of this earth
but have also promised us a share in life eternal:
receive our thanks and praise
that Merline, our friend, mother, sister, and aunt,
whom we commend into your hands today,
shares with your saints in the joy of heaven,
where there is neither sorrow nor pain
but life everlasting.
And now may your peace be with each of us here today.
Shelter us, and keep us safe as we continue on our own journey.
Postlude - Classical Gas, Cheeseburger in Paradise