Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Eulogy for Lois


The following is the text of the eulogy I will be giving for my aunt at her service this afternoon. Lois died from complications of breast cancer, only 54 years old.

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Hello. For those who don’t know me, I am Nessie. I am Nessie today because that was one of Aunt Lois’s names for me.

I am going to share some memories of Lois Richelle Ketchum Johnson. Because they are from me, they are largely through the lens of childhood. But this is fitting, perhaps, for though Lois had no biological children, many people saw Lois through the eyes of a child.

Lois was born on February 9th, 1958, the baby of four children. Perhaps it was because of this that Lois had such compassion for the youngest of us.

From an early age, she worked with children in the church. I have many memories of watching her prepare Sunday School lessons, of Lois running her fingertips over the words in her rainbow-colored Bible, of her deep alto voice beside grandma’s soprano. Of running out after the sermon and finding Lois in the nursery, or helping her carry things to her classroom with the toddlers. Generations of children had their first word of Christ through Lois.

Her love of the young never changed. In an age when women shun the trappings of age, Lois let her hair go gray. When she learned about Madeline’s conception, she gleefully went around telling people that she was going to be like her namesake, Lois, in the Bible: a grandmother. At the Law Offices where she worked, she had Madeline pictures all over her desk. Every phone call was full of the stories of the children of Wayne’s family, whom she pulled into her heart without reserve. Even when cancer broke her back, she still got up, brace and all, to toddle my young son across the floor. Sometimes when I spoke to her on the phone, she’d say something and I’d realize she was listening to my children playing in the background—something I had tuned out.

My cousins, and even some of my childhood friends, idolized Lois. She was the cool aunt. Her nails were always shining, her clothes always seemed hip to us, and she never felt dressed without a necklace and earrings. She had an eye for beautiful things. If you wore something new, she’d always notice, and was usually the one to take the photographs.

When my first son was born, and everyone was passing thoughts back and forth as to which person he resembled, my aunt said firmly, “No. He is himself.” She respected the uniqueness of each individual. And calling Lois unique is probably an understatement. What other aunt would put you in a parade, throwing jelly babies out of a TARDIS?

Lois invested time in every child she knew, and because of that, helped weave the tapestry of who we are today. How many of us remember her tickling with those long nails? The Shel Silverstein poems, or the cowboy music? With her, I learned how to make tea, to appreciate classical music and swing, that Jane Austen was worth reading, and that the silver cars on the road were secretly cybermen from Dr. Who.

Most of my memories of Lois involve being somewhere other than home. Hiking at the Cincinnati Nature Center, of which she was a member, granny smith apples in her bag. Going to the Cincinnati Art Museum, and having her point at and discuss all of the ceramics: Lois had a special passion for teacups. We took a road trip once, to St. Louis, and stared in wonder at the broad junction of the Mississippi and the Ohio. She told me old stories of Cincinnati, the city she loved.

Lois also had one foot firmly in the land of geeks. When she took me to my first movie, it was E.T., the extra-terrestrial. She loved Riders in the Sky and introduced us all to Dr. Who. When she was the only one in the family to have Star Trek 4 on tape, she didn’t mind playing it for us over and over again. Some of you may not know that Lois wrote four science-fiction novels, along with short stories, poems, song lyrics, and editorials, some of which were published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The voice of Lois as a writer was no different than the voice of Lois in life. She was thoroughly honest, saying things as she saw them with no filter or buffer. She had a vast sense of humor, childlike and unperverse. She took pleasure in funny coincidences. Once, when we were in the car, it began to rain. Huge amount--cats and dogs. Just then, 4HIM’s “Shelter in the Rain” began to play. We laughed all the way home. When she praised Wayne as her soulmate, the first thing she would mention was that he made her laugh every day.

Lois also saw God in many things. When she got panic attacks after multiple car accidents, she said she figured she had them so she’d understand my panic disorder. She never failed to notice the changing of the seasons: the divine artist’s hand in all of the beautiful things she loved. Her intellect and her faith were never at odds, and I think it was in part because God gave her a wonderful imagination and capacity for empathy.

Among Lois’s favorite flowers were violets. In the Victorian flower language she taught me, violets stand for faithfulness. And Lois was faithful. She was faithful to her husband and best friend, Wayne. She was faithful to her mother, to her family. To friends. She was faithful to the children. And she was faithful to herself, never acting in any way that was a lie to who Lois was. Most importantly, she was a steadfast and devoted follower of Jesus Christ, to whom she has gone.

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