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A good dose of religion
I had the privilege – the sad privilege – of attending the funeral for a friend of my mother’s this morning.
It was quite the send-off, full of unbridled emotion from joy and laughter, to tears and wailing, the way of many African-American faith communities.
Martha Brown and my mother became friends many years ago through Arlington Hospital (now Virginia Hospital Center), where Martha worked and where my mother went for medical care too many times. There was a 25-year age difference between them, but they shared a Christmas Eve birthday, the same wonderful doctor, and a fighting spirit that saw both of them through many health issues.
Martha had been diagnosed with cancer in 1998. She had surgery and thought she had beaten it until it returned in 2000. That meant more surgery. Then it returned again in 2003 – more surgery. And when it returned last year it finally got the better of her.
I never heard her complain. She had her faith in God to lean on and a great sense of humor. Even when a tumor damaged her spinal column leaving her bed-ridden a few months ago, she still talked about doing physical therapy to get back on her feet. It was hard to watch her suffer, but she (like my mother) always made it easy on her visitors with her upbeat nature.
This morning, the small red brick Holy Scripture Church of Christ in Falls Church was brimming with family and friends. The 10 wooden pews on each side of a narrow main aisle were packed, and even the folding chairs added to the aisle couldn’t accommodate the people gathered. Many women came in stylish hats, most in dark suits or dresses, and with heavy hearts.
Martha leaves behind her daughter, Ursula, and son, Warren, a granddaughter, five siblings and countless nieces and nephews. About 30 people from the Virginia Hospital Center came to bid farewell to their co-worker.
As the service got underway, a man on the piano in the front pounded out “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.” The choir sang and swayed, the congregation clapped along and punctuated the songs and words of remembrance with shouts of “Amen,” “That’s right” and “Sing it baby.”
Ushers — men in black suits wearing white gloves and women all in white — were quick to come to the aid of anyone who needed a tissue, a bottle of water or a fan. A couple of women were wailing and the ushers rushed to fan them and stay with them until they had settled down.
A friend, Bernadette Harris, talked about Martha’s first diagnosis of cancer. “She left her fears in God’s hands.” She talked about her losing her hair, and told everyone that she was “a beautiful bald woman.” More “uh-huhs” from the pews.
In Martha’s last weeks she repeatedly told family and friends, “I just want everybody to get along and treat everybody right and with respect.”
As her casket sat in the front of this spirit-filled church, covered and surrounded by flowers, a sign hung above the altar that read, “Jesus Saves.” You could feel the love, the respect and the utter belief in the Resurrection.
“I know my redeemer lives,” the church sang. Pastor George Marshall emphasized “how short our stay is here” and that “God’s hand is in the clock.”
“The only thing that matters when you stand before God is your spirituality,” he said. “Amen” was the response.
As some 250 people came together to say goodbye to “Mother Brown” the message was clear, “Trust in God’s mercy and love.”
I came back to work and told my coworkers “I got a good dose of religion this morning” and it did my soul good.