(Click on the title to go to Amundson Funeral Home and sign the guestbook)
A Fond Farewell
The weather had risen above zero, but the wind was still brisk as I headed for the Federated Church to say my last goodbye to Ivan. Everything was ready. A fellow from across the street had taken the car on Thursday to put some gas in it and check the levels of the fluids. Such a thoughtful gesture. Diane Sawyer, as you saw in my previous post, had added her vote of affirmation by announcing that the entire country was to dress in red in honor of people who had died from heart disease. Did Ivan have a stroke or a heart attack at 3 o'clock on Tuesday afternoon? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. His heart was in heaven, and everyone was encouraged to wear red in honor of Ivan, as far as I was concerned.
From the moment the first arrangements began, God had His hand on everything. I was left alone for the most part to do what I needed to do. People just took charge, and I cannot thank them enough.
On Tuesday evening I called Keith Mills, our minister, to tell him that we wanted the funeral at the church. He asked about the mortuary, and I told him that he had been taken to Amundson Funeral Home.
Amundsons were amazing. They asked a few simple questions about what I wanted. Ivan always said he wanted "the cheapest coffin there was, and where I am buried doesn't matter, because I'm not staying in that box for long anyway." By the time the funeral arrived, I knew he was above, looking down at us, giving his eagle eye of approval to every single tiny detail.
One of the Amundsons--I'm not sure if it was Paul or Mark--asked me if I wanted flowers on the casket, or would I prefer an American flag, which Ivan had earned because of his military service. I knew immediately that he would want the flag. He was extremely proud of his time in the Army, and he loved his country deeply, even if he didn't always agree with their politics.
I told Amundsons, and Keith Mills when he called me the next morning, that I had asked our good friend John Crawford to sing "Amazing Grace." That was agreeable with them. Ivan loved music. I can see now that he must have known sometime earlier that he didn't have much time left here on earth. I think it must have been about 3 months earlier that a women's ensemble (5 women) sang "I'll Fly Away" one Sunday morning. That might not be anything outstanding to many of you, but the Federated Church does not sing a lot of rousing old "camp songs" in their regular services. As the women began to sing, Ivan turned to me and said, "When I go, I want them to sing that." The hymn was special to him. Years before I knew him, he had gone to a funeral for a family in Oklahoma that had been killed in a car accident. He said it was the most moving and happiest thing he had ever seen. As he bade farewell at the end of the funeral, you knew he was probably clapping in time to the music of "I'll Fly Away."
The church secretary sent a notice out on Wednesday morning to the congregation about Ivan's passing and the time of the funeral. Within a few minutes after it went out, Job Christianson, who has a beautiful voice and is a professional musician/performer, called the church and asked if he could also sing. Keith called me and I was thrilled. Ivan loved Job's singing. As the service began, Job's voice filled the sanctuary with "You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas; I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up... To more than I can be." And we all knew that Ivan had indeed been lifted up on God's shoulders.
And then there was Devera Warcup. She is the church organist, even though she is (I think) a member of the Presbyterian Church. Ivan dearly loved her organ playing. Many a Sunday morning, towards the end when it was so difficult for him to get in and out of the car he would ask me, "Is Devera playing today?" I would answer, "The choir is singing today, so I know she will be." Devera also directed the choir, usually to the piano accompaniment of Thelma Willett, which he also loved. He would smile and say, "Then we should try to go. It doesn't matter who is preaching."
And when it comes to the preaching, he adored Keith Mills' sermons. Having preached many sermons himself, he always commented to Keith about the sermon after the service. He also often told Keith a joke.
The Federated Church, you must understand, is a weird breed. When Urban Renewal took both the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church out of the downtown area, the two churches merged and became The Federated Church. Strange bedfellows, but it works.
As we would drive home after the service, Ivan would often grin and remark, "Keith's Christian and Missionary Alliance background was sticking out today."
I knew it was going to be very special from the moment someone handed me the little folder with the information about Ivan and the service. The front of it had a picture of an eagle in flight, with the words "On Eagle's Wings" on it. Ivan always loved eagles. He has a collection of ceramic and porcelain eagles that people have given him over many years. He has a black bolo tie with a gold eagle clasp on it.
After the funeral, I asked Raquel if she had selected the folder. She said, "No, I thought you had." On Monday, I asked Paul Amundson about it. He said he had chosen it. "It just seemed like the right one," he said, not aware of Ivan's love of eagles. I am going to take one of his ceramic eagles over to Amundson's. It just seems right.
I gave the eulogy. I wanted to do that. I wanted to let people know the Ivan I knew. I also wanted to tell of all the amazing things that had happened within the last few days. I don't know, but I don't remember there ever being a round of applause after a eulogy at any funeral I had ever attended. But there it was. I could feel him saying, slyly, "You just had to steal the limelight one last time, didn't you?" No, my dear, I did not want to steal it from you. I just wanted to let them know why you had it.
Anyway, I digress. Getting back to the music, I had not thought about the fact that there would be an honor guard from the Legion, the VFW, and the National Guard. Nor that there would be a bugler to play taps. I was fine until that moment. As the mournful notes echoed throughout the church, I reflected on the bugle and taps. Ivan's father was in World War I. He was the bugler for his unit. Years later, he played in a competition in South Dakota. He won. We have the bugle, engraved with the date and his name on it, up on top of the piano. It was 1932, the year Ivan was born. When Willy, our oldest child, was about 3 years old, "Grandpa Bumpa" taught him to play the taps on the bugle. His little cheeks puffed out so he resembled a chipmunk. In a week or two I will pack the bugle up and send it off to Willy.
And then came the presentation of the flag. I stood, watching impatiently, as they so slowly folded the flag, exactly as Ivan had taught me to do with the old flag we had. It was a special flag that was presented to him after he came back from Korea by the senator of South Dakota. I don't remember his name anymore. It had been flown over the Whitehouse. In 1997, after Grand Forks' terrible flood, it was gone. It had been in our storage shed. It was one of those things that "One day we'll get another one," but it never happened. He now has his flag. I'm not sure, but I suspect that the older fellow who handed the flag to me was likely a Korean War vet too. I must find out who he is. I need to thank him--personally.
And the final step was the lunch that the women of the church served. The odd events that surrounded that on Thursday evening, when Dorothy Suggs and her daughter Sarah stopped by the house to visit me. Dorothy is always in charge of things like lunches, rummage sales, etc.
As we sat and reminisced, I told Dorothy about the red dress incident. I also told her that one of the very last things Ivan said to me was, "I don't want anybody to be sad. This is a celebration of life."
The color drained from Dorothy's face and Sarah took a deep breath. I asked them what was going on. Dorothy explained, "I was going to have that put on the cake--a celebration of life--but I thought I'd better ask you first." So, it was emblazoned on the cake--in bright red frosting!
As our daughter made her way to the table with the food, I heard her take a deep breath and then laugh. "Cowboy ronis and tater tot hotdish," she exclaimed.
When our kids were little, Raquel loved macaroni and cheese, but she refused to eat a "hotdish" with the added hamburger, onions and tomato soup. Likewise, the boys cringed at the mere mention of a "hotdish." Ivan soon duped the boys by renaming it "Cowboy Roni." The boys loved it. They still do.
And the tater tot hotdish? A group called SIL--a branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators--always has a training session here in Grand Forks at UND. For many years, Mary Walker was the cook. She could stretch a few cents worth of food farther than a rubber band. But her tater tot hotdish was something else. When the students knew that was on the menu, they would opt for a small hamburger from McDonald's. There were always leftovers, and she would call us to pick it up so Mission Socorro could give it to the migrant workers. Many of them would look at it and say "I guess we really aren't that hungry after all," and they would leave empty-handed.
If Ivan saw the table, I know he was laughing hysterically. It could not have been more perfectly planned if he had done it himself.
And so, Ivan was carried out of the church and put into the hearse for his last ride. He will be buried in the spring, but it won't matter. He's already gone, and he's loving every second of his new life.
Of course I miss him. Like I told my dear friend, Kristie Leigh Maguire, sure there were some rough spots along the way, but somehow they don't matter anymore. The memories--the good ones--are here, and they're not going anywhere.