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A little church in Alabama with rough-hewn walls holds a glittering stained glass window with this expression: Not lost but gone before.

Stained glass window in St. Johns Church, near Forkland, Alabama    Featured in ALABAMA magazine, November/December 2017

 

The saying in golden glass ends with a period though it’s not a complete sentence. Yet those five words reflect on a real ending to a human life . . . separation from a loved one by death . . . one whom the writer hopes to see again in the next life.

In my own family archives I have funeral leaflets for several family members who have gone before on both sides of my family tree. Here are two, both on my paternal side:

  • Great Grandma Mary Martin who died a year before I was born
  • Grandpa Henry Longenecker, who died when I was a little girl

 

Mary Elizabeth Horst Martin

My great grandmother, though dressed plainly, had a reputation for being saucy, high-spirited, and benevolent:

Some observations about Great Grandma Mary who died the year before I was born:

  • bunny-cheeked with a crinkly smile, her laughing eyes in sharp contrast to her prayer-capped head and long dark dress topped with a cape shaped like a triangle, pointed to a V at her waist
  • hospitable, invited strangers to the family table and made space for the homeless to sleep in a family bedroom upstairs

 

Her memorial leaflet designed in the art nouveau style was decorated with orange roses and lines lifted from a Tennyson poem. She was born this week in February 1865 near the end of the Civil War, 153 years ago.

 

* * *

Henry Risser Longenecker 

I have two recollections of my Grandfather Henry Longenecker who died when I was five. One flash memory is of his killing a snake in the front lawn of the homeplace. Another is buying me a soft drink in a cold, curvy glass bottle after I asked him, “Grandpa, how do you spell Pepsi?”

Grandpa Henry was reputed to be shy and “all business.” Family lore has it that Henry as owner of H. R. Longenecker & Sons chauffeured President-elect Woodrow Wilson in a Model A Ford from York to Lancaster, Pennsylvania sometime before his term in office 1913 – 1921.

His memorial leaflet was typewritten on paper with a lovely texture, the only fancy thing about his commemoration. In those days it was customary to include “please omit flowers” at Mennonite funerals because church leaders thought flowers in the sanctuary to be worldly and a frivolous expense even though chrysanthemums may have been blooming in Pennsylvania during this season in 1946.

* * *

Based on their profession of faith, the description of heaven in the book of Revelation would fit their imaginings of heaven, where they expected to spend eternity.

The Ideals magazine in 1949 embellished this idea with its glowing cover of an earth walker envisioning the heavenly city.

Ideals magazine 1949, Ruth M. Longenecker archives

 


What do you think of the stained glass inscription “Not lost but gone before”?

How does this inscription apply to a loved one you have lost recently or long ago?

James Lipton in his Bravo TV show Inside the Actor’s Studio, has been fond of asking his subjects a parting question, “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you enter the pearly gates?”

How would you answer that question? Or, whom would you look forward to seeing in the next life?

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