Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Memorial Service for Dorothy Landeros

By Rev Dr. Sharon Graff

Welcome to this place of worship, where we gather to honor & give thanks for the life of Dorothy Landeros! It is fitting that we gather in this place, a place Dorothy loved and helped create, this sanctuary nestled within a beautiful garden. Look around… friends and family of this daughter of God you loved… and you will see her touch everywhere. In the physical beauty of this stunning facility she often decorated, outside in the gardens she helped tend, and also in the faces of those she greeted and impressed with her love. For all of Dorothy’s long and rich life, she tended beauty. Today, by offering the best of ourselves here in this place, we each get to return thanks for the beauty and love Dorothy brought to our lives.

We gather also to surround Dorothy’s family with our support and our encouragement: daughter and son-in-law, Dianne and Steve; son and daughter-in-law, Rob and Geri; granddaughter and grandson-in-law, Toni and Doug; grandson and granddaughter-in-law, Sterling and Alison; great-grandchildren, Hunter and Carlisle; sisters, Mary Ann and Roxie; brother Bill, and several nieces and nephews. Whether you are present here in Redlands or listening to this recording later, know that our prayers and thoughts are with you as your grieving gives way to healing.

In a sense, ironically, it is Dorothy’s own passing that sets the tenor of this service today as one of celebration, of faith, of hope, and of love. During the long weeks of her passing, she was at peace, filled with and surrounded by love, and made her passing in such a way as to give so many of you opportunity to go and visit and share some laughter and say your goodbyes, to send a note or flowers or a meal filled with love, to pray and offer your loving thoughts which, I can assure you, made their way to her bedside.

It is our memory and our love for one another and for Dorothy and her family, that bring us each here today. And it is our faith that assures us that we do not come here simply to mourn death, but also to celebrate the wondrous gift of life as it was fully lived in this dear daughter of God.

To this place of memory and love and worship, we can bring our whole selves. Here may we feel the protective shelter of God's healing love. Here we are free to acknowledge our grief, to face our loneliness with gratitude, and to know that God cares. We gather as God's beloved children, conscious of others who have passed on and, at the same time, acutely aware of the sacredness of all of life on earth. So may we gather in love as a community of family and friends to give thanks to God, from whom all life comes and to whom all life returns.

As we begin this service, we honor the elements of life—earth, air, water, fire, spirit—elements that were the staples of Dorothy’s life.

Earth – solid – her unwavering faith in God as One who cares, and is ever-present and all-loving. Her faith taught her to discard judgment in favor of love and acceptance, to welcome people as brothers and sisters. This faith shone brightly in her humor, guided her through difficult patches in life, and ultimately, led her on her journey with peace.

Air – refreshment – family and friends. Dorothy was always “on the go.” To concerts and recitals and plays and Disneyland parades featuring her grandchildren on stage…to shows in LA with her family…to Scrabble games and tournaments…to worship and other church activities and classes…on longer trips with her beloved Albert…

Water – nourishment – music, art, beauty. She presented herself as elegant and even regal. She decorated this church with flowers, plants, color and texture more times than can be counted. She gardened with delight—here and at home. She sang with family at parties and more formally with the choir here. She worked side by side with Albert to help his watercolor business flourish.

Fire – warmth, passion – welcoming and knowing people. The number of visitors she received during these last few months is testament to how much Dorothy’s life centered around other people. She wanted to know our stories…and remembered them! She wanted to keep current on our activities…and asked us about them! Hers was the face many of the newest members of this congregation recall as the first smile they received, followed quickly by her welcoming spirit and inquisitive mind.

Spirit – essence, personality – impish glee! Today we will hear story after story of how Dorothy brought joy—surprising, sometimes even shocking joy—to those around her. One of Dianne’s most memorable is of the children’s story recorded by Ray Bolger: “The Churkendoose”—a remarkable animal: part chicken, turkey, duck and goose who finally came to see that, in spite of his differences, it depends on how you look at things…and all can be accepted as treasured good friends. Throughout the story, this unusual creature sang a silly song, to which Dorothy created a quite memorable dance. Dianne still smiles as she recalls her Mama getting up and dancing around the room like a combo chicken, turkey, duck, and goose!

We give thanks for Dorothy Landeros & her legacy!

Good lives lived well are either like a rock skipped across a pond, creating many small ripples and a delight to watch—OR like a rock tossed into a pond, which goes quick and deep to the land beneath, creating many large ripples and adding to the foundation of the earth. Dorothy’s life was of the second, with the delightful elements of the first…just ask her family!

Another funny story, one that Dorothy herself referenced in the last few days of her life, was the infamous “No Tomatoes” story. Seems that in her younger years, she was regularly poking her nose into other people’s business…never recently, of course! One day, as she was describing yet one more way that her wisdom could make another’s life easier if only they would be smart enough to take her good advice…Albert looked lovingly at her and said quietly, “No te metes…” The loose translation is “don’t butt in…” At some point this morphed into “No tomatoes,” which he didn’t have to whisper. The whole family, including Dorothy, took it up as her mantra to keep her own counsel. No te metes…No tomatoes… Granddaughter Toni, in her online stories, concludes this one with, “This is English to us now, for ‘butt out of those people’s business.’ Every New Year’s Nana announces her resolution is to remind herself no tomatoes. She can’t do it. There’s no stopping her from tomatoes…!”

One final legendary story is the one of queenly Dorothy streaking. Some of you recall that decade…when at football games or poker parlors or ladies’ teas, someone would run through the gathering, wearing not one stitch of clothing. Dorothy chose her knitting class. While they were having dessert, Dorothy quietly excused herself. She reappeared, running through the unsuspecting knitters, apparently naked. In reality, Dorothy had stitched herself a tight-fitting body suit, with embellishments of cotton and yarn in a couple of dramatic places. Needless to say, she managed to shock all the old ladies, AND, so the legend goes, Albert never knew a thing about it!

Dorothy’s legacy here at Redlands United Church of Christ is similar in the pure joy it reveals. She never held an office, never served on the board, yet her passing is larger to us than simply one person’s death. I think that’s because she embodied the spirit of this welcoming congregation so very well. Without fanfare, Dorothy just overcame whatever reticence she might have felt, and walked right up to strangers, and took on projects larger than she, and set about serving God by loving others, by bringing beauty to life. Another of our founding members, when I was asking her about Dorothy’s various church involvements over the years, said simply, “she just was a worker!” And that she was! Dorothy served for over 25 years on the committee that plans our annual “Art, For Heaven’s Sake!” and is credited in the legends with coming up with the name for the art show. She decorated the altar and our dining tables with fresh flowers and interesting plants. She could often be seen moving Albert’s paintings around on the walls here to create a more balanced and welcoming scene. She participated in the Women’s Fellowship, helped in the kitchen, sang in the choir, learned with the Bible study group, pruned and planted with the church gardeners, and, of course, beat many of us at Scrabble during games days after worship. Just a few hours before her death, as I sat with her family at her bedside, stroking her hair and holding her hand, I leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Perhaps now, Dorothy, I could beat you at Scrabble!” Of late, Dorothy’s passion for justice and her interest in other people, led her to work faithfully on the Growth Committee and tirelessly on our FaithActs Task Group. It’s not just that she followed Dianne in whatever tasks needed doing…it’s that she shared similar passions for the weaving of justice and compassion to help bring the Kingdom of God to earth.

Dorothy, we your church family miss you dearly. But, like the family to which you gave life—your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews—we shall carry on stronger and more loving for having known you. We love you, Dorothy…and we give thanks to your God and ours for your many gifts, which will continue to inspire us with queenly beauty, with irrepressible joy, and with love that never ends.

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