Celebrating Roger

This is the whole Celebration of Life for Roger.  Sorry I cannot figure out how to UNshadow the parts that Tammy McKean read.  I also don’t have energy to fix the print and paragraphs – they all just changed on me!!!  The whole may be helpful to some – the REFLECTION and the NAMING part are the highlights for me.

Roger Lee Wills
August 10, 1961 – April 28, 2018

   The Reverend Brenda S. Wills, 
Tammy McKean, First United Methodist Church, Pendleton

Wilson St. Pierre Funeral Service
211 E. State Street, Pendleton, Indiana

 PRELUDE   I PAD MUSIC Pandora Country Music 70-80’s
Friends and Family listen to soft country music, look at photos, share.
Friends we have gathered here to praise God and to witness to our faith as we celebrate the life of Roger Lee Wills.  We come together in grief, acknowledging our human loss.  May God grant us grace, that in pain we may find comfort, in sorrow hope, in death resurrection.
O God who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.  You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Place in us, the presence of Christ’s Peace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death we may see the light of eternity. 
Holy one, come, be here now, as you always have been, in this place, calling us to life moment by moment, breath by breath.  Hold us as we hold one another. As we gather to remember Roger and celebrate his life.  Give us courage in this time of naming the sadness to also name the kindness, patience, courage and love that Roger’s life has brought to our lives.   We have been blessed. And we are truly grateful. Amen.
Isaiah 40: 28-31
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary;  God’s understanding is unsearchable.  29 God gives power to the faint,  and strengthens the powerless.30  Even youths will faint and be weary,  and the young will fall exhausted;31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,  they shall mount up with wings like eagles,  they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
The Twenty Third Psalm
The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want.   He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:  He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul:  He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yeh, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear no evil:  For thou art with me;Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.   Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  Thou anointest my head with oil: my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
NEW TESTAMENT READINGS    Romans 8: 28,31,35,37-39
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  GOSPEL READING    John 14: 1-3,15-19,25-27
 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the God who will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees this Spirit nor knows this Spirit. You know this Advocate, because this Spirit of truth abides with you, and will be in you.
 25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 
Life as God has created it is a life of seasons.  New seeds sprout and grow then weaken and die.  Death no less than birth is one of the gifts of God that make up what we call life.  
I want to speak to you for a moment about grief and the way you may experience and live with grief in the coming days.  
“The risk of love is loss,   and the price of loss is grief –
But the pain of grief   Is only a shadow,   When compared with the pain Of never risking love.”
Hilary Stanton Zunin teaches English and creative writing at Napa High School and is an expert on the effect of grief on school-aged children. She and her husband, Leonard Zunin, live in Napa, California. They coauthored The Art of Condolence.
If you are sitting here today, either you have risked loving Roger, or you have risked loving someone who loved Roger.  Thank you for risking love.  Your love for Roger, and for his family, has made and continues to make a difference
As I sat down to prepare for this moment, I was reminded of a sermon about the storms of life…and let me tell you after 10 months up close and personal with a man living with ALS, that counts as a storm of Biblical Proportions.  I re-read that sermon I have preached many times, and it is still good news in this hard time.  I wanted to talk about God’s presence over and over, guiding us on this journey with Roger.  However…..you have been spared.
  God is still guiding us in the midst of this difficult time.  
                  Lucky for you… Roger and God woke me up at 5:30 AM yesterday.  
                    One of Roger’s favorite T-shirts (ROLE IT OUT)
                            reminded me that the sermon is for my BLOG site. {readers see previous blog}
What is needed here today are the words of grief I have used, always the same, at every celebration of life I have led.  Words to remind us about grief.
This is what I always say:     I want to speak to you for a moment about grief and the way you may experience and live with grief in the coming days.  
Because of Roger’s death, each of you – we – is now on a journey of grief. Grief is a trail that every person who chooses to love must travel.  The sadness we feel this day, is because we have loved and allowed ourselves to be loved.  Your grief is a badge of honor, a sign of the love you shared.   
I want to alert you to some things about grief   Think of them as Trail markers for your grief walk.  It may well be the most challenging trail you ever travel, and absolutely worth every step. Do not be ashamed of your grief; it is a sign of your love.
The markers are: recognize, react, readjust, and reinvest.
Recognize: There is the shock of recognizing what we do not want to know: that your husband, brother, father, neighbor, friend, has died.  That is why we gather, to acknowledge together the hole that is created in our lives by Roger’s death.  We gather with all these people and their prayers around us when we consider this mystery.
React: There is a time of reacting. Feelings of fear, or guilt, or sadness. It is normal to feel anything or nothing, stay very busy or sit alone, to cry or not cry.  Often there is a time of anger or frustration or impatience at friends or strangers, at those we love, at ourselves.  Remember to be gentle with yourself at this time.  Take time alone yet stay connected to others.
Readjust:  There is a time of readjusting: falling apart before coming together in new ways.  Often this brings deep sadness after some time has passed, when the shock has left and the depth of this loss becomes more evident.  It may bring a time of depression.  This will surprise you, and you will meet this difficult time each in your own way.  The friends of Jesus went fishing when they were readjusting to life; some of you may need to go fishing as well.  Or play music or ride your bike, or loose an evening staring at nothing in particular or have a good cry. 
Reinvesting:  There will also be a time of Release and Reinvesting.  It is a time of letting go of
Roger’s presence, yet reinvesting in the ways  his memory will always teach, inspire, and love you. Your relationship with Roger Lee Wills shifts from one of presence and the deep absence you feel today, to a relationship of memory.  You may not believe me now, but there will come a time when thinking of Roger you so deeply love will bring you joy and peace, and much less pain than now. 
 “The risk of love is loss,   and the price of loss is grief –
But the pain of grief   Is only a shadow,   When compared with the pain Of never risking love.”
  We know God’s love is eternal, holding us both in this life and in the next life.  We can trust Roger into God’s ever loving arms, while at the same time we can rest – no matter how we feel at the moment – we can rest in the loving arms of God who knows our name and loves us and mourns with us in our loss.  We know God’s love and God’s good creation have gifted us here, so we can trust our loved ones and ourselves into our next life with God.
NAMING          Roger Lee WIllsfullsizeoutput_6749
     Roger Lee Wills was born the youngest son of Robert and Vinetta Wills, on August 10, 1961 in Greenfield, Indiana.  He and his family moved a few months later to Pendleton where he lived his entire life.  He graduated from Pendleton Heights High School in 1979.  He attended First United Methodist Church and was a volunteer for the Pendleton Emergency Medical Services.   
He is survived by his wife: Linda Elliott
Children:  Danielle WIlls
Billy Wills
                         Kody Wills
                               Alison Wills
                               Hayley Wills
His Siblings: Brenda Wills of Oregon
                         Barbara Russell of Noblesville
                         Steve Wills (and wife Annie) of Pendleton
His sister in Law: Carol Smith
Nieces and Nephew: Jimmy Wills and wife Erin
                                        Rebecca Harbert and husband James
Vinetta Russell
Roger was proceeded in death by his parents, Robert and Vinetta Wills.
Growing up the Wills’ Kids were a team.  We had chores to do like dishes after meals and cleaning the house each Saturday morning.  We kids had a 3 acre truck patch -Roger picked beans and tomatoes and corn to sell.
We had sheep – mainly they were Steve’s job starting in first grade, but Roger helped hauling grain and feeding hay, and dodging George the Billy Goat.  
  He was onery, he loved to tease and he had a habit of acting before he thought.  This lead to many good stories which Barb and Steve are better at telling than I am.  
Out behind our garage and workshop we had a 55 gal drum that we got gas out for mowers tractors etc.  Roger and Barb were picking up sticks in the yard and had a fire in the fire pit not far away, when Roger had this great dare idea.  He said do you dare me to drop this red hot fire-stick in front of the gas filled drum?
 I said I double dare you so Roger casually walked by and dropped the fire-stick by the drum.  It went totally up in flames about ten feet in the air, and the ground shook.  Barb ran to tell Brenda ( since she was babysitting).  Barb said, “ Brenda Brenda call the fire department call the fire department !! “
Brenda said “well I better see first so she slowly goes behind the garage and says omgosh I need to call the fire department and runs back to the house.”  The fire department comes out and when they got there the fire was about out but the tank was really hot to the touch.  We were all like don’t tell dad!!…. shoot dad probably knew about it the next day a breakfast.  Barb said, “ I don’t remember getting I trouble for that one.”
Roger’s dream job was driving a semi-truck, with some long haul trips mostly in Indiana.  He worked for Local Beauty Supply and still could tell me last fall what street to take to find my way around Indianapolis.  When seizures made it impossible to drive truck, he still drove to his job at Meijer and to deliver for Pizza Hut.
Roger was only 21 when his mom died;  his youngest daughter Hayley turns 21 today.  Shortly after mom’s death, Roger married Stacy and their daughter Danielle was born in 1985.  The next chapter of his life was with Terry, with his son Billy arriving in 1991 and Kody in 1994.  When that marriage ended he married Melinda, and daughter Alison was born in 1995 and Hayley in 1997.  
Roger could still name the birthday and age of every one of his children, but he did not always think of sending a birthday card. He certainly did not know how to nurture a relationship with kids not living with him.  He worked two and sometimes three jobs to pay his child support and enjoyed visiting time with his children.
      Roger and Linda Elliott were married in 2008.  Their home on water street was a Christmas Light Postcard.  They walked all over Pendleton, never missing a June Jamboree or Fall Festival, or any other celebration.  They collected glass from the Old Glass Factory that was in Falls Park.  Roger collected light houses, and baseball caps and t-shirts.  
    Over twenty years ago, Steve and Barbara recognized, each in their own way, that Roger needed extra support.  Steve offered him work, with A-V Striping, doing “whatever I didn’t want to do.”  Roger stripped and spread asphalt and sealer.  He loved working with Steve and Barb and their guys. Another story thanks to Barb:
 Roger never met a stranger.  He was always eager to help and was as strong as an ox.  He would work so hard and long we would have to tell him to take a break cause we were tired and needed  a break.  Then when we started back up cleaning a parking lot we had to ask him now which parking lot are we cleaning???  Ok as long as we are on the same lot!    
Roger was cleaning out the asphalt box.  There is a flame that keeps in liquid and that fire when out.  So Roger turned on the gas and then walked away to go get the fire starter .  When he returned and ignited the fire,  it went CABOOM!! 
We yelled at Roger and said are you alright ?  
Rogers eyebrows were gone, and smoke billowed  around his head.  He raised his arms up and said “Yes, I AM OK!!”
Barb offered Roger a place to live for a bit, before he moved into the house on Water Street.  She corralled Steve to help get Roger’s cognitive disability diagnosed — long before ALS was a part of our world.  Steve and Barbara have been Roger’s legal guardians, Barb doing medical and banking and shopping with him for asl long as she has been mom to Vinetta.  They provided Roger that support with such dignity and respect that many of you may not have known that.
     I tell you today, because it is true that Roger has been a project for a lifetime.  At times, he was frustrating to deal with because we did not understand how his brain worked.  I believe Roger forgave us for not understanding him; and would want us to forgive him as well.
     I have particular skills as a retired Hospice and Hospital Chaplain  which I brought last June to support Roger and our family.  I have only been here 11 months;  Barb and Steve (and Rogers wives and children, plus co workers and friends in this room) have been looking out for him forever.
Your care for him, and the support of the town of Pendleton, is an example of the best of small town community.  Roger was grateful, though he didn’t often communicate that directly.  He would want you to know you have blessed him in many ways.
When you have ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, daily tasks get done differently.   Right handed Roger became left handed.  The man who loved to walk around Pendleton had to depend on his wife and friends to get him to church and around town.  The middle of last June, Roger had to move into long term care because so many ordinary things had to be done with the help of others.  The day the Ambulance Crew carried him down his front steps and he left Pendleton after 55 years, was a very sad day for all.
On August 10, we SURPRISED Roger with a party at his new home in Greenfield.  Wife, daughter, siblings, cousins, church and facility friends ate cake with Roger, and he glowed.  A few days later we went on the facility Van to the Indiana State Fair.  Roger relished his new Tenderloin,”Born and Breaded in Indiana” T-Shirt and his sunburn.
In the fall I wrote in my brenbits blog:
The dance with ALS is in double-time, yet daily.  Speech and swallowing are declining; nerves to muscles seem to die daily.  Roger appreciates my presence in his life as evidenced when he moves the urinal over on his bed, so I can have a place to sit.  This is Roger’s version of “hi, I am glad you came.”
We began conversations with Roger about ALS and the decisions he faced in the all to near future.  We listened to Ira Byoch’s U-tube on THE FOUR THINGS THAT MATTER MOST: Saying and hearing from those you love: 1) Please forgive me 2) I forgive you 3) thank you 4) I love you.  We watched the BUCKET LIST and Roger said seeing his five children was on his bucket list. 
He was deeply moved to see all five children in early November; we took pictures and Roger helped me create a book of memories for each of us.  The First of February he stopped trying to chew, and asked us to use the feeding tube not just for medication but also for food.  He stopped losing weight and gave good attention to bingo and solitaire, plus went out to a movie with Steve and a Restaurant with Barb.  His body, by early April, had stopped moving except for the fingers of his right hand.
Roger died on Saturday, April 28, at 8:15 am at age 56.  Mom died at age 56 on a Saturday morning as well.  He was unresponsive and looked absolutely comfortable for 24 hours without any intervention except Oxygen.  His brother visited, as did the Hospice Chaplian. Sisters Barb and Brenda, daughters Alison and Hayley, and his Wife Linda and her sister Carol.  ALS had taken away Roger’s muscles including the last movement in his left hand that he used for controling the TV and playing solitaire and communication of the IPAD.  
 Roger – as a life style – took one day at a time and did not worry about the future.   I asked him last August on a walk in the Indiana sun- “how do you deal with all the stress of this disease, and moving and stuff?” 
 He looked at me like I was absolutely crazy and simply said, “what stress?”
The closing duet between  two life-long friends or life-long enemies, from the Broadway Musical, Wicked, is “For GOOD” by Steven Schwartz.
I find the song an invitation to celebrate the ways we are changed, such a way that we are not simply changed for good, but changed FOR THE BETTER.
ALS offered Roger that choice, and I believe he changed for the better.  Walking with him as he lived with ALS has offered me — offered each of us — the same invitation.
  We have all been changed for Good;       have we been changed for the better?
“Changed for the better”

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
and we are led to those who help us most to grow,
if we let them
And we help them in return.
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you.

       Like a comet pulled from orbit, as it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder, halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But, because I knew you
I have been changed for good.
It well may be
That we will never meet again in this lifetime,
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend
             Like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a songbird in a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
I do believe
I have been changed for the better.
And because I knew you,
Because I knew you,
I have been changed for good.
God of us all, your love never ends.  When all else fails, you still are God.  We pray to you for one another in our need, and for all, anywhere, who mourn with us this day.  To those who doubt, give light; to those who are weak, strength; to all who have sinned, mercy; to all who sorrow, your peace.  Keep true in us the love with which we hold each other.
Eternal God, you have shared with us the Life of Roger Lee Wills .  Before Roger  was ours, Roger is yours.  For all that Roger has given us to make us what we are, for that of Roger which lives and grows in each of us, and for Roger’s life that in your love will never end, we give you thanks.
The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.  Amen.
GRAVESIDE committal
Emily Dickinson has written:
This world is not conclusion; A sequel stands beyond,  Invisible, as music, but positive, as sound.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
                Wendell Berry (Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays)
Let us pray.
O God, you have ordered this wonderful world and know all things in earth and heaven.  Give us such faith that by day and by night, at all times and in all places, we may without fear commit ourselves and those dear to us to your never-failing love, in this life and in the life to come.  Amen.
Almighty God, into your hands we commend your child Roger Lee Wills, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.This body we commit to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.  Henceforth, says the Spirit, they rest from their labors and their works follow them.
Eternal God, you have shared with us the Life of Roger Lee Wills.   Before Roger was ours, Roger is yours.  For all that Roger has given us to make us what we are, for that of Roger  which lives and grows in each of us, and for Roger’s life that in your love will never end, we give you thanks.
As now we offer Roger back into your arms, We pray for comfort in our loneliness, strength in our weakness, and courage to face the future unafraid.  Draw those of us who remain in this life closer to one another, make us faithful to serve one another, and give us to know that peace and joy which is eternal life;  through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
 Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.  
BENEDICTION Now go with the peace of God living in your hearts.  May the love of God the Father, the strength of Christ and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit surround and enfold each one of you now and eternally.  Amen.

7 thoughts on “Celebrating Roger

  1. Thank you Brenda for sharing this celebration of Rogers life. I cried at news of his death, and cherish beyond your understanding this service and these words, since I was unable to attend in Pendleton, Indiana. Sending ❤️ and prayers of peace and comfort. Chris

      1. Only through your photos, sharing of your journey on facebook these past months, and your blogs…. know that ALS and amyloidosis are very similar journeys…both diagnosis are similar in loss of nerves, loss of function of organs, resulting in loss of use body parts and functions.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing. All the writing is beautiful and so caring, reminders for all. Thinking of you and your great work with and for others. Peace, lj

    Lisa Jean Sent from my iPhone


  3. A beautiful glimpse into Roger’s life and your family. May you all be surrounded by love and blessings.

  4. This is beautiful Brenda. Thank you for sharing. I am eager to talk with you more. My prayers and presence are with you.

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