Sometimes, we don’t know what we’re doing. And sometimes, we don’t realize the extraordinary holiness of a moment in time. And then, sometimes, we do.
I received two text messages on Sunday morning before church. Two of three brothers reached out to me to make sure I knew their mother was struggling that day. They told me she was not expected to make it through the day, that she was shutting down. Family had been called to gather. They thought I should know. It was hard news for a Sunday morning, especially hard because it was news connected to a dear woman named Eleanor Kuss.
Eleanor always wanted to hear about the church when I visited her. I knew of her before she became part of our church. She was active in the Region of North Carolina, in the Disciples Women, in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US and Canada, in the camp and conference system, and in every congregation she was part of before moving to South Carolina. One granddaughter helped her navigate the highway to find her way here to Charlotte and the closest Disciples church to her new home. Other grandchildren and her sons (sometimes bringing extra family members with them) visited with her from time to time. When she came to church, she was excited to be here. Her smile was a mile wide. If she had a time when she was absent from us, she smiled through tears when she returned. Eleanor was a joy. Of course, I learned more about that joy that was Eleanor Kuss when I spent time in her apartment, visiting and bringing communion.
Her husband had been an artist, and there were many paintings and drawings throughout her home. It was the home of someone who enjoyed everything. Needlepoint, paintings of her own, clever sayings, poems, and bible verses announced to you her greatest loves as you took it all in. And then, there was the conversation. She was the daughter of a minister, a mother of three, a grandmother of many, and a great-grandmother, too. The Bethany Hills campground in Tennessee was a home away from home for her, a place where she held cherished experiences of friendships and awakenings. Her friendship with Fred Craddock (revered Disciples preacher and teacher from our tradition, who taught a generation of ministers to preach) began there, and she was thrilled to be able to point out her father’s name mentioned in Fred’s books as a mentor and influence. She was a camp counselor to many, and an influence in more lives that any of us can count.
When I saw her last, it was the Wednesday after Easter. I sat with her in the dining room of her building, talking about new life, Jesus’ resurrection, and God’s light. We shared communion, and I gave her a glow bracelet from our Easter Sunrise gathering. She looked at me and commented about my eyes. “You have such beautiful eyes!” And I responded it took one to know one. Her baby blues were always stunning. She said, “Yes, I’ve had these eyes a long time.” I hope I have my eyes as long as she’s had and enjoyed hers.
Her family gathered to be with her on Sunday as best they could. Some were nearby and some were coming from a distance. Even though not everyone was there on Sunday morning that wanted to be there, the gathering was impressive. At least twenty people from Eleanor’s family made their way to the hospital to see her–a son, daughter in law, grandchildren, great-grands, other in-laws. Eleanor’s newest great grand was there in a baby carrier, just months old and absolutely precious. To say she was surrounded by love is an understatement.
On Sunday, our choir sang, “Soon and very soon, we’re going to see the King . . . No more dying there, we’re going to see the King . . . No more crying there, we’re going to see the King . . . Hallelujah, Hallelujah, we’re going to see the King!” It was the anthem that day, and the choir sang a reprise of one verse right at the end of the service as the final response to the benediction. People were so enthused by the song, they were clapping and dancing a little to the music. I couldn’t help but think that we were singing it for Eleanor, who was finding her way to her true and real home from a hospital bed less than ten miles away. After church, I traveled to the hospital and found that she had passed at 11:59, the time when the choir would have been singing that song the last time. I wonder, did we, unawares, sing her home?
I’m reminded of Paul’s words, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:25-26) Sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing. But at those key moments, I’ve found the movement of the Spirit is there in ways I cannot explain away. This was one of those moments.
“Hallelujah, Hallelujah, she’s going to see the King.”
Eleanor, thank you for sharing this journey with us. We’re honored to have walked a while with you. Whether you heard our music or not on Sunday morning, you were on our hearts and will be for a long time. Godspeed. Rest well in the arms of our King.
Services for Eleanor Kuss: There will be a simple graveside service, in accord with Eleanor’s wishes, this Saturday, April 29, 11 am at Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, followed by a gathering at Collierville Christian Church to share food and stories. Memorials to Bethany Hills Camp or to Christmount. The family looks forward to time with whoever all is there.