Friday, November 7, 2014

John Reno Sprague Jr.: A Life Lived Large

Thank you for being here today to share in this service in memory of John Reno Sprague, Jr.  The family would like to thank all of you for coming today. They wanted me to thank you for all the beautiful flowers, memorial gifts, food and phone calls. John loved having his family and friends around him. He would have loved this gathering today. 

 My wife and I don't travel very well together in a car. She tranquilizes me with a soda. When we started over here from St. Louis, she stopped at a 7-11. She went inside while I sat in the car with my thoughts. I was staring at a Red Box. A featured movie was advertised. The movie's tagline was repeated several times. I realized that if any man's life deserved a tagline it would be John Sprague, Jr.. The tagline would consist of two words: "Carpe Diem!" Seize the day! More than any man I know John seized the day...He was larger than life. He lived it to its fullest.

This is the time normally set aside for the reading of the obituary. A beautiful obituary was published online and in the paper. However, mere words in an obituary cannot sum up a life that's lived large. It is demonstrated in the way his life touched each of us. It's demonstrated in the way he is remembered.

The writer of Ecclesiastes states:

3 There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance.
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

I will share my memories of John a little later. Now, it is time for any gathered here today to speak and share the way John touched their lives.

                                            We gather today to say farewell to our departed loved one, John Reno Sprague, Jr. We pause from our normal pursuits to remember his life, honor his memory, and grieve at our loss.John touched each of us here in different ways…husband, father, brother, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, and friend. Each of us remembers the way he touched our lives. I remember him as brother in law.

 I had a small family growing up. 25 years ago when I married Donna’s sister, Chris, I didn’t know how to be a part of a large family. Suddenly, I was in a family with seven adult siblings with families of their own... and a family that sometimes capitalized the word Fun in the word dysfunctional. While all the family made me welcome, it was John that made me feel accepted and a part of the family.

The first time we met he shook my hand. John gave me some advice: Run away Quickly! You can still escape! After discovering, he was a lawyer and had a great sense of humor I would greet him like this: " Hey, John, it was so cold today I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets." John would laugh and then he'd start firing back with one of the thousand lawyer jokes he knew:

Q: What do you call 25 lawyers skydiving?
A: Skeet

Q: How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Three, One to climb the ladder. One to shake it. And one to sue the ladder company.

Q: What are lawyers good for?
A: They make used car salesmen look good.

 Q: How many lawyer jokes are there?
A: Only three. The rest are true stories.

Will Rogers once said “I never met a man I didn’t like”. I’m not sure if John felt the same way…but I do know he never met a stranger. He could talk to anyone about anything. He had that gift. It didn’t matter if the person he was talking to was 3 or 93. John could talk to them on their level without being condescending.

John could talk about politics, TV shows, movies, hunting, and books ranging from mysteries to science fiction to a an eclectic mix of nonfiction. In the 25 years that I've been a part of the family, we attended several funerals or visitations.  Afterwards, We would share dissect the job preachers did…Often we would have fried preacher over our meals. Imagine the pressure I feel knowing he's looking over my shoulder right now.I’m not sure what he’d say about me today.  

I remember his courage and tenacity. Given a bleak diagnosis of cancer by his doctors, he was determined to prove them wrong. If you remember at his 70th birthday party, he announced that he was going to prove the doctors wrong. He was a fighter. He was determined not to go quietly into that good night.

 John’s left us now. In his passing, we are reminded of  life's brevity. Our physical existence is limited. We only have so much time allotted to us. Zorba the Greek said "Living is what you do while waiting to die."  There's an old gospel song that says "This world is not home, I'm just passing through". 
The Bible echoes these sentiments. James states that "life is a vapour that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away." The Psalmist declared "Lord, make me to know my end, and the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am." One commentator states the last part of the verse means how much time I have.

                  When a loved one dies, there are certain responses that are common. The first being we experience an emotional turmoil. A person may feel anger at the doctors for not performing a medical miracle. Anger is sometimes directed at their loved one...why did you leave me?  Anger is often directed at God. Why did you take my loved one? Anger is sometimes turned inward resulting in a state of depression.

Guilt might be felt too. If only I had gotten him to the hospital earlier everything would be alright. We play the shouda...woulda...coulda game in our minds. Some of us might deny the feeling of loss. We are determined not to show our emotions.

All of us feel some degree of fear. We fear death. It is the great equalizer. We rarely say he/she died. Instead, we use euphemisms like passed, gone, lost him,  fell asleep or passed away. All these things may be experienced at the same time...the human condition being like it is. It's normal that we go through a grieving process.

We grieve because we are human beings...wrapped in mortal flesh. As humans we tend to be selfish creatures. Objectively, we know that John is at rest. He is no longer feeling pain. We have faith that he is in the Hands of a loving God. Emotionally though, we don't want to lose someone we love, respect, and cherish. The ones who love him the most will miss him the most. You might ask how will we endure this pain? How will we endure our loss? The answer is simple. Turn to our life's hope...God.

It wasn't in God's plan that man would die. Sin and death came into the world when Adam and Eve fell in Eden. We experience loss but God will be with us. "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." He will support us through our time of bereavement. The Psalmist declared: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

God knows that if the entire weight of our grief fell on us at one time it would crush us. Instead, He holds us close and lets us experience it a little at a time. The poet said it this way:

God broke our years to hours and days,
That hour by hour and day by day,
Just going on a little way,
We might be able all along
To keep quite strong.
Should all the weight of life
Be laid across our shoulders,
And the future rife with woe and struggle
Meet us face to face at just one place
We could not go; our feet would stop.
And so God lays a little on us every day,
And never, I believe, on all the way
With burdens bear so deep
Or pathways lie so steep
But we can go, if by God's power,
We only bear the burden of the hour.

Human hands are poor at drying tears. We wipe them away. Soon another set takes their place. It is only the hand of our Creator that can touch and heal the deep wellsprings of sorrow in our souls.

Last night, I listened to your memories of John. It was evident that he touched many lives. He seized the day and lived his life to the fullest. I listened to the laughter and the tears. Someone suggested that John's message for us today would be the words of his favorite song:
"And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.
I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.
To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way"

 To the family, I encourage you to share the stories, the laughter, tears, and cherish the memories. "Bear ye one another's burdens." The pain will ease.

Our loved one is in the presence of a loving God. We can trust Him to do what is right. Remember to ask for His sustaining grace during this time of sorrow. It will be given. John was a long time member and supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous. I can't think of a more fitting way to end this service than by saying these familiar words:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr


Eileen Jacobs said...

Beautiful...I didn't know John but am a friend of his Daughter Desiree. After reading these words, I feel as if I had known him and known him well.Sending thoughts and prayers to his family and friends....Eileen Jacobs

Eileen Jacobs said...

Beautiful...I didn't know John but am a friend of his Daughter Desiree. After reading these words, I feel as if I had known him and known him well.Sending thoughts and prayers to his family and friends....Eileen Jacobs

Bookworm said...

Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers. John was a wonderfully complex man who lived life to the fullest.

bridget22868 said...

That was so beautiful, I am so sorry I couldn't be there, I am glad I did get to see you all at the visitation and got to spend a little bit of time with you. You all were a big part of our family's lives growing up and I can't speak for the rest of my family but I know I will never forget the good times and bad we all had. I will cherish the memory of John and he will not go forgotten. Love and thoughts to you all.