We gather this morning to remember, celebrate, and thank God for the life of Gladys Worden. As we do so we seek God’s comfort.
In the Living Bible we read this paraphrase of a familiar passage,
Psalm 23 (LB) Because the Lord is my Shepherd I have everything that I need. He lets me rest in meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He restores my failing health. He helps me do what honors Him the most. Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.
You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You welcomed me as your special guest; blessings overflow! Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.
In the New Testament Jesus said,
Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my fathers house are many mansions; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. You know the way to the place where I am going…Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:1-6)
These verses remind us that there is more to life than what we see here. We are reminded that though Gladys has been taken from us, she is not gone . . . she has gone on.
Let’s pray together,
Our Father, we turn to you this morning with hearts filled with sadness but also gratitude. We have been blessed by You through Gladys Worden. Though we mourn her loss we are grateful for her long and full life and grateful that she was able to die at home just as she wanted. Father, help us to remember her life accurately and lovingly. Help us also to be reminded of the truth that You have given us in your word for times such as these. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Gladys Worden, was born November 7, 1915 in LaHarpe, the daughter of Clyde and Elva McCord Tilton. She was a graduate of La Harpe High School. On April 8, 1937 she married Harold Worden in Peoria, Illinois. Gladys and Harold were partners in their work on the farm. The Worden’s had one son, Dennis. Gladys was an attentive (and strict) mom. She loved her son and enjoyed watching him grow up. She was proud of the man he became.
The Wordens were good friends with the Mullers, the Millers and the Gibbs. The George Little family was like an extension of the family. Harold suffered from a stroke and then died on May 18, 1974, almost 37 years ago. Gladys relied on her good friends.
Gladys worked at the Post Office and worked at the Coast to Coast store with the Bill Cox family. She was involved in the community with the Antique Show in La Harpe and the Community Council. She served for a period in the Golden Rule club. She loved to cook and enjoyed traveling. She especially looked forward to trips to Florida, California, and later Oregon to see her family.
Gladys joined the Union Church shortly after we came to La Harpe and I have had the privilege of being her Pastor for over 25 years. Gladys was active in the church. She helped out with funeral dinners, baked for special events, was part of the quilting group, attended thePhilathea Class, helped with the yearly dinner for the city workers and came to most programs and always made sure the Women’s Restroom had some kind of flowers in it. Gladys sat in the back row and was always engaged in the worship (even though she never sang and didn’t like songs that weren’t in the hymnal).
Gladys is survived by her son, Dennis (Christine) Worden of Sprague River, Oregon, 4 grandchildren Kyle Worden, Cameron Duncan,Jake Worden and Chad Marin
and a host of other close relatives and friends.
She was also preceded in death by her husband, her brother Daymon Tilton, and two sisters who died in infancy.
I tread in a dangerous territory this morning because I know Gladys did not want us to make a big deal over her death. I don’t intend to make a big deal over her death but I would like to celebrate the life she lived.
As I’ve talked with people this week everyone said the same thing: Gladys was a person who always had time to talk and was the kind of person you felt you could talk to. She would cry with you and laugh with you. Even though many of her closest friends had died, she still had lots of friends because her friends transcended generational lines. Her phone rang constantly when she was home.
Gladys’ niece, Bev Jones says it well,
Auntie may have been old in years, but she was young at heart. She laughed easily at life’s craziness, and could tell you in detail what Dr. Phil thought about such things, but she could also be tender and concerned for others… For a woman of 95 years, there was no one “classier” than Gladys Worden. She always dressed up, even if she was just staying home.
As I said, Gladys was a strict parent (whether you were Dennis or a one of the kids that were entrusted to her care for a period). She demanded respect and obedience but was not without compassion and love. Gladys covered for Dennis many times.
Gladys was upset when Dennis decided to go into the service rather than finish college but she ended up very proud of the way he both served his country and then also got his education. When Kyle was in the service she sent lots of packages and letters in addition to sending up many prayers.
Gladys certainly wished her family was closer. She enjoyed talking to Dennis every week (on either Sunday or Monday). She wanted to know everything that was going on. Gladys was a realist. She knew that kids grow up and sometimes move away. She understood that when your kids have families of their own, it becomes more difficult to get away and come home. Gladys was independent and appreciated others who were independent. She was really proud of her Granddaughter Cameron because she built her own home. She loved that kind of spirit. She was proud of her family and she loved them deeply and was proud that they had made a good life for themselves.
Gladys had such a strong knowledge of history. Because she lived here all her life she was able to tell you things others couldn’t. She had seen a lot of change in America over her 95 years. Spending a day with Gladys was like taking a very interesting history class. She could tell you who was related to whom and how they became related! When the school built its last addition, Joanne Siegworth called on Gladys and Halcyone Shutwell to come in and look through old graduation pictures to identify the people in those pictures. It took awhile but they completed the job.
Gladys enjoyed life. She was one of those willing to take a big bite of life and let the juice run down her chin. It was just a few years ago Dennis got her a hot-air-balloon ride for her birthday. Gladys said it wasn’t pretty watching them get the old lady in and out of the basket but she wasn’t about to miss the opportunity.
Gladys was the kind of person who would be the first to show up to help a friend and the last to leave. She had a real gift for hospitality. You couldn’t go over to her home to eat without it being a feast. There was no “half-way” with Gladys. If you were her guest there was no way you were going to help with the dishes.
I’m told that Hazel Mae and Gladys used to get together a couple of times a year and spend the day making homemade donuts. The kids remember the wonderful smell in the house. Generally, the donuts they took all day to make were eaten in under an hour!
Whenever Linda Shutwell was out of town Gladys always invited Bob over for liver and onions and all the trimmings (because Bob likes live and Linda doesn’t). Gladys was very proud of her cooking. She always made tenderloins when Sally and Bev were visiting. She liked to make bread pudding. Lots of people loved her English Toffee with Walnuts. Gladys was always making a cake or pie for something. Gladys loved to feed others.
She was often on the go. She went many places with Reva Elder. They went on two cruises (one to Hawaii and one to the Caribbean). The two of them went to Switzerland where Gladys said the bathrooms were so small you had to back out of the shower before you could dry off. At one stop there were pay turnstiles and one of the “girls” went over and the other went under. (I imagine they giggled for a long time after that). They also went to Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein.
The two of them also went to world fairs in New Orleans and Knoxville. They went to Branson many times and always enjoyed the shows. They traveled to Chicago to see both “Cats” and “Evita”. They made a trip to Wisconsin with Ila Apt. Gladys would go anywhere with anyone because she loved to travel and she loved to live life.
Gladys and Halcyone also made many trips. If Bob and Linda were going someplace they would call and tell them that they were going to go someplace and before they finished the invitation the women said they were ready to go. One time they had tickets to see Tammy Wynette. Bob and Linda were already in Springfield. Halcyone and Gladys drove in a blinding blizzard to get to Springfield and thoroughly enjoyed the show. They were regular patrons of the Salt River Opry and Grandma’s Opry. Gladys also went with Hazel Mae to see the Stattler brothers.
When Gladys was in Florida, California or Oregon she was always willing to go and do things. She didn’t care what it was, she just enjoyed going.
Every year Gladys went to the gathering of the Mueller family in October. She felt like part of the family because she spent so much time with Flora and Doc. The family would come in and visit the Muellers every Wednesday and Saturday night. Gladys said she and Harold were having trouble getting pregnant. The day she finally found out she was pregnant Doc was the one who had to sit down! When it came time for delivery, Doc wanted to make sure everything went well and made Gladys stay with them until Dennis was born.
It was really hard on Gladys when Doc got sick. Gladys was a constant support for both Doc and Flora. Gladys took Flora shopping and told her she needed to start wearing slacks. Once Flora started wearing slacks she never stopped. After Doc died, Gladys and Flora spent lots of time together.
The trips Gladys enjoyed the most were her trips to see family is Florida, California, and Oregon. She made lots of these trips. In fact, Gladys had just returned from Florida and was really looking forward to head to Oregon to see her new Grand-Granddaughter. Gladys had opportunities to move to be with her family, it wasn’t that she wasn’t invited, but she wanted to stay on the family farm.
Fortunately Gladys was blessed with a bunch of people who were like family. The George Little family, the Mueller kids, the Cox kids, the Shutwells, the Dietrichs and many more were all like her family. Many of them thought of her as Mom #2.
Gladys loved to tell the story of when Randy Little was a baby. She was babysitting and he wouldn’t take a nap. Gladys gave him a good swat on the behind and said, “Randy Mark you will take a nap now.” As Gladys tells the story, Randy immediately put his head down and fell asleep. Gladys was still telling this story. She always waited until there was a large group of people and Randy was within ear shot. She would always conclude, “I knew how to handle Randy Mark.”
George tells the story of the time he went on vacation one summer with the Worden family. They were in Wyoming and they bought tickets to go up to the top of a mountain on a ski lift to see the sights. George wasn’t particularly fond of heights and was especially unenthusiastic about the whole ski lift idea. Dennis stole his wallet and Gladys told him he was going up the mountain so up he went! George was petrified. Gladys took a picture. She liked to bring out that picture every now and again just to be ornery. Gladys could be ornery.
Gladys was a resilient person. She worked hard and she didn’t let things get her down. When she had colon cancer she had the surgery and refused the follow up treatments. She reasoned if the cancer was going to get her, it was going to get her. When she broke bones she adjusted. If she got snowed in she did jigsaw puzzles. When life didn’t go the way she expected, she came up with a new plan. Gladys thought about moving to town but decided she would rather die at home. She could have slept downstairs but her bedroom was upstairs and that’s where she was going to sleep! Gladys understood that life is less about your circumstances and more about how you respond to those circumstances. Gladys reveals her attitude in this poem called “Life Lessons” by John Henry Newman that she wanted read at her funeral,
I learn as the years toll onward
And leave the past behind
That much that I had counted sorr
But proves that my God is kind,
That many a flower I longed for
Had a hidden thorn of pain,
And many a rugged bypath
Led to fields of ripened grain.
The clouds but cover the sunshine
They cannot banish the sun
And the earth shines out the brighter
When the weary rain is done;
We must stand in the deepest shadow
To see the clearest light
And often from wrong’s own darkness
Comes the very strength of right
We must live through the weary winter
If we would value the spring;
And the woods must be cold and silent
Before the robins sing.
The flowers must be buried in darkness
Before they could bud and bloom
And the sweetest and warmest sunshine
Comes after the storm and gloom.
So the heart from the hardest trial
Gains the purest joy of all,
And from lips that have tasted sadness
The sweetest of songs will fall.
For as peace comes after suffering;
And love is the reward of pain,
So after earth comes Heaven – –
And out of our loss, the gain.
Gladys had opinions! We all know that she felt quite free to share those opinions. If she didn’t like something or thought something should be changed, she told you. As a mom if she pointed her finger or snapped her fingers you knew it was time to start behaving. She believed there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. Fortunately, she always knew the right way! She believed there was a right way to clean (especially the woodwork in her home), there was a proper way to entertain guests, there was a proper way to worship, there was a proper way to behave, and there was even a proper way to put flowers out at the cemetery.
Each year Gladys planned a day with Carol Selmon when they would go from cemetery to cemetery to put flowers on the graves of various family members. Gladys had particular flowers that were to go on particular graves. She always brought a bucket of soapy water so the headstones could be washed. At the end of their job Gladys and Carol would go out to lunch. Carol (and others) always enjoyed the history lessons you would get when riding in the car with her). Gladys treated people with respect and honor in life and even in death.
Gladys was outspoken but she was never mean. She always spoke out of concern and love. If you didn’t agree with her (and you were an adult) that was OK. She expected children to do what she said. But even then her intent was to teach respect and convey wisdom.
Gladys Worden had a wonderful heart. She had friends of all ages. She took people for who they were and loved them. She believed in people. When she started taking her trips she arranged for 16 year old Randy to house sit. She told him to “drive her car” once in a while because it would be good for the car! She believed people could not reveal their trustworthiness until you actually dared to trust them.
Gladys was grateful for all those who looked in on her and helped her. She was grateful for Randy and his family, Bob and Linda Shutwell, Duane and Jamie Dietrich, and the many friends who called her regularly on the phone. Gladys was never “out of the loop” regarding what was going on in town because she talked to so many people regularly.
The stories could go on and on but I know I have already talked longer than Gladys would have liked. Most of us here today have stories we could tell. Gladys had all kinds of friends because she cherished people. She listened and paid attention. She had all kinds of stories because she savored life; this lady lived. She noticed little things and seemed to enjoy most everything. Her faith was lived out in the way she lived her life. Truth is, we would all like to be a lot more like her.
We are sad today because we are going to miss Gladys. We can’t help feeling a sense of regret that we did not have the chance to say good-bye and to thank her for the ways she touched our lives.
However, we do draw comfort from the fact that Gladys died in her home, the way she wanted to die. She didn’t have to go to the hospital or a Nursing home. She didn’t have to “die by inches” the way she saw so many of her friends (and her husband) die. We are grateful for her long life. And we are even grateful for the manner of her death.
Our real comfort today comes however from something else. The Apostle Paul wrote to a group of people who lived in a town named Thessalonica. Paul knew these people were a little troubled by the fact that the first generation followers of Christ were dying. Paul wrote to them these words,
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
Paul tells us two things. First, Paul implies that grief is normal. Paul does not say, “I do not want you to grieve.” He says he does not want us to grieve without hope. Grief is a normal response to loss.
- We miss the company of the one who has gone
- We may miss the help that was given to us by the person
- We may have regrets over things we wish we had done, or done better
- We sometimes are left feeling very much alone
When you really love someone you grieve when they are gone. Some people grieve with tears, some with loud cries, and others grieve with a deep ache in their heart. Grief is normal, it is appropriate, but it comes out differently in different people.
Second, Paul tells us to grieve hopefully. Unfortunately, there are many people who grieve without hope. Some believe that we live, we die, and that is it. To them, life is a race to nothingness. Death has a finality to it that is unbearable. Most of these people are either miserable or they live recklessly because they don’t think anything really matters.
Some believe instinctively that there is life beyond the grave. They talk of Heaven and of loved ones having fun in the life beyond. Some seem to think that all you need to do to get to Heaven is die. They believe everyone goes to Heaven. Others believe only good people get to Heaven. Both these groups have trouble with “hope” because they don’t know if they have been “good enough”?
Paul is writing to Christians. He is talking to those who believe Jesus was God in human form and came to give His life as a way to restore our relationship with God. He is talking to those who have received this Christ as their Savior and are truly trying to follow Him in the way they live their lives.
I believe Gladys was one of these people. She was a woman of faith even though she was never one to make a big deal about it. Her faith was not something she broadcast, it was personal and deep. She lived her life in the way she believed God wanted her to live. She was one of those people who revealed her faith in the way she lived her life.
To Christian people, Paul says: “people who die aren’t really gone . . . they are with Christ and will be raised fully when Christ returns on earth.” As you read through the Bible and as you especially listen to the words of Jesus you see that the Bible teaches that there is life beyond the grave.
The most important reason for believing in life beyond the grave, of course, is Jesus himself. In another week we will be celebrating Easter. The Bible tells us and history confirms that Jesus rose from the dead. After being tortured crucified, and pierced with a spear (to make sure He was dead), Jesus came back to life. He spent time with His followers and was seen by hundreds of people. Jesus said if we will put our hope and trust in Him (rather than our own goodness) we will be made right with God, have a new direction for living, and will live even though we die.
I believe Gladys Worden had such a faith. She loved life and she loved the Lord. Gladys knew where she was headed when she died. She wasn’t afraid of death because she knew it wasn’t the end, it was a new beginning.
I think this is why books that talk about “near death experiences” are so interesting. Some are more credible than others but they all say the same thing: heaven is filled with beauty, physical renewal, reunion with believing friends and family members and a relationship with God that is pure and wonderful.
We do not grieve for Gladys today. Death was not defeat for Gladys. On the contrary, it is the ultimate victory. Last Sunday was not a bad day for Gladys, it was the best day of her life that will go on forever. We should rejoice with her and for her. Our grief today is for our loss, not hers.
This morning it is our job to renew and establish our own faith. This is a time for us to ask, “What do we believe?” and “Where are we putting our hope and trust?” As we do so we should also remember and learn from the lessons of Gladys’ life:
- In order to have friends you need to be a friend. To be a friend is going to take time and energy. It is a really good investment to make.
- Life is filled with adventures. You can stand on the sidelines or you can be a participant: the choice is yours.
- If you don’t have the time to do something right, how are you going to find the time to fix what you did wrong?
- You can let circumstances control you or you can refuse to let them control you and choose to see them as friends who have come to lead us to a deeper way of living.
- A true friend is someone you can talk to who will listen and having heard you, will then tell you the truth.
- A person can never have too many friends.
- The only way to keep history alive is to share that history with anyone who will listen.
- If you live well and live faithfully; if you listen to and love people; and if you remain active, then you will still have lots of friends at your funeral . . . even if you live to be 95!
Let’s pray together.
Father, we thank you so much for blessing us through the life of Gladys Worden. We are all different and better because of our contact with her. She made us laugh, she made us feel loved, and she pointed us toward you. We pray that you welcome her into the Kingdom you have prepared for her. Please let her know how much she has meant to us.
I pray for this family. There are so many wonderful memories and now there are so many things to do. Give them strength. Fill the huge void in their lives with your presence. Draw them close to you. Help them to grasp how much they are loved by Gladys . . . and by You. I ask this all in Jesus’ name. Amen.