We are gathered here today to mourn the loss, but also to celebrate the life of Russell Bowen.
Today we find comfort in knowing that God is with us as we grieve. In the Bible we read these words:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV)
God promises us that even our weakness, He is with us.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father we turn to You today. You are the Lord of both life and death. We ask you to help us to catch a glimpse of eternity so that this day does not seem so empty. Help us to connect with you so that we do not feel so lost and alone. Help us to understand the promise and offer of eternal life so that we might not grieve as those who have no hope.
We also ask that you help us to remember Russell. We thank you for his life and the impact his life has had on our own. Help us as we seek to give thanks for this blessing that has come from your hand. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen
Mr. Russell R. Bowen was born on July 16, 1916 in Disco, Illinois, the son of Cyrus Ray and Clarissa Wright Bowen. On June 29, 1940 he married Mildred Gooding in Monticello, Missouri. She preceded him in death on April 20, 1998.
Russell served in the US Army during World War II and took part in the Normandy invasion. He worked as a millwright at the IAAP for many years, retiring in 1979. He was a member of the Dallas City American Legion and enjoyed woodworking, traveling, hunting, fishing and attending flea markets.
He passed away on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at the Great River Medical Center in West Burlington, Iowa.
He is survived by one daughter, Barbara (John) Louden of LaHarpe, Illinois, one son Tom (Mary) Bowen of Yarmouth, Iowa, 3 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife, one son, Donald Bowen, one grandson, Terry Bowen and an infant sister.
Russell Bowen was a man who seemed to be loved and respected by most everyone who knew him. His family will remember him as someone who was quick to laugh, loved kids, and was willing to shoot straight with people.
He loved spending time with his great-grandkids. Even well into his 90’s, it wasn’t uncommon to see Russell down on his hands and knees playing with the little ones or standing there with open arms, waiting for them to jump to him. He made it a point to attend birthday parties as often as he could, and the kids all knew that when it came time to open Grandpa Russell’s card they could expect to find a dollar coin for every year old they were.
Everybody seemed to know that Russell could fix just about anything. Of course, after running a garage for a number of years, cars and things with engines were his specialty. The family all knew that whenever they had a car question they couldn’t figure out, it was time to call Russell. It seemed that he always knew exactly how to fix the problem. This of course exasperated his sons to no end. When they were working on something and would get stuck, they would exhaust every option they could think of before calling Dad. They’d wait until they were throwing tools in frustration, then he’d come in, crawl under the car for a minute and just walk away. He didn’t have to wait around to see whether he’d fixed it or not—he just knew.
Russell was willing to do what he could to help other people out. He was willing to give advice on how to fix your car and would even lend you the tools to fix it. He was happy to help…as long as you returned his tools; otherwise, there would be trouble. John Robert told me that his grandpa didn’t stop helping out when he got older. When Russell was in his 70’s and John had the thermostat go out on his car, Russell met him at his car and just climbed in and got to work.
Age never did seem to slow Russell down. Just last week he was out mowing his yard. He reckoned it was the last time he needed to mow for the year, because the leaves would cover the grass soon and “protect” it from the snow. Not too long ago he climbed up on his roof to work on something and while he was up there the ladder blew over. He had to wait for someone to notice him stuck up on his roof and put the ladder back for him. Many people would have decided they should hire someone else to do the work next time. Not Russell; he decided he should bring a rope with him the next time.
Growing up, Russell never had things easy. Being a child in the depression, he learned the value of hard work. He wasn’t able to go to high school because he needed to work once he finished 8th grade. He learned the importance of doing things yourself and the satisfaction that comes from working hard. As a young man he was still mischievous. The story is told that he and Fred Roderick once decided to shoot apples off of each other’s head with a .22. When Fred shot the apple off of Russell’s head, he proceeded to fall down and scream. Needless to say, when Fred came running to check on him, a fight ensued. That same playful attitude was a hallmark of Russell’s nature—he had a wry smile that let you know he was up to something.
Russell wasn’t afraid to be himself. If you asked his opinion on something he would tell you exactly what he thought, whether you agreed with him or not. He mostly kept his opinions to himself unless asked though. The only time he confronted people was when he had something really important to say—and if he wanted to have a serious talk with you, you knew you should listen.
The fact that Russell always felt free to be himself meant that his family was never quite sure what he’d say in public. When combined with the fact that he never really mastered the art of whispering, this could occasionally make for interesting situations. If I understand the story correctly, at the dedication of a veteran’s memorial several years ago, Russell seemed to think that the person speaking was talking for a long time, especially considering how hot it was. So he turned to his family and remarked that, “Somebody sure wound that guy up.” It elicited a laugh from those sitting around him. When Russell moved to the shade, he reiterated how wound up he thought the speaker was, causing a new group of people to laugh in agreement with him.
Russell could often be intense, but his family never doubted how much he loved them. His kids knew that even though they may have their fights, he always loved them. His sons and daughters-in-law all agreed that Russell was as much a father to them as their own fathers were. They never understood why some people complained about their in-laws, because theirs were wonderful. The grandkids all knew that grandpa was willing to help them whenever they had a problem and that there would always be candy when they came to his house.
Everyone seemed to agree that Russell Bowen was a man who was kind, caring, and always had a twinkle in his eye. He loved to wear a hat that said, “Get Even—live to be a problem to your kids.” Even at 94 years old, he knew how to help people have fun. Russell lived a long time, but never did become a problem to his kids. I hope you will cherish these wonderful memories as you think of Russell, even as you realize how much he will be missed.
Funerals are never fun events. As we come together to mourn the loss of someone we love, we are overwhelmed with grief. Even when the person we love has lived nearly a century, and we knew this day was coming we still grieve the loss of someone we love. The fact that just a week ago Russell seemed perfectly fine will add to the grief. To some extent, there may be a numbness that accompanies his death. You may not know what to feel or you may find tears flowing. Understand that these are normal responses, and you shouldn’t be ashamed when they happen.
When the times of grief come, one of the best things you can do is to share memories of Russell. Think together about the times he made you laugh and the good memories you have of time spent with him. Though you will ache that you cannot spend time with him anymore, you will remember the good times you had.
There is something about death that seems so final, but I believe there is life beyond the grave. Some people scoff at the notion that there is more to life than just what we can see, but I believe there is good evidence for believing in life beyond the grave. Jesus told his friends, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, NIV)
He told them that there was life beyond the grave, and then he proved it by actually dying and coming back to life three days later! Jesus does not merely speak theoretically, he speaks from experience. Consequently, we ought to listen to him when he tells us about life beyond the grave.
Some people believe that there really is a place called Heaven, but they aren’t sure what it takes to get there. Jesus gives the answer to that as well. He said that whoever lives and believes in him will have eternal life.
This is different from the view that many people have of Heaven. For lots of people, they think that if they are good enough, they will be able to “get in”. Some people are quite confident that they are good enough. Others can’t possibly imagine how God could love them.
The fact is that we don’t get to go to Heaven by scoring high enough on the “test” called life. Every single one of us has failed that test. The only hope we have is the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. We must believe that we aren’t good enough, and trust that He has paid the penalty we’ve incurred for the sins we’ve committed. For some people, that’s really difficult. They know what’s in their past. They know the things they have done—the things they don’t want to talk about. They can’t imagine that God could possibly forgive them for what they’ve done.
I suspect that Russell often felt this way. Having fought in World War II, Russell had experienced things he didn’t like to talk about. Russell believed in God, but I suspect that he felt that some of the things that happened in the course of battle meant that God could never love him. I hope that before he died he came to understand that there is nothing in our past that is too big for Jesus to forgive if we will just trust Him to do it.
The fact is Russell probably was closer to the truth than many people. He understood that He didn’t deserve God’s love on his own merits. Lots of others think God owes them. Jesus says that if we will recognize our need for forgiveness and trust in Him to provide it, He will.
I don’t know exactly where Russell stood in regards to his faith, but God does. I don’t know what he believed about Christ and the forgiveness he offers, but God does. I don’t know why he never seemed real interested in church, but God does. What I do know is this: if Russell did trust in the gift of forgiveness that Jesus offered, then today he is with Jesus in Heaven. Today he no longer has to carry the burdens he’s carried for so long. Today he no longer has the aches and pains of a 94 year old man, but he is more alive than he has ever been.
It’s important for us to note the last thing that Jesus said to his friends though. He told them that He was the only way to Heaven and then asked them, “Do you believe this?” That’s really the question that each of us must answer today. When we come to a funeral we are reminded of the fact that life is fragile and that we never know how long we have. One day we can be out mowing the grass, and the next we can be taking our last breath.
The question of what happens after you die is one of tremendous importance. How you answer that question determines how you view this day. If you don’t believe what Christ said, then today is a sad day, a day that drives home the futility of life. There is no hope. You live, you die, and that’s it. But if we trust in Jesus, he assures us that this life is not all there is. We can look forward to the hope of life beyond the grave. We can look expectantly to a future reunion in Heaven with all those who have gone before us.
I challenge you to determine today what you believe about Christ. Don’t allow yourself to face death unprepared. Trust in the offer of forgiveness that Christ offers to you and begin living your life for Him today. Start developing a relationship with him and let your family know where you stand so they can be sure of what you believe.
Cling to these promises today as you grieve. And as you grieve, remember the lessons that Russell taught you in his life:
- Never be afraid of hard work
- Always be willing to help others with the skills you have
- Concentrate on being grateful for what you have, rather than complaining about what you don’t
- Make time to enjoy the blessing that is family
- Take the time to laugh at the things of life
- Don’t be ashamed to be yourself
Will you pray with me?
Father, I ask that you would be with this family today as they grieve. Comfort them with their memories of Russell’s life. Help them to remember the wonderful times they had with him.
Lord, we thank you that you have provided a way for us to be forgiven, and that no matter what lies in our past, you have still made it possible for us to spend eternity with you in Heaven. Help us to trust in you and you alone.
Father, we commit Russell to your loving and merciful hands. Be with this family at the times when they miss him most and remind them of your presence and your promises. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.