Thoughts from Kathy Leithner (with permission)

Thoughts, memories, and stories about James C. Taylor

Thoughts from Kathy Leithner (with permission)

Postby kgkgmom on Mon Aug 01, 2011 2:59 am

About three years ago my friend and colleague, Jim, was explaining what he wanted in the way of a burial service. As I listened, part of my mind was dwelling on the hope that the treatment for his illness would cure him and that the burial would be sometime so far in the future that we could have this conversation in some other decade. But then I re-focused on what he was saying.
He explained that he had built his own coffin years before, and that he did not want to be embalmed, but simply laid to rest in the earth in the most natural way possible. And that, according to state law, meant that burial would need to be within twenty-four hours of his death.
At the burial, he wanted his coffin lowered into the ground, and his family and friends to cover it with the earth. This would all happen a few miles west of Sentinal, in a country cemetery just two miles north of the farmhouse in which he grew up. And he wanted me to officiate.
“Well, Jim,” I said to him, “if that’s what you want, you’ll need to time your death really well. Don’t die on a Saturday, or when I’m at camp, or when I have another funeral, or a charge conference, or am on vacation. And what about your kids…traveling from Minnesota and Boston?” He assured me that they’d assured him that they’d be able to make it in 24 hours. But with life the way it is, and the distance between here and there, I wasn’t sure I could.
But Jim made it. I was driving back from a week at camp when I got the call that he had taken this turn and wasn’t likely to recover. His children were able to make their way to be with him and Helen, his wife. Saturday and Sunday passed. He died early Monday morning, and after some hospital calls and other tasks, I was able to drive west for a Tuesday morning burial, and then return without hurry to pick up a friend at the Tulsa airport on the way home.
Timing. It’s such a mystery, all these things. Birth, death. Sometimes timing isn’t as we want it. We can’t always do what we would want to do. Over the years it’s been hard when I wasn’t able to officiate at a funeral for a beloved church member or friend because the timing just didn’t work; I couldn’t be two places at once. What can one do but let go and accept human limitation, trusting God that things simply are as they are…and that it’s all right? But in Jim’s case I marveled at the exquisite timing in an otherwise very complex month.
Tuesday morning, there on a slight hill near some old cedars, with a wide view of the plains all around and the tips of the Quartz Mountains visible in the south, lay that simple black wooden coffin. Even on such short notice, more than thirty people gathered, many of whom shared poignant stories of how Jim had touched their lives. We sang hymns as they lowered the coffin. Jim’s brother-in-law had brought shovels, and we took our turns covering Jim’s body in the earth he loved. Earth to earth. It was just as he wanted it.
Go with God, my friend. For you walked God’s grace with us.
-with gratitude for the life of Rev. Jim Taylor,
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