Reflection November 20, 2016
Beth Aldworth’s Eulogy
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Beth was beautiful inside and out. When the funeral director came to our house the evening of her death (October 19), he said to me: “You’re not a bad-looking guy, but how in God’s name did you wind up with such a beautiful wife?”
God alone knows the answer. I don’t, although I can offer some speculation. I would kid Beth that the reason she married me was two-fold: First, I was taller that she was. She stood at a statuesque 5’11” and was happy that I was considerably taller! Reason number one!
Reason number two: my name is Tom. Since early adolescence, Beth had a serious crush on Tom Jones. She loved his voice and his songs. In the past years, I bought her a couple of books about Tom Jones and a number of his albums.
When I was away at the office, she would often ‘crank up’ the stereo and dance around the house to his music! She loved to dance! So my being a Tom - raised my marriage potential considerably!
Of course, there were many other reasons. We both enjoyed the days of disco! And there’s probably only 2 or 3 dozen of us in the whole state of Illinois!
Beth and I loved to dance. We danced at every opportunity. As a matter of fact, while I was pastor at St. Peter’s in the Loop, Beth convinced me to start dance classes at the church - which we very much enjoyed.
Sadly, though, I could never do the Tango well. Salsa was also difficult for me (but not for Beth!). I fear there’s some sort of defect in Irish genes that prevents us from being good at Latin dances!
But dance we did! At our wedding, once the music started, Beth never left the dance floor! What a wonderful wedding that was. Beth and I always considered that day the happiest day of our lives.
Our first wedding dance was to Joshua Kadison’s 1993 song, Beautiful in My Eyes. One of the opening lyrics is: “You’re everything I tried to find; your love is a pearl.” Beth and I found each other. What a gift from God - a precious pearl - an amazing grace.
As I said in a poem I wrote for our wedding day: “Love is always a mystery and comes to us as sacred gift … Beth, some may say we come late to this bless’d day of joyful joining, yet our shared faith states that all rests in God’s holy hands. Beth, God has dreamed us; God has led us; God has hallowed us, so we might forever cling each-to-each now and always!”
Beth lived a hard life all her life. I will not delve into all the challenges, all the disappointments, all the traumas she suffered. But I can say I’m happy and proud to have given my beloved Beth 9 years, 7 months, and 9 days of shelter from the storm.
I’m also glad that for a good number of years Beth lived out her dream of being in private practice as a professional counselor. As the Director of Counseling Services at our beloved church, Beth donated thousands of dollars of free or mostly free counseling to our community.
In the past few years, I was able to secure grants from American Baptist Churches USA to help fund Beth’s counseling for the poor and the down-trodden. Beth’s underlying, undying, concern was for social justice and fairness in families and workplaces. She served as the president of the Illinois Counselors for Social Justice.
In a deep sense, my beloved Beth was a prophet. As I’ve said in this church: a prophet is not someone who foretells the future: a prophet is someone who tells the truth. Beth always spoke the truth. Beth always lived the truth.
Because of this truth-telling she was often hated and often shunned. She was fired from numerous jobs because she stood up for clients against management. I believe she was fired from her position in banking (6 weeks after our wedding) because she would not sign off on questionable expense account billings.
We struggled during those early months until I was chosen pastor of this beloved church. And I’m sure a main reason I was chosen by the search committee is because Beth was by my side. She was very much part and parcel of my ministry here. We were a team. We encouraged each other thru the demands and struggles of pastoral life. What my beloved Beth did around this church went mostly unnoticed but I noticed and I’m sure God noticed.
Right here, right now, I want to share what Beth and I came to understand as the true meaning of life - the purpose for which we were created. The meaning of life can be found in 2 things and 2 things only: intimacy and creativity.
This morning I will speak only about intimacy. There are 3 dimensions to intimacy: physical intimacy, psychological intimacy, and spiritual intimacy. It is an amazing grace when two people share all three dimensions as did my beloved, beautiful, Beth and I.
We are created by God for intimacy. Intimacy is the primary purpose for our being here. Ultimate intimacy with God and each other in the Embrace of Eternity is what we hope and long for. If there is any foretaste of heaven, it is found in intimacy.
To state the obvious: there is no such thing as instant intimacy. True intimacy, real intimacy, takes much time and serious effort. It takes a willingness to finally surrender to the Love underlying all intimacy. In other words, it takes courage.
(Eulogy continued) My beloved Beth was incredibly courageous - standing up against injustice wherever she found it. She used to distribute petitions at St. Peter’s and other Catholic churches calling for women’s ordination. She stood up at a stockholders’ meeting at Chase Bank and challenged the CEO, Jamie Dimon.
She was arrested at one of her counseling jobs for refusing to do as the manager demanded. She would proudly sing along with the Peter, Paul, and Mary song, Have You Been to Jail for Justice? She was happy that I had also been arrested in the late 1980’s for stepping onto the nuclear test site in Nevada with fellow friars and others. So, yes, my beloved Beth and I were both jailbirds! But we were in good company.
My beloved and beautiful Beth touched so many in her too-short life. I don’t know why she got the demonic and deadly cancer that took her from us. I don’t know why she and I had to endure the hell we traversed since last spring. But this I know: hell happens here!
Beth suffered greatly and I suffered because of her suffering. I was shattered when she breathed her last breath. But I was also glad that her suffering was finally ended. This suffering is hard to endure and harder yet to theologically understand. Beth’s suffering has now been completely healed in the compassionate fire of God’s love. My suffering – our suffering and friends and family – continues.
There is one quotation from the Episcopalian pastor Alan Jones that needs to be added: “The humiliation of God for the sake of love means there is a rift in the heart of God. There is, therefore, no human heartbreak, no alienation, which cannot find its home in the broken heart of God.” If I did not believe this – I would be truly and utterly lost. Only a God who suffers with us is worthy of belief.
Beth certainly had a deeper faith than I. As a matter of fact, her faith put my faith to shame. I see this most clearly in her numerous prayer journals – written over many years – often in the wee hours of the morning. I never read them before her passing because I considered them private and sacred. I am in the process of reading them now – and they are hard at times to read since they recount her many struggles with family, false friends, and multiple fears.
She wrote numerous times how she hoped I would write our love story. As I have preached: our love story is our most precious, most priceless story. I promised Beth, when she got so terribly ill, that I would write our story – and with God’s help – I will do so.
I also promised Beth that I would take good care of our cats: Molly Marie, Donegal Mist (Donny for short), and Contessa Sophia (Tessa for short). I pray God grants me the years to fulfill that promise – even though if God called me to that place where my beautiful and beloved Beth now resides – I would in no way grieve or voice any complaint.
I end these words in memory of Beth Ellen Aldworth with her own words – from her prayer journals: one from about a year ago and one from earlier this past summer (before her terrible diagnosis):
Thank you, God, for my life and my dear husband. Thank you for friends and my new family. Thank you God for food and shelter and nice clothing and musical instruments and good income and healthy space for our kitties. God please bless and help all the cats and animal life. Thank you for rain and flowers and birds and trees. God please protect us always; please heal us and guide us … I ask you God to guide my day and stay close with me and my dear husband and our kitties, always. God please light our way, let us live in Your love, Your positivity, always. Let us be filled with Your joy! (April 12, 2015)
Dear God: I love my husband so much. I love seeing him experience joy. It is the greatest and most joyful experience I have ever known – to see my beloved full of joy. I live for this. I so want to spend all of my days giving him as much joy as I possibly can, as imperfect as I am, but able to love. God, it would be so hard for my beloved to have to care for me through a painful, suffering death. I have already suffered so much, and my dear husband has been there for me, like no other human in my life, ever. Thank you for my dear husband, for his love and help through so many difficult roads already. Please let me live in wellness and strength to take good strong care of him, as he has with me. I so long to be there for my husband, all of his days. My beloved husband amazes me every day! He is so strong and smart and capable … Please let me live so I may one day give some measure of strength back to him when he may be in need. Help me, God, to only be a source of truth and honesty and love and wisdom, and to point the way to You! Help me to live with courage and dignity, always! Thank you, God. Amen! (June 9, 2016)
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643