It is hard to walk the path of another’s death. And Gail was never alone—Charlie and Sam and Carol and Bill and Joe and James as well as countless friends and prayers accompanied her these last few years and didn’t leave her side these past few days on the earthly portion of her journey. And though we may never know who walked alongside her in the heavenly portion of that journey—I have no doubt that there were those who had gone before her waiting to accompany her home to that place where death is no more, neither sighing nor pain, but only life everlasting. And those on her earthly journey and those on her heavenly one are a testament to the love that filled Gail’s heart.
And it was this love, the love Gail shared with family and friends that gave her peace and courage and kept her grounded. Once when Gail was in the emergency room and clearly disoriented, she began mumbling something. At first her family thought she was trying to say something, but pretty soon they realized she was singing a Dwight Yoakam song, The Heart That You Own. Gail was pretty out of it in the ER that night, but she was grounded enough in love that the strength of her emotional life outweighed the physical weakness she was experiencing. She may not have been lucid in the ER, but she was still connected to who she was and how music expressed that sense of being. The chorus of The Heart That You Own goes like this:
‘Cause I pay rent on a run-down place
There ain’t no view but there’s lots of space
In my heart
The heart that you own
I didn’t know Gail, but it doesn’t take a lot to see how the disease may have run her body down, but her heart had plenty of space to love—love for Charlie and Sam, love for Joe, love for Carol and Bill and James, love for Daisy, love for so many of you, but most especially her love of the Lord.
Gail had a file in which she kept notes regarding what she wanted today at her funeral. And there were a couple of things that really stood out to me and offered me some perspective into Gail’s faith. The first thing that should come as no surprise was the selection of music she chose. Not only did she list the names of the hymns we are singing today, but she also wrote a note next to them that she wanted the Taize and Alleluia II versions. Considering her love of such a wide variety of musicians from Joanie Mitchell to Wayland Jennings, the choice of the Alleluia II Cursillo style of music fits naturally into who Gail was.
And the music that she choose, Amazing Grace, Lord of All Hopefulness, and For the Beauty of the Earth tell me that in the midst of her struggles and pain as she fought her disease and cared for her boys, she knew her Lord and Savior as one of grace and hope and beauty—a calming center in the midst of the storm of life.
The second thing that stood out to me and gave me a sense of Gail’s faith was her desire that Canticle 9, The First Song of Isaiah, be a part of today’s liturgy. The First Song of Isaiah was written by the prophet Isaiah as a song of praise and worship: it contains no intercessions, no requests, no focus on who we are as God’s people but instead on who we understand God to be. God is the one who saves, He is the Savior: we can trust him and he will defend us. The waters that we draw, are the waters of salvation that God provides for us, to drink from that water is to know God and to desire to make God known in all the world by giving thanks to the Lord and singing the praises of the Lord. When we have drunk from the springs of salvation, we can only ring out our joy, for the great one in our midst is the Holy One, the Lord.
Gail’s choice of that particular canticle, is a testament to knowing God as the center of her being—not herself, not her cancer, not the tumult of life, but God alone. And in knowing God as the center of her life, the source of grace and hope and beauty, Gail knew there was something bigger, something more than the pain and suffering that this present world offered her. She knew life in Christ—a life in which her dwelling place would be in the Paradise of God and so she could live her life even amidst suffering and want without being directed by that suffering.
Gail had drunk from the spring of salvation and knew God as Lord and Savior. She lived her life that way. Though Gail battled her cancer for six years, she did not let it define her and instead inspired others. She ”taught people how to live” as one friend put it. She would pull into the parking lot of the cancer center and quip that she was fighting another cancer survivor for a parking space. Instead of bemoaning the loss of her unruly and curly hair, she said the best thing about cancer was losing her hair because she got to buy great looking wigs and, as Carol said, she “rocked” her wigs.
Her attitude remained positive and upbeat and she took advantage of her cancer to live intentionally: to travel with Joe and Carol and Bill to concerts all around the country. Music was a passion for her and the opportunity to enjoy concerts from Cher to Paul Simon was not only an example of living intentionally but an opportunity to create and share memories with Joe and Carol and Bill. She didn’t let her cancer limit or define her, instead taking advantage of every opportunity to live into her fullest life.
Gail’s life was a life of grace and hope and beauty. Though she wouldn’t let cancer define who she was, the disease and all its complications coupled with concern for her boys and the cares and struggles that they shared gave Gail the opportunity to glorify God: to stand as an example of faith and witness to love for all of us. And to know her boys would be ok, gave her peace. Her body may have been a run-down space but in her heart there was lots of space that so many of you owned.
A homily on the occasion of the burial rite for Gail Hudgens
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, Alabama
Monday, June 17, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer