Janet Marilyn Wheeler 3/14/34 to 12/16/12
We are home from our trip to Arizona to say goodbye to my sweet Aunt. We drove a small Uhaul home today with too much stuff. Sigh! More purging than I wanted for 2013, but it will be good!
This is the Eulogy I gave at her service at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Litchfield Park, AZ at 2 pm on Sat. 12/29/12. There were about 50 people in attendance. Emily sang Amazing Grace with Alex Tuten accompanying and harmonizing.
Janet Marilyn Wheeler aka Aunt Janie!
Strong women: I am fortunate to have a long list of strong women in my life who are faithful, smart, and resilient. I can think of many women who have made a difference in the world beginning with making one in my life.
Today my aunt Janet is in the arms of Jesus. I hate that I will not be able to call her and talk for hours about everything. I hate that I will never have another homemade card, go over to her house in AZ and just be right at home, or have a cup of tea while watching all things Britain.
Every time I button something I think of her. Every time I see a cookbook, a festive Santa, a craft faire, a hedgehog, or the mystery section in the bookstore I think of her.
My mom’s older sister, Janet Wheeler, never married and she lived close enough to us that we saw her for many holidays and vacations while I was growing up. After Jim and I moved to AZ, Aunt Janie and I had many adventures together. When Emily was born my parents were living in Russia, but Janet was across town and loved my children as though they were her own grandchildren. They formed a very special bond.
Aunt Janie was a teacher and taught me and my kids many things! But, that is also because she was good at so many things. She always had a recipe to try, some collection to add to, a song to sing, some interesting piece of family history or story to retell. She was creative and was always making something, sewing something, stamping something or reading something. She was involved in her church, the National Button Society, the Red Hat Society among other things.
Since Janet’s health began to fail this last month I started to ponder the strength of the women whose heritage I share. What does real female strength look like and where does it come from? I think that a strong female is more than one who takes a strong position on some issue or has a strong opinion about something (although both of those define my mom and her sisters). As I have walked this path of grief the past 2 years and the cancer road before that with my husband, people have commented on my strength. Hmm. I don’t feel strong. But I know in my heart that the times that I have felt the weakest are the times when strength shows up; in those tough times of hopelessness, loss and pain are the times when the strength of character can show up through God’s power, which shows up best in weak people.
I look around at all the women I know. Their stories are no easier than mine. Their days are just as challenging and just as hard. Some are harder. They seem to be moving through life with more strength and balance than I could ever muster. But I think that is part of the mystery since strength is hidden and is found deep within. There is strength on one’s knees. Aunt Janie had an active prayer life. Prayer builds strength because you learn to lean in the one who can handle things when you cannot.
My Aunt Janie, my mom and their sister Kit are strong women. Their strength of character, their compassion, their bond as siblings, their strong minds, their resiliency and their strong opinions have been a powerful model for the generations of girls that have followed.
It is said that there is Strength in numbers. I think there is truth to that because I have seen it grow in Aunt Janie. She found people to surround herself with from her work, church and neighborhood that encouraged her, gave her courage and built up her morale. They (You) became her family. She would send cards to people she didn’t even know. She thought of and prayed for countless people and as she poured into people each became stronger as well as Janet who was well reciprocated.
Janet may not have ended her career as a nurse but she certainly knew how to care for others and carried that skill with her into all of her other endeavors. Strength shines through her compassion.
She was very generous. She was always making something to take to someone, creating a card to mail to a prison inmate that she had never met or taking on someone else’s burdens to try to lighten their load. Her love language was gift giving. She loved Christmas and she would start planning on Dec. 26 for the next year. As her income became increasingly fixed she hated not being able to buy all the things she saw for the people in her life. She would pour over catalogs and spend free time on trips in the gift shops picking up things for others. I feel I know many of you by the personal time I spent with her as she was looking for things that you loved.
Janet left nursing to become a teacher. She loved children and I think every one of her nieces and nephews, as well as her cousins’ children and her friends’ kids all felt they were her favorite! (But I know it was really me!) She listened to our stories and told stories to us like there was nothing more important than that moment. One of my memories as a kid was when she would tickle our knees while she read us stories or while we were watching something on TV. My love of fairy tales and my imagination grew primarily because of Aunt Janie’s input.
The Bible says that the Joy of the Lord is my strength. A strong woman is a happy woman! Janet had an easy laugh. She would laugh and it made you laugh because it was contagious. She brought fun into our lives and taught us how to create and play and imagine. My aunt Janie had so much love to share and she did it with all the positive energy she had for most everything in life.
A strong woman won’t let anyone get the best of her, and a woman of strength gives the best of her to everyone. Aunt Janie learned to take care of herself and was fiercely independent. She carved out a life that was full and meaningful. She modeled a woman who stood up for herself and others. This is not easy, and requires passion, confidence, tact and timing. I think this is one of the most important characteristics for the younger generation to develop and maintain; and I learned to be assertive from my Aunt Janie and both of her sisters!
A strong woman walks sure footedly , and a woman of strength knows God will catch her when she falls. A strong woman knows who she is. And she follows her heart. But this is not static; rather, it is an ever-evolving process as she explores her interests. She stays true to her values as this process continues. My aunt Janie loved her sisters. They mastered the art of afternoon tea. Even though the 3 of them lived far apart, they cherished each moment that they could spend together.
A strong woman has faith that she is strong enough for the journey and a woman of strength has faith that it is in the journey that she will become strong. Even a woman who is capable, confident, and secure in her strengths must challenge herself to continue growing and pushing unfamiliar boundaries. Even if life is not easy, she makes a point to find the good and make things better. She puts one foot in front of the other every day. Life did not turn out the way that Aunt Janie had planned it; it usually doesn’t for any of us. She had hoped to be a farmer and a wife. But she could dream some new dreams and make some new plans when that did not happen.
Despite the fact that we as Christians believe that God is in control and that the next life is infinitely better than this one, there is often apprehension of the unknown because God has not given us all the details about what to expect.
The seeming finality of a life hurts those who are left behind. But we know that although death seems like the end to the earthly life, it isn’t. This life is short. The next one is not. To be sure, life continues with the Lord in a brand new way, for Janet has moved from the Shadowlands and into glory as God’s precious daughter. More remains for us here too as we remember that the memory of the righteous is a blessing.
Hebrews 11 begins a wonderful passage known as Faith’s Hall of Fame. It lists great Old Testament heroes and their accomplishments in God’s eyes. At the start of this litany is the story of Cain and Abel. They had been instructed about proper worship and sacrifices. Abel followed God’s instructions, but Cain didn’t. Verse 4 tells us that by faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous; God himself giving approval to his gift. He died, but through his faith he still speaks.
What a promise! Long after our tongues are silent in death we still speak to the living. In Aunt Janie’s case, she sings! Both Abel and Aunt Janie continue to speak to us in at least 3 ways.
First, they speak of the necessity of faith. Abel made his sacrifice only because he was convinced there was a God worthy of it. Janet would agree wholeheartedly. She too believed in a living and loving Lord and that was evident in how she lived. She was active in her church and in activities that honored the Lord. She was not concerned that the God she loved and served was not worthy of that love and service. In her death, she still affirms the necessity of faith.
A second thing is that they both still speak (or sing) of the importance of worship. Their message is that worship has meaning and value. It is our heartfelt response to God and it lets the world know whose side we are on.
Finally, Abel and Aunt Janie still speak to us about the importance of being prepared to die. Abel was prepared because of the righteous life in God’s eyes. Aunt Janie’s preparation included trusting Jesus Christ as her savior, knowing that what she did here would last forever because she leaned her full weight down in the reality of God’s grace. The life she lived as a thank you for the gift of eternal life still sings.
In closing, my Aunt Janie was also a fan of all things Tolkien. The British author Tolkien invented a word to answer the question of how the heart is made to rejoice in the face of sadness and grief. Tolkien said that just as we have the word catastrophe in English we should also have its opposite, eucatastrophe. As catastrophe means a sudden change from good to bad, eucatastrophe signifies a sudden change from bad to good. For Tolkien this was the essence of the gospel. He once said it this way, “The Incarnation is the eucatastrophe of human history and the Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.”
In the Incarnation God, instead of leaving us to the consequences of our own sin, takes the deserved evil of suffering and death and deals with it decisively and finally in Jesus Christ. We still experience suffering and evil, but God now takes this bad things and fashions a eucatastrophe; he turns the bad into good. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he takes us through our own death to resurrection with Him forever. This was the good news that Aunt Janie believed in and the hope she looked for. She knew that because Jesus lived, died and rose again that she too would rise again and for Aunt Janie this happened when she left this life for heaven! God wants to show us that He is the One who is sovereign over evil and death and raises the dead to new life. Aunt Janie’s life and death, is ultimately about Jesus! As Hamfast Gamgee, Samwise’s father said, “All’s well that ends better!” And for Janet it has.
I think I hear Janet singing the word’s of Bilbo’s last song:
“Bilbo’s Last Song”
Day is ended, dim my eyes,
But journey long before me lies.
Farewell, friends! I hear the call.
The ship’s beside the stony wall.
I’ll find the heavens fair and free,
And beaches of the Starlit Sea.
Farewell to Middle-earth at last.
I see the Star above my mast!”
Janet’s Obituary by Nancy Wheeler Mohler:
Janet was the firstborn child of Ezra & Muriel Wheeler, but she was an only child for only a year – a sister and a brother quickly followed, then another sister. Mom had taught school prior to motherhood; Dad was pursuing what became a life-long career as a sawyer in a lumber mill.
Janet went to kindergarten in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, but the following year we lived where there was no kindergarten, so Nancy entered 1st grade with Janet. In 1941, we lived near the headwaters of the Hudson River , where our brother drowned at age 5 and a half. The next 3 years were spent in 3 different schools, but then we “stabilized” for grades 4-6. Janet was a pretty blond blue-eyed girl with musical ability. She taught herself to play the piano, was active in the local Protestant church, and loved to spend time “down on the farm” where our maternal grandmother and uncle lived.
Janet continued to excel in musical activities through junior high and high school. As a sophomore, both Janet and I invited Jesus Christ into our hearts, and Janet determined to become a missionary nurse. However, Dad thought the spiritual life just a ‘fanatical phase”, and sent us to live with relatives for awhile. He moved the family to a new community while we were away, so we graduated from high school in the western part of NY state.
Janet went into nurses’ training with a friend, graduated, and worked as an RN for several years. At one point, she became critically ill with hepatitis, and though she recovered, her liver was compromised the rest of her life. She decided to return to school for a Bachelor’s degree and chose the University of Tennessee , where she earned a BS in Education.
The classroom became her passion: with no children of her own, she poured her life into the lives of her students. After several positions in NY state, she and a girlfriend decided to head west – away from the snow and cold winters of the northeast.
Phoenix was as far west as they got before deciding to try for teaching positions “temporarily”. Janet was hired by the Avondale school district, where she taught for 22 years. She was instrumental in starting a program for special needs students, and eventually earned a Master’s Degree in Education.
Janet bought a home in Phoenix and began to fill it with her many hobbies. She was a button collector, she loved hedgehogs, she collected recipes, she loved to read, she joined the Red Hat Society, and she started travelling. She also learned to create beautiful cards with rubber stamps, ribbons, glitter, and special techniques. She was an active member of ST. Peter’s, where she sang in the choir, was a member of the vestry, and had an extensive ministry of making cards for all occasions for members and friends. When she sold her home and moved to Sun City , she was no longer active at St. Peter’s due to deteriorating health, but her concern for “you all” continued.
She and our cousin travelled often to “exotic” places, but she was most partial to England and the British Isles . All the women in our family have enjoyed “taking tea” together when we can.
Janet’s many talents and interests have touched the lives of more people than we will ever know.
Thoughts read by Emily for Martha Moses Vosburg:
Janet Wheeler was a most influential woman on my life; it was because of her I am who I am today. She generously showered me with gifts and treated me as someone important.
She loved to surround herself with my favorite things; or are they my favorite things because of her? Buttons, bows, ribbons and lace all became even prettier under her imaginative hand. Enchanted fairies and hobbits, gnomes and hedgehogs, whose magical stories came to life with Aunt Janie. She shared sentimental stories about ancestors and collected pictures and heirlooms to go with them. She taught me to value history.
Artistic pursuits with my Aunt Janie were one of the best things she taught me in life. As a child she patiently taught me how to make pretty things, and I never made mistakes. She accepted imperfections as part of the beauty whether it was a stamped card, Christmas ornament or frosted cookie. She nurtured creativity in me.
She was brave and I admired her for it. A modern woman who wasn’t afraid to make a career, buy a home and make life an adventure to be lived. She instilled confidence in me and provided nourishment for my potential. I can’t thank Aunt Janie enough for all she gave me.
A poem sent to be read by Jen Wheeler – I wish we could be there on Saturday with you all. I read this passage is a book this summer and thought of the view of the valley from the hill at Grandmas trailer. I read it many times and thought of Janet. Just wanted to share it with you. Love You!
There is in this valley a beating heart. It is always and ever there. And when I am gone, it will beat for you, and when you are gone, it will beat for your children and theirs, forever. Forever. Until there is no water, no air, no green in the spring, or gold in the autumn, no stars from the sky or wind from the north.
And when you cannot speak, it will speak for you. When you cannot see, it will be our eyes. When you cannot remember, it will be your memory. It will never forget you.
And when you cannot be faithful, it will save place for your return. This a gift to you. It cannot be taken away. It is yours forever.
It is the narrative of this world, and the scrapbook of your own small life, and, when you are gone into ash and darkness and the grave, it will tell your story.