Saying Goodbye

Shirley Jean Pursell, born Shirley Jean Walker, passed away at her home in Stillwater on Sunday. Funeral services will be held 10:30 on Friday, March 23, 2012 at the First Christian Church in Cushing.

She was born in 1935 in Brentwood, Calif., the daughter of Melvin and Dorothy Walker. She was a graduate of Edmond High School.

She was married to John Mack Pursell. She is survived by her three sons, Mitch, Kelly, and Tim and their spouses, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, as well as her brother and two sisters. Shirley was a long-time employee of Cushing Public Schools. She had been an active member in the church choirs of the First Christian Churches of Cushing and Medford. She was well known for her beautiful singing voice and her love of ballroom dancing.

It's been over 6 weeks since my grandma passed away and I still get a lump in my throat when I think about how she's no longer on this earth. Even though we lived a state away and didn't get to see each other very often over the last few years, it's still hard for me to grasp that she's gone and I'll never get another phone call or sweet card or hug. We've always been close. She was one of my number one cheerleaders and encouragers and is who my son is named after. I sure am going to miss her.

Being in her house and going through her things was bittersweet. Part of me didn't want to walk through that door knowing she wasn't on the other side. At first I didn't want to touch anything because it just kind of felt morbid and insensitive to look through her stuff when I wasn't interested in her stuff. I went in there saying I didn't want a single thing. But then once I made it through the door and started looking around I didn't want to leave. Being among her things was comforting and it made me sad to know that all of her possessions were just going to be auctioned off to strangers. I went from not wanting anything to having to talk myself out of taking too much and had to remind myself more than once that they really are just things that I needed to say goodbye to. By the time it was time to leave it was hard to go knowing that it was my very last time to be in the house where I made so many sweet memories.

Her funeral was beautiful. All week I was really worried that nobody was going to be there. Back in the day my grandma was quite the social butterfly, but the last 10 or so years she rarely left her house and had lost contact with most people. I just couldn't bear the thought of nobody showing up to say goodbye to such an extraordinary woman. But I should have never been worried about that...because when we walked into the church it was crowded with people she knew throughout her entire life, going all the way back to her childhood! When the pastor asked family and friends if anybody wanted to share stories or say anything, people came up to the microphone one after another after another and I was thrilled to hear many stories about her that I had never heard. To know that she had such an impact on that many people gave my heart so much comfort. While we were there to say goodbye and of course there were a lot of tears, there was also a lot of joy and celebration in that room and I know she would have been really happy for that.

We chose to keep the funeral pretty informal and only planned one hymn. I really wanted Amazing Grace to be included because I remember her singing it so beautifully when I was a child. The pastor, who also knew her personally, decided to include one other hymn and I'm so glad he did. Part of the song refers to "whispers of love" and he tied it in beautifully to my grandma in the last years of her life. While she rarely left her house in the end, she continued to impact her family through her "whispers of love." She stayed in touch and never forgot a birthday. She was always delighted to hear updates on my kids and I grew to know her even better since becoming a mom myself. She gave me advice and encouragement since she also had little ones close in age. I was beginning to know her as more than just my grandma and as a woman who was also a daughter, wife, sister, and mom. I so wish I had been more intentional about learning more about these other areas of her life.

I'm also amazed at how God has comforted me since her passing. It seems like He gives me little glimpses of her and reminders that she is up there ball-room dancing in heaven just when I need them the most. One of her possessions that I was so blessed to inherit is her bible that she was given in 1943 for her 8th birthday. The only notes in it are on the inside the cover where the following words are scribbled, "Armor of God: Belt, Breast Plate, Helmet, Shoes, Shield, Sword." A few hours after reading reading this I opened up my bible study and the passage for me to read that night was Ephesian 6, which is the exact same reference as the notes she had written; all about wearing the armor of God. Seriously gave me goosebumps!

Her funeral was on my birthday. While nobody really wants to spend their birthday bawling their eyes out, it really was so special to share one last birthday with her. I loved hearing all of the many stories I had never heard about her. And I got perhaps one of the most treasured birthday gifts I will ever receive: while going through her house I found a birthday card addressed and stamped and ready to be mailed to me that she had prepared the night before her passing. Opening that last card and reading the special words she wrote to me was the best birthday gift I could ask for.

One last example I'll share: For her birthday the year before last I made a photo book for her with all of the pictures from when she met Harrison and it talks about how much we all miss her. I showed it to Harrison and when we got to the first picture of them together he said, "Momma, great-grandma is in heaven with Jesus." I pretty much lost it because while I'm sure he had heard me talking about her death throughout the week I hadn't had a specific conversation with him about what that meant because I thought he was too young. Apparently I underestimated him though and hearing that sentence come out of my sweet 2 year old's mouth was such an encouragement to me. He loves reading that book and looking through all of the pictures and while I'm so glad her memory is forever preserved for him I still have a hard time keeping it together when we are flipping through the pages. The words "we miss you" take on a much deeper meaning now.

My grandma and dad, back in the day.

She always wore a smile

Our first meeting
Hanging out by the pool, Labor Day 1983
Hanging out by the pool again, 1986. We spent a lot of time making memories in that pool!

Here she is acting happy as a lark that my cousin and I adopted her a dog from the pound for her birthday, even though she so did not want a dog. ;)

with my brother, 2001ish?

With my dad and grandma at my high school graduation, May 2000.


Tracye said…

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