This last week, my grandma, Flora Rishmawy, passed on to be with Jesus. I was honored and blessed to deliver the message at the memorial service in Las Vegas. Some people asked to see it, so I’ve reprinted it here with minor corrections.
We’re all here to celebrate my Grandma, Flora Rishmawy’s life. And just looking around the room, clearly there’s a lot to celebrate. I’ll start with what I know:
Grandma –The first thing I knew about Flora Rishmawy was that she was my grandma. That was her name for years before I ever found out she was “Flora”. She’s just always been ‘Grandma’ to my sister and I. My earliest memories of her consist of trips out here to Las Vegas, or her and Grandpa coming out to visit us in Hacienda Heights or Yorba Linda. They were some of the biggest highlights of our year. Things I knew about Grandma back when I was kid:
- Let’s be honest, she always had something for us. It didn’t matter what or when, like most grandmas, she liked giving us things. Connected to that, I knew she liked “finding” things, wherever. Shopping was a thing with Grandma. She wasn’t a spender– she was a shopper, though, and when it came to her family, it was a labor of love and joy to find us things we might like or need.
- She always looked nice for my Grandpa. My Grandma’s hair was perfect at all times. Honestly, I can still remember the smell of her hairspray. When you’re a little kid, that’s impressive.
- I also knew that whenever we were with her, we were going to eat good food. Everybody here knows, Grandma could cook. Whether it was snacks like sambuses, or large meals, or desserts, nothing was ever “okay” when she made it. It was great. Seriously, I don’t get how Grandpa managed to stay decently trim. Ironically, some of my favorite memories of her are not at the crazy intense meals she could make at holidays, but at the breakfasts she would cook for us. Whenever we were going to leave Las Vegas after a short vacation, she would cook up an amazing breakfast with bacon, eggs, bread, and all the basics. Nothing crazy, but somehow though, she made all the basics taste better.
- Finally, I knew she loved us and we loved her. That was never in doubt.
Of course, over the years, I came to realize that she was far more than a Grandma.
Wife – I found that there was once a young woman, born in Honduras in 1933–a beautiful young woman who caught the eye of my Grandpa who pursued her and married her when she was 19. I remember Grandpa telling me about courting her as a young lady, and I got a kick out of thought of young Grandpa, dating a pretty young Grandma. I mean, you look at the pictures and you see it. My Grandpa looking like Errol Flynn and Grandma just a beautiful sweet thing. For 53 years after that, she was a loving wife to my Grandpa Tino until he passed 6 years ago. They kept their vows. She loved him—she didn’t just feel nice things about him, but actually loved him in word and deed, the way a wife should.
Friend – Flora was also a friend. Grandma had a lot of friends—friends she raised kids with, friends she played poker and bingo with, friends she cooked, and laughed and was a friend to. Some of those friends are here now and know a lot more about this than I do.
Mother – And of course, she was a mother—to my Dad, my uncles, my aunt, and a niece she loved like a daughter, my aunt Gera. All you have to do is look at her children and you know something about her: she was a wonderful mother. Their love for her, their devotion, is a testimony to her faithful care for them over the years. I specifically get to see it in the way my Dad is a father to me and my sister. I know he gets a lot of it from his mom. Actually, that’s part of why my mom calls him “Florita” sometimes.
Now, in all of these roles, she was one thing: she was hospitable. She took care of people, hosted them, and of course, cooked for them—it was a labor of love for her. She was a hostess, and everybody knew that—it didn’t matter if you were family, or friends, neighbors. People remember Flora’s kindness, her care, her hospitality.
This is why we’re going to miss her, and why we can rejoice: somebody else is taking care of her now.
Jesus is Taking Care of Her: – For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Phil 1:21-24
Grandma always believed in God. She was a good Catholic, brought my dad and family up in the church. Like my Grandpa though, towards the later years, she began to trust God in some deeper ways. She decided to trust Jesus to care for her as she was less and less able to care for herself.
The promise of the Gospel is that for those who let him, Jesus will take care of them, both in this life and in the next. The apostle Paul here is writing to his church in Philippi and he goes back and forth as to what he should do, remain there with them, or depart to go be with Jesus, which, he says, is far better. He ultimately says God has left him with the church to care for it, but he looks forward towards that day when God calls him to himself to rest.
Why? Because he knows that Jesus is the sum of all our human strivings. All that we seek in our lives with our families, our friends, spouses, works, the rest that we try to achieve for ourselves through our own efforts, that’s found in Jesus. And, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised. If God is the maker of heaven and earth, then all the good things about this life, all the joys, the laughter, the meals, the reunions, all the meaning in every beautiful sunset we’ve ever experienced has come to us as a gift from his hand.
All of that beauty was in God before he gave it to us. And he gave it to us so that we might look up at him in gratitude, in love, and in delight. In fact, the NT says that Christ is the pattern for all of these things.
Now, sin, both ours, and others, has broken up that joy. There’s a brokenness in all of God’s good gifts. It has shattered some things, twisted others, introduced tears and pain into that transcendent tapestry God wove in Creation. There’s disease, heart-ache, and worst of all, the sting of death.
This is why, for Paul, to go to Christ is to go to the source, pure and unbroken goodness. All the things that Grandma loved most about life, she is enjoying right now in the arms of Jesus. She’s no longer frail, or weak. And she has the joy of knowing Jesus, her love, her savior, her creator, better than she ever could have imagined. This is part of why Paul writes to another congregation:
Like Those Who Have No Hope. But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. (1 Thess. 4:13-14)
Paul says that we don’t grieve without hope—now, notice what that doesn’t mean: it doesn’t mean we don’t grieve.
See, it is okay to grieve. We’re here celebrating her life, but it is okay to cry. The Gospel is not that there isn’t pain now—it’s that one day, all pain will cease. But that day is not right now for us. For now, death does have a sting. Grandma isn’t here with us right now. So, you know what, go ahead and cry. Go ahead and weep. Go ahead and feel that loss. God is not an unfeeling God that tells you to just smile and put a cheerful face on it. Jesus himself wept at the graveside of Lazarus, even while he knew that he was about to raise him from the dead. It says that he was moved to tears because of our pain.
The one thing that Paul says is that we don’t grieve without hope. I have hope because Grandma is with Jesus. And the thing is, Jesus is coming back. He came, he lived the life we should have lived, took the consequences our sins deserved, then rose to life again, and ascended to heaven. And the promise is that the resurrection he experienced isn’t for him alone. The promise is that for all who trust him to take care of them, all who put their faith in him, they will one day return with him, fully resurrected, with new bodies, perfect bodies, bodies that can love, and touch and sing and embrace and reunite with loved ones.
The hope is that, on top of seeing Jesus, we get to see each other again in the new world God has promised to make—because that’s what is happening—God is going to fix all things, and make all things new again, and everything we ever loved and hoped for, including Grandma is going to be in on it.
So, if you’ve accepted the Gospel, there’s hope. Grieve, but hope. Weep, but let some of those tears be mingled with tears of joy at the fact that because Jesus lives, we’ll see her, and my grandpa, again. And on that day, the Bible says God will wipe every tear from our eyes—including the ones we weep for Flora today.
Please pray with me.
Soli Deo Gloria