Words matter. This was something Dee Doughty knew. She knew what it meant to search for the words that fit a particular situation. Her careful phrasing of a spoken response reflected this, as did her thoughtfully-written letters…as did her poetry.
I first met Dee six years ago, in the first week we moved to Wilmette, the first meeting at St. Augustine’s that I attended – even before my service here had officially begun. The Christian Outreach Commission gathered on a warm evening the last week of August. Dee and Bill had been founding members of that group, decades before that night, working toward justice and peace in this community and beyond. Dee talked that night about feeding people who were hungry, and about living and serving among the people of Honduras; she talked about ministries that had grown from those experiences.
I would learn quickly that, as carefully as Dee chose her words, she was equally intent on ensuring that her words were consistent with her actions.
Her love for Bill, her husband of 62 years, was evident in the words Dee spoke and also in their near-constant companionship. Her love for this remarkable family – Dick and Roger and Bruce, your spouses and your children – was evident in both word and deed.
Dee also loved this church, where she and Bill have made their home for nearly 50 years. I pray that all of you who are here know yourselves enfolded in that love, now.
Words matter, and the words that Bill and the Doughty family have chosen for this day were chosen with the kind of care I imagine Dee would have wished, words that reflect who she was.
The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty and release…”
Dee lived from a posture of service to others. As a wife and mother, as the manager of the St. Cyprian food bank, as the program coordinator for the North Shore Senior Center, as the editor of Chicago’s Anti-Hunger Federation, as a volunteer chair for the CROP Walk to end hunger, Dee sought to bring good news, to bind up what was broken, to proclaim liberty in both small ways and in great ways. She sought to make the world a better place, and she worked hard to do that.
The second reading, from the Revelation to John, says this: “I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem…and I heard a voice saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them; God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Dee was a person of deep faith. The poems of hers that I have read are best expressed as prayer – including the one actually by that name, which we will hear members of St. Augustine’s choir sing just before communion: “I cannot merit what (God) gives, the blessing of his saving grace,” Dee wrote, “Yet I’ll try with grateful heart to live, that at my end I’ll see his face.” And that is true – her faith found expression in gratitude. She had language, chosen with particularity, in thanks for all that she had been given, and a grateful heart toward the author of all those good gifts.
Words matter. And the words of the gospel proclaimed by our deacon, the Rev. Sue Nebel, resound this morning as we recall Dee’s life. This passage comes from the Farewell Discourse, the point at which Jesus knows that he will be leaving his friends, the disciples, and so he is saying goodbye to them.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells his friends. “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also.”
Dee Doughty was a person of service, a person of deep faith, and a person who manifested love. The words of this passage are interpreted in the English as mansions or dwelling places. But one of my seminary professors, the Rev. Dr. John Dally, translated the Greek differently – rather than reading the language as God’s house, he read it as God’s own heart. That is the place Jesus is going to, by this interpretation, the place he will prepare for his friends and disciples to follow him to – the place next to God’s own heart.
She loved you, Bill. She loved you so very much. And she loved you, Dick, Roger, Bruce, and all your family. She loved you, church, and friends, and all who were her community. And the thoughtfully-chosen words of this passage offer a promise wrapped in a mystery: that God’s heart has room enough for us all, that death is not ultimate…because there’s more. Because love wins.
The illness that Dee suffered, a version of Parkinson’s Disease, claimed something of what was precious to her by making it more difficult for Dee to choose her words, as she neared the end of her life. She was quiet during many of those last days.
I had been away with family at the end of June, and came to see Dee on the Fourth of July, shortly after we returned home to Wilmette. She was awake that day, but mostly spoke under her breath. I wasn’t able to hear much of what she said.
And then we shared communion. In preparation, we prayed the words of the 23rd psalm, the last piece of scripture chosen carefully for this day. Words matter, and these are words that Dee knew by heart:
"The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
May it be so, dear Dee. May you dwell there, right next to God’s own heart.