Listening to Mrs. Latta
“Why won’t God let me die?” As she writhed in pain these words came flooding from her mouth. I found myself utterly speechless. Humility, honesty were the only options in this incredibly tender moment. I began timidly, “I don’t know why God won’t let you die. But what I do know is I still have need of you here with me.” That vulnerable moment became an ongoing, including humorous at times, conversation between myself and Mrs. Latta that spanned decades. She went on to God’s greater glory earlier this week at the age of 99.
Mrs. Latta was, as I liked to tease her, the czar of the Altar Guild. She wholeheartedly dedicated her retirement years to preparing and cleaning all things pertaining to worship. She had a cadre of guild members that she ‘lovingly’ micromanaged, often coming into the Church after others had prepared for a worship service just to make sure they had done so correctly.
These were my favorite times to catch her in the Church. She would have yardstick in hand and I would surprise and startle her, stepping into the building saying, “What are you up to?” Grin on my face, red cheeks on hers, after a millisecond we would both begin to giggle like school aged kids. These were great moments, but the real moments were the ones that followed.
We would have these wonderful conversations about her life as a nurse, her children and grandchildren, and how much she missed her beloved deceased husband Andy. Family, work, Church – at her core, Mrs. Latta was a servant. And the conversation always went both ways. She relished in asking me questions. Honestly, and on more than one occasion I told her, the way she framed the questions always made me feel like she was the teacher and I was the pupil taking a pop quiz. Liturgy, scripture, theology, politics and contemporary issues, on and on she would grill me.
Mrs. Latta’s servanthood modeling and pedagogical inquiry formed and shaped me in so many ways. Like a classic elder, she gently shared her wisdom, insight and perspective. Along the way we became true companions on the journey, real friends navigating the joys and challenges of our lives. On four different occasions I said, Prayers for a Person near Death for Mrs. Latta. Each time she would bounce back and then later with a smile on her face she would blame me. I always knew she would get the last laugh.
In the end…Life is short,
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who
make the journey with us.
So… be swift to love,
and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
and who travels with us
be with you now and forever.