Standing ready for the end

In the Image

May 18, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 10
Ed Olfert | Columnist
Olfert cousins, gathered at Aunt Anne’s funeral. (Supplied Photo)

Recently, another of my old aunts died. Aunt Anne was my dad’s sister. The Olfert family was a large one, with six boys and six girls. Three sisters and a brother remain.

Aunt Anne was a grand old lady, who carried the family trait of great determination. Her life was often not easy. A long-time widow, she had also buried two of her children.

My strongest memories of Anne are of her determination—there’s that word again—to create family. That included the myriad nieces and nephews that filled her home frequently, such as when she hosted extended family on Sunday after church. If you shared genes with Anne, you had a fierce ally.

At Aunt Anne’s funeral service, the presence of a large contingent of Olfert cousins—my generation—stood as a testimony to her role in the family. This group, about 30 in number, aged about 50 to 75, are somewhat loud and indecorous. At the reception, cousin Terry, with no need of a sound system, rose and pointed out that we seem to have the biggest and best reunions at either weddings or funerals. He then asked the gathered people who was going to volunteer to be next.

The crowd chuckled. Then, in the moment that followed, Aunt Tina, Anne’s sister, slowly pulled herself to her feet. Another aged sister, Margaret, joined her. These two grand old ladies stood, with twinkles in their eyes.

I giggled for an hour or so. That’s a testimony to who these sisters are: solid, strong, peaceful women, who take just a little pride in outrageousness. These two old mentors, even as they make this quirky offer to provide the next funeral to their family, these two old ladies are living and sharing a spirituality that is strong and good. They are ready to die, when the future goes that way. They have lived well, have loved well, and are simply at peace with whatever lies down the road. Their view of God, of the afterlife, is one of confidence and peace.

Years ago, I sat at the bedside of a dying man. I didn’t know him well, but had been asked to make a pastoral visit. These are visits that I typically value. But this man was not in that good space. With great spiritual agony, he recounted to me the children and grandchildren in his family who had not yet made a profession of faith. His guilt was insurmountable; he had failed in his life’s task.

I don’t know if my words of comfort resonated. I do know that as I left his room, I felt a surge of anger at whatever institution, whatever individual, had filled this haggard man with this bizarre and guilt-ridden notion of God.

I’ll go with the plain and practical faith of the old aunts. Aunt Tina was my Sunday School teacher in childhood days. Her understanding of the holy, her version of the Biblical stories, were filled with a theology of “yes.” Yes, God loves you; yes, God loves all people, and living that is what it means to live faithfully. Tina is loved because her energy is directed to building up, not tearing down.

As for Margaret, her husband told a story of driving down a highway, encountering road construction. Soon he was fuming, why don’t they work differently so they don’t disrupt traffic so much! And he recalls Aunt Marg making the gentle observation, “oh, they probably have their reasons for doing it like that.”

Give me gentle. Give me patient. Give me wise. Hopefully. I will approach death with confidence, and maybe with a little twinkle.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 

Ed Olfert lives in Laird, Saskatchewan and can be reached at

Read more In the Image columns:
‘An old nose’ 
Gentleness behind bars
Dump truck affirmation
Welding a Mennonite reality
‘Stella makes a difference’

Olfert cousins, gathered at Aunt Anne’s funeral. (Supplied Photo)

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