It was briefly mentioned to me the day before that there was going to be some representation from the Royal Canadian Air Force Association for the funeral I was about to conduct. I made a mental note of this as I made my way up to the podium to speak. As I stood at the podium before a packed chapel audience, I could not miss the huge number of Air Force Veterans present in their distinguished ceremonial dress uniforms. Some appeared to be in their nineties and would have been some of the last remaining World War 2 veterans. They were present to say a final goodbye to one of their own. A lump got stuck in my throat, as I struggled to get those first few words out.
The funeral was for a lady named Isabel Kelly. She was 93 years, but the way she lived her life was indicative of someone much younger. Her life impacted so many, including myself. This packed chapel showed how much she really was loved. I was asked by Isabel (when she was in robust health) about 4 years ago if I could conduct her funeral. I said I’d be honoured to, but added that won’t happen for a long, long time the way she was going. Every year, I was given a gentle reminder just to jog my memory. This usually happened during or after a bit of a health scare. But each time Isabel would bounce back. The last time Isabel did not bounce back, and she breathed her final breaths on earth on February 14th, 2018. I used the acronym of Isabel’s name I-S-A-B-E-L in the funeral message as a way to show how incredible of a human being she really was, and is an honour to share this outline in this post.
“I” Is For Integrity
Using the acronym for Isabel the first letter is “I” which stands for integrity. The word integrity means “honesty, sincerely, completeness, wholeness”. And Isabel had so much integrity. Proverbs 22:1 says “If you have to choose between a good reputation and great wealth, choose a good reputation”. Isabel had a good reputation. That is why she was so respected and loved by so many others. When she went out to a function, she always made it a point to dress stylishly. She gave herself to helping, working and volunteering for others. She volunteered her heart and soul into the Royal Canadian Air Force Club. Cooking for functions, baking for bake sale to raise funds that would channel right back to the needs of the community. Her commitment to her family and friends were unparalleled. She had friendships such as one friend named Terri Hamilton that went back generations to when she was very young. Isabel had so much integrity.
“S” is for Strength
There is a quote that goes “The pain you feel today is the strength you feel tomorrow”. Isabel faced some extremely tough times during her lifetime. She lost one son when he was 25. She lost another son when he was 42. Shortly after that, she lost her husband Delmar. Events such as these can often crush a person, or make them very bitter. For Isabel, these events made her stronger. With the loss of her one son, there was 5 grandchildren without a father. She did everything she could for these grandchildren. And she became involved with the Grieving Children Association, to help other children who were grieving over the loss of a parent. Isabel was a woman of strength.
“A” is for Air Force Wife
With my involvement with the church in Hillsdale, I have known Isabel for about 6 years. Every now and then, she would share a tiny bit of information about being an air force wife, and her husband Delmar flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War 2. Isabel was only 17 when she married Delmar. They were planning to get married here, but Delmar got notice to head to Vancouver. Isabel followed him out there and married him. Three weeks later Delmar was posted overseas as an air force pilot, and they would be apart for three and a half years. As I pieced those little bits of information together, I knew this needed to be written down, lest it be forgotten. So a year and a half ago I met with Isabel for an informal interview, and published it in an article titled Missing In Action. The title of that post is about Isabel’s husband Delmar being shot down over the Pacific by the Japanese, and surviving for 9 days on a raft, drinking rainwater that pooled in the raft for survival. It takes an incredible person to be an air force pilot wife. Isabel met the challenge. She became highly involved with the Air Force Association for many decades. To the war veterans, she was one of them.
“B” is for Biggest Fan
You name it, hockey, baseball, soccer, gymnastics, school graduations, whatever a grandchild or great grandchild was involved with, Isabel was sure to be there cheering her heart out. She gave out so much love for her daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Always giving out love, without ever running out. Isabel was their biggest fan. I found that even myself while pastoring, she was such an encouragement to me. She loved attending church and worshipping God so much, and even kept every bulletin. Every Sunday she would have a kind comment for me. And it kept me going. Over the past 12 to 18 months Isabel could not make it to church because of the stairs. So the church went to her with my visits. I would feel like a rock star when I would visit. She would make me feel that important. Isabel was the Biggest Fan to so many people.
“E” is for Enthusiastic
I visited Isabel’s granddaughter Andrea’s place to go over arrangements for the funeral with daughter Sharron, who was staying there for a few days. At the kitchen table with Sharron, I just happened to look up at the computer Andrea was working on. She was working on a slide show for her dear grandmother Isabel. On the screen was a picture of a small woman dressed in hockey gear. I asked Andrea, “Was that your grandmother”. Andrea gave me a big smile and assured me it was. This was Isabel. She was so enthusiastic with everything she did. Dressing up as a hockey player, playing air guitar, banging on the glass while cheering her great grandkids on at a hockey game, Isabel was so enthusiastic with everything. People who saw Isabel did not see a 93 year old woman. They saw someone much younger living her every day to the fullest.
“L” is for Loved
Isabel loved so many people. And she was loved so much by so many people in return. Her physical heart was weak. There were scares, but she would always bounce back. She loved too many people and had that fight in her. This past time a sickness combined with a mild heart attack took its toll. Like other times, Isabel was fighting so hard. But this time there was not the physical strength. My wife Lynne received a text that Isabel’s health was really slipping. My wife responded if I should come over and the answer was yes. Once I arrived, I was ushered into Isabel’s room where she was surrounded by her dear family. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed, Isabel always had someone holding her hand, or a hand on the shoulder. The human touch is so extremely powerful. It is calming. it reduces pain. And for five days the family never left her side. And as loved ones often talked to her and told her they loved her, often Isabel would not respond. But over those last five days on earth, Isabel mustered up the strength to give each one of her family loved ones a smile. Everything was going to be okay. In heaven there is no more pain and no more suffering. And on February 14th, a day centered around love, after 93 years on earth Isabel Kelly breathed her last breath. Absent from the body and into the presence of the Lord.
To conclude Isabel Kelly’s funeral, the family chose a song that was very powerful and so gripping. It is called “Carry You Home” by James Blunt”. It is a tender and intimate song about death and love and was important for the family to help them express their own feelings of death and loss.The chorus reads as follow, “As strong as you were, tender you go. I’m watching you breathing for the last time. A song for you heart, but when it is quiet, I know what it means and I’ll carry you home”.
After the funeral, we all gathered for refreshments. I was standing off to the side, and in the corner of my eye I caught someone slowly coming toward me. He would have been in his nineties, a frail World War 2, Royal Canadian Air Force vet in his distinguished ceremonial dress uniform, and one of many who loved Isabel Kelly. He was pushing a walker, which carried an oxygen tank that pumped vital supplemental oxygen to keep him going. I met him halfway, and as I met him, he held out his hand and gave me an incredibly firm handshake. With his eyes welling up with tears he said, “I just want to say thank you”. It would have been a difficult day for this very dear man, as he lost yet another one of his own. There was a common thread that joined this World War 2 veteran and Isabel Kelly. There are so few World War 2 veterans left, and those who are left we are losing at an alarming rate. I did not want to let go of this dear man’s hand, and searching for words to comfort him, I simply said, “No, thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you”.