In Memoriam: Ellen Swope

This last week the mother of my closest friend passed away due to a brain aneurysm. Ellen Swope is a dear family friend, and she will be greatly missed. Today is her memorial service, and it saddens me greatly that I cannot be there to mourn with my friend, Ian, along with his family and my family. This is a difficult time, and there's no place I would rather be than by their side, supporting them as a friend. In my absence, I composed a short eulogy. The family is reading a number of written remembrances from family and friends, and so I wrote one as a way of mitigating my distance from the people I love. I do not know if they will read it or not, and it doesn't matter. I print it here as a way of publicly honoring Ellen Swope. This cannot replace my presence with the family, but unfortunately it will have to suffice.

In Memoriam: Ellen Swope

The problem with trying to come up with my first memory of Ellen Swope is that my first memories of her are not all that far apart from my first memories ever. I grew up in walking distance from the Swope family home. I recall a little bit of my childhood at Community Bible Fellowship, but my first fond memories of church and friendships began with Clear Creek Community Church. It is in that context that my life, as I remember it, is deeply intertwined with the Swope family. Consequently, the years in which I was shaped most profoundly were the same years in which I interacted with the Swope family the most of any family I know. And Ellen was a constant figure during those times. In the movie-reel of my mind, she is the secondary character who is always on screen, and when the film is over, she is the character you remember over the others.

Ellen was like a second mother at times. She saw me develop alongside her sons, Ian and Colin, with all my quirks, difficulties, successes, and joys. I spent the night at the Swope’s home numerous times growing up. I’ve wandered through almost every square foot of their back yard. I enjoyed her delicious cooking on many occasions. Ellen consistently and lovingly asked me how things were going in my life whenever she saw me. She always displayed a genuine and heartfelt interest in me. I always felt comfortable speaking with her about anything in my life, as if she were family—the kind of family member you embrace as the closest kind of friend. Everything about her radiated familial love. For those who do not know such “familial love,” Ellen defined it in her life.

Ellen lived a life of sheer grace. I have no memory of her in a temper or grouchy mood; if she ever had one in my presence, it has been displaced by the magnitude of her graciousness and love, which were so abundantly evident in her interaction with others. Ellen was tenacious and dedicated; she was persistent in getting every detail right in whatever she did. I recall the many Sunday mornings at Clear Creek, when she would make sure that she had the PowerPoint in-sync with the music for that morning. She refused to let any detail slide; everything was important to her, because all of life was worth her very best effort. Ellen made the most of whatever task she was given, and this is a witness to us all.

The great 20th century theologian, Karl Barth, faced the difficulty of preaching a memorial sermon for his own son, Robert Matthias, who fell to his death while climbing a mountain in the Swiss Alps in 1941. In the sermon, he speaks about the distance between the Now and the Then, the Now in which we see “in a mirror dimly,” and the Then when we will see “face to face.” His words are apropos for our remembrance and celebration of Ellen’s life, and I have replaced Matthias with Ellen in Barth’s words:
This is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we follow him and may stand with him at the border where the Now and the Then touch each other, that we at this border may believe, love, and hope. It is at this border where light falls into darkness, where life always rejoices in the face of death, where we are great sinners yet righteous, where we are taken captive yet free, where we see no way out yet we have hope, where we have doubts yet we are certain, where we weep yet we are glad.

In our thoughts about our Ellen we do not want to put ourselves in any other place than precisely at this border. She has now crossed over it, and we are still here. But we are not far from each other if we put ourselves at this border. In Jesus Christ there is no distance between Now and Then, between here and there, however profoundly they are separated. Our Ellen—just as she really was¬—is in Jesus Christ, yet very differently than the way she used to live with us and we with her. She is the same, yet she has become completely different. Because Jesus Christ has taught us about both, about life and death, death and life, we may now therefore remember our Ellen and thus speak about her.
As Barth so eloquently urged his audience to stand at the border, so may we, in remembering the wonderful and richly blessed life of Ellen Swope, stand at the border between Now and Then. Here and now, we see more dimly than before. Ellen is no longer with us, brightening our lives with her gracious presence. And yet we take hope that we will someday see “face to face,” just as Ellen sees the glory of God even now.

I thank God for Ellen’s great witness, in her life, to the steadfast love of the Lord. Her smile and charisma have left an indelible mark on my own life. I take heart knowing that while she has crossed over the border, we are not far from her if we put ourselves at this border. And we know that Ellen would indeed have us stand at this border, for in standing here, we stand with her Savior and ours, Jesus Christ. Here at this border, though we weep, we are still glad, and though we miss Ellen greatly, we know that “for now we see in a mirror dimly …

… but then face to face.”


todd said…
thanks for sharing this david. wish we could have gotten you there somehow...
Ian said…
thank you david for you taking the time and space on you blog to remember my mother. it means the world that you can remember her so fondly and that through my mom and dad our paths crossed. i cant wait to see her again. i wish i could grieve with you here but i know you would be here if you could. thank you for your prayers and thoughts and for honoring my mom.