04 Apr Blessings from the Boop
Written by: Laura Nell Burton
Photography by: Christin Gish
I stand with liquid eyes among an intimate gathering of loved ones, as her ashes are placed inside the columbarium. It is adorned with a luminous garland of white roses, lilies and ivy. Her funeral was last Wednesday at Christ Episcopal Church, where we saw her worship every week, even on her last Sunday. Among us are her five best friends, Cecile, Jean, Kay, Barbara and Judy, a.k.a. “the Crows,” dressed in matching black and white ensembles, and sporting Betty Boop brooches in her honor.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…I am given the great privilege of placing my fingertips, one last time, on the urn that contains the beautiful life of Betty LeFlore.
I should have spent more time knowing you while you were still here…I am so sorry for words unsaid while I still had the chance to thank you for being you…I hope you know how profoundly grateful I am for the mark that you have left on my life…
Nestled next to the urn is a letter from her greatest love, John, which he has copied for his daughters to read when they are ready, and a yarn doll handmade in a rainbow of colors by her one and only granddaughter, Kate. Memories wash over me like a river of Holy Water, blessings that she has left behind. As a child of divorce, she was the mother when I was with my father. She looked out for my best interests, and held us all to high standards. There were no pretenses with Betty. She was a cultured East Texas girl who never really cared much about society but left her mark on it all the same.
Despite the physical debilitations of rheumatoid arthritis and pulmonary hypertension, until her very last days, she toted around a cute oxygen tank, impeccably dressed and pressed, not wanting to miss a moment with John, her daughters, grandchildren, and the Crows. This was who she was.
John is my father’s dearest friend, and the LeFlore daughters, Katherine and Jeanne, are like sisters to me. Growing up, Katherine, the younger of the two, was older and more sophisticated than me in every way, and my presence in her life every other weekend and on family vacations was a legitimate annoyance, to say the least. Even Betty reflected in the final months of her life that our affection for one another today is a real miracle, given our bumpy beginnings.
Suffice it to say, one of God’s greatest gifts in my life is Katherine. She is my very best friend. She has stood by me, stood up for me, and held me accountable for more than four decades. She walked beside me every step of the way when my own mother died, and through seasons when I was not the friend she deserved. I really do not have words to express how grateful I am that Betty never gave up on us—our friendship is fundamentally a testament to her. And the sorrow I feel for Katherine and Jeanne as they grieve for her overwhelms me, even as I write this.
Within an hour of her death, I receive this text from Katherine: “The house is a mess.” Betty hadn’t wanted to waste any energy, for goodness sake, cleaning or taking down Christmas when she knew (even though we did not) that her days were numbered. It turns out, the mess was a blessing in disguise. As we linger over her favorite ornaments, and tidy up, we come across treasures that have since that day anchored us in our grief: a laminated reflection on life and death, and Psalm 100, found in the kitchen, and woven into her funeral service. Perhaps she left these messages behind on purpose, or perhaps her Maker revealed them to us as we worked. We uncover so many love notes, mostly from Kate who, at the age of nine, could not have been more eloquent in in her funeral tribute to her Heavenly grandmother, BeBe.
Given Valentine’s Day was the last holiday Betty and John celebrated together, that her favorite color was red, and that they were three months shy of celebrating a fifty-year-long love affair, it seems only fitting that her bereavement notes be one last love letter. So, Invitations Etc. helps us design a fiery-red farewell starring our angel Betty Boop (who made up the rule that bereavement thank yous should be a somber ecru, anyway?). In the bottom right corner, below the place where John, Katherine and Jeanne sign, is Psalm 100:
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.”
A final blessing from Betty. The magnitude of our grief is a testament to the great love we had for her, and she for us. God rest her precious soul, until we meet again.