Betty’s Cherry Tree

This what I shared at Betty”s Memorial Service.  Several people asked me for a copy so I am posting it here.  Feel free to share.

When it came time for us to plan this service, I thought of a European cathedral with a grand pipe organ where each of her organ friends could play one of her favorite Bach pieces, but I’ve never planned a destination memorial service before…so…instead, we opted for something simpler, that would honor Betty, instead of Bach.  Something that would express her heart, where we could share our Betty memories.  I wish I could read you every email I have received, because each is a piece of her.  She talked to the family about her friends and vice-versa…I know for a fact, she has force fed many of you with my writing for years!

Seriously though, her accomplishments are so many I couldn’t list them all in her obituary. I could stand here half a day and read them off, but that would not give you the heart of Betty.  Stories are much a much better vehicle to show rather than tell.  So let me show you Betty.

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The cherry tree outside her front window is spectacular.  It is evident that it has been there for decades, from its thick trunk to its broad reaching branches. Last week, the buds were opening into fluffs of ballet slipper pink.  Other petals varied from the color of an embarrassed blush to pink lemonade. Whole blossoms had multiple shades of pink which brought depth and texture to the tree.  When the wind rustled, powder pink confetti rained down, like it was a garden party.  And when the sun hit those blossoms, they glowed. It was as if the tree was enchanted the way it stood guard over the house, watching all who came and went to care for its owner.

cherry tree wide shot.jpg


On Saturday, Betty was sitting up in her wheelchair.  It was the clearest she had been mentally in days.  We facetimed her grandnephew David in India, for his birthday.  Her grandnieces Liane and Kara were there too along with others who joyfully sang happy birthday to him as Betty joined in the song.  Then she asked, “Is my tree blooming?”  A parade of people wheeled her into her newly organized front room so she could stop worrying about the piles of papers, and so she could get a good look at her tree from the window.  When she saw her tree, she smiled the most genuine smiled we had seen in weeks.  “It is worth it,” she said.  It seems the tree’s roots had entangled in the AC unit. She told us how she had been 6 years without AC in order to preserve the tree.  She knew the cost of that beauty, and she was willing to pay it.

cherry tree front view

It struck me that her cherry tree is a metaphor for her life.  Each of us is a blossom she tended to in her own Betty way.  Like the story Melinda just told of Betty teaching her to read.  Or the way she stood by each of the grandnephews and nieces, when they graduated college.  The ways she mentored so many of you in the different organizations.  Or the way she stood up against injustice by simply being a friend. She knew that different shades of skin color made for more depth and texture in the world.  She taught hundreds, maybe thousands of kids all about music, but also about life.  She reached her arms wide to include all in her embrace.  Knowing that sometimes roots get tangled and life is messy, she willingly paid the cost to help others, many times at her own expense. Her heart was generous in both time and donations.  She was loyal and devoted to the things she loved. Dependable as a clock on the wall, in her dedication.  She was passionate about education and music.

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I remember a gift I gave her one time that combined the music and education. I made it back in my college days, but I bet many of you have seen it.  A purple sweatshirt with kids painted on it in the shape of musical notes.  I have to tell you, we do a name draw at Christmas, and for some reason it always seemed that I got her name.  She is the hardest person to buy for because she doesn’t care about stuff at all.  I can only remember two gifts I ever gave her that she loved.  One was that shirt, and the other was the gift of a donation to a girl in Africa so she could buy a uniform to go to school. When she opened the card, she cried.  I had never seen her so taken with a gift, but I finally got it.  She was wired to educate, to pour into, to tend to, and to give, not to receive or accumulate.  Seeing those tears showed me her heart for less fortunate children and her passion to see girls educated so they can be world changers. They are more of her cherry blossoms.

She worked tirelessly with programs to bring help to others, especially kids.  She included us in her efforts by introducing all of us to the arts. Our children remember her attention to detail in the grandkid Olympics my mom had each year. Betty wanted each thing to be as accurate as possible, and she would know since she was a hostess in the 1996 games here in Atlanta.  She cooked some of their favorite foods, and knitted for them until her hands were raw. She poured into her students like that as well. They remember her music class as one of their favorites.

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If kids were her heart, music was her soul.  She must hold some kind of a record for most concerts attended. She provided a string trio for her grandniece Sarah’s wedding. She passed on her love of music, if not her talent, to all of us, and many others as well.  She planted the seed of song in so many students and children, that her tree was full of the buds of life waiting for their time to burst forth.

The cost of such beauty? Years of teaching.  Years of sacrifice.  Years of waiting and watching.  Years of encouraging.  Years of giving of herself.  Today she gets to rest from her labors and take in the fruit of all those years. She gets to see what was invisible to the eye while she was here, but is in full bloom in eternity.  She paid the cost of comfort, to impact those around her and bring out their beauty.

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On that day when She said, “Is my tree blooming?” I think she was asking, “Has my life been fruitful?  Has what I have poured myself into blossomed, yet?  Can you see my life’s fruit?”  Maybe she wasn’t conscious of the questions in that moment, but I think her spirit knew. When she saw the blooms on the tree glowing, multilayered pink, in the morning sun, she smiled so big.  I think it was confirmation that her life’s work was at its end.  Her spirit rejoiced and spoke… “It was worth it.” It was satisfaction that the beauty of her life…all her sacrifice and commitment, her loyalty and generosity, her music and compassion was complete.  It was her last big rally, and I think it filled her up with strength to get her through the remaining difficult hours until she shed her physical shell, and was set free to worship in full.

Now when I look at a cherry tree in full bloom, I think of Betty.  I see her connection to each flower.  She was so proud of ALL of us, and though we haven’t all met one another, we are family… because we are all Betty’s blossoms.





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