Celebrating the Life of Ozzie Belle Herrod
Feb 22, 1918 – June 16, 2011
My mother-in-law, Ozzie Belle Herrod, died peacefully last Thursday at the age of 93. She had grown increasingly fragile over the past few years. When the tornado roared through Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on April 27, it went right through her neighborhood. She was unhurt but the house was damaged and she had to be moved into a nursing home. Since all the roads were blocked by huge trees, this involved taking her by stretcher through several back yards to an ambulance. Whether because of the shock of this move, or because it was simply her time to go, she never completely regained her strength. My wife Popie was with her for most of the last three weeks, much of it in a lovely hospice unit. All her children were able to visit her and say goodbye.
On Monday, I spoke at a graveside service for the family. (Later that morning more than 350 people attended a service at her Baptist church.) This is the text of what I said:
You created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made……
The Bible teaches that every human being is unique, crafted in a wonderful and personal way by God himself. All people are meant to be wonderful, each in a distinctive way.
We all know Ozzie Belle Herrod as a wonderful human being, but it is a worthwhile task to ponder what was uniquely wonderful about her—to try to understand what made her different from everyone else.
Ozzie valued people, and no one else was as important to her as her husband, Henry. They were very different personalities, but they loved each other and were committed to each other so powerfully that they made a remarkable marriage—one that has undoubtedly influenced all of their children and many others besides. They made each other better people. One of the greatest challenges of Ozzie’s life has come during the last twenty years since Pops has been gone: to find new ways of being herself without her husband.
Ozzie valued family, especially her children and her grandchildren. She was certain that you were something special if you were a member of her family. This was an open category, as those of us who were adopted into the family learned. When I joined the family I had a lot more hair and a lot more beard than Ozzie could possibly have been comfortable with, I dressed scruffily, I was a writer and a Yankee. How many strikes do you get in this league? Nevertheless, Ozzie loved me unreservedly and thought I was very special, simply because I was family.
Ozzie made people feel special. She had so many friends—young people and old, friends she had known since elementary school and friends she had made last week. All of us here today believed that we had a very special connection to Ozzie—that when we called her or saw her, she was especially delighted to hear from us. The funny thing is that at the service today, there will be hundreds of people who feel exactly the same way—that Ozzie had a very special connection with them.
Ozzie was interested in people and their doings, here in this world. She was not particularly interested in ideas. She was not interested in the past. I am interested in the past, but when I tried to get her to tell me stories of the old days, of her childhood or her early days with Pops, it was very hard to get much information out of her. She just wasn’t that interested. She was interested in people today, in the present.
She was not really interested in the future, either. She left it to others to have ambitions or lofty goals or life plans.
But she was really interested in you, and in your mother and father, and your children, and where they were going to school, and the trip she knew you were planning, and your garden, and a million other details. She asked and listened with interest and enthusiasm, and genuinely so. She remembered what you had told her the last time you saw her. She was not focused on herself but on you and your doings—the little things that are of very limited interest to most people but that matter to you.
I never met her father, Mr. Pope, but from all I can gather she inherited his temperament. He was a very gentle and easygoing man sometimes remembered as the whistling deacon, because he went around whistling. Like him, Ozzie didn’t get angry. She liked gossip but hardly ever, I think, in a malevolent way. She had opinions but she mostly kept them to herself. There was a lightness and a simplicity in relating to Ozzie. There was nothing heavy about it. She was not trying to give you advice or tell you what she thought. She was simply interested in you.
Ozzie was a Christian. In fact, I think she asked me to speak today because she knew I would say something about her faith. Faith may seem extraneous to the traits I have mentioned, but I don’t think it really is. She was of one piece. Her faith was integrally part of who she was.
She was not interested, to the best of my knowledge, in pondering theology or the deep questions of life. She was interested in people and their doings. And the people whom she cared for most—her parents and her husband—were all committed Christians. Her parents in particular lived in and for the church. She admired them and she followed their ways, which involved being regular and active in church and Sunday school, teaching your children the ways of faith, and loving your neighbors. Ozzie sincerely wanted to live out the convictions that animated her parents and her husband, not to earn a place in heaven, but to make a difference on earth. She tried, to the best of her abilities, and in her own unique way, to love her neighbors.
No wonder she was so loved. There was no one like her, and we will not see her like again. Although, as Ozzie would surely tell us, there is nothing so difficult about what she did. All you have to do is care about people and their doings—to show a sincere and enthusiastic interest in the details of life that matter to them.