If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you’ve heard this expression before, so you know what’s coming. In the Orthodox tradition, we say, “Memory Eternal,” when someone dies. And we sing it at the funeral services and later when we offer memorial prayers for the dead. I first embraced the grief of loss in 1998, when my father died that July, and then two months later when I lost my twenty-year-old Goddaughter, Mary Allison Callaway. The first decade of the century brought more losses—several elderly friends, my mother-in-law, aunt, uncle, brother, and father-in-law. 2010 brought the loss of another precious young (29) woman in our church, Esther Elliott Longa. And now grief has visited in a new way.
At 3:50 p.m. this past Wednesday, my dear friend Sissy Yerger passed away. She was taken to the hospital the night before when an aneurysm burst in her head and she went into a coma. Death is never easy, but it’s especially hard when there’s no time for goodbyes. It’s hard not to wish for one more time to tell them how much you love them, although Sissy and I always exchanged a kiss of peace (on the lips) and expressed our special friendship with words and embraces. I have so many wonderful memories of our times together—from the early years of our friendship back in the 1970s in Jackson, Mississippi, to the memorable pilgrimage we shared to Greece in 2007 with our husbands, both Orthodox priests. (Sissy and I even went swimming in the Aegean Sea while visiting Patmos.) From the night I spent in her hospital room when she had surgery a decade or so ago, to her visit to me in my hospital bed following my car wreck in 2013. Sissy was a participant at the first icon workshop I led at St. John. We could finish each other’s sentences. She was a wonderful place to land when I am having dark nights of the soul. She was my soul sister and I already miss her deeply.
Yesterday I began the tradition of reading the Psalter for 40 days following someone’s death. It’s been a few years since I’ve followed this tradition, and I can already tell it will be a great blessing. One reads several Psalms each day, followed by the reading of a prayer for the departed. It’s not only a meaningful way to remember the departed loved one, but also to keep one’s own death in mind, while offering up praises, prayers and mourning through the Psalms.
This afternoon my husband and I will drive down to Clinton, Mississippi, for Sissy’s visitation and Funeral Service. We’ll spend the night and tomorrow morning we’ll attend the Divine Liturgy, burial service at the cemetery, and the mercy meal back at the church fellowship hall. I know that we will be only two among many who loved Sissy greatly. Memory eternal, my dear friend and sister in Christ. And much love to Father Paul, and their precious daughters, Wisdom, Mary Lawrence and Margaret.
The following is Sissy’s obituary, for those who would like to know more about this wonderful woman. We share a wedding anniversary with Father Paul and Sissy (June 13) and I had forgotten until I read this that they were married only six weeks after they first met, in April of 1971. Old school. Young hearts.
Matushka Katherine (Evelyn Roane “Sissy”) Gooch Yerger – of Clinton, Mississippi, 73, fell asleep in the Lord unexpectedly on Wednesday, October 7. Visitation will be held at 5 p.m. and the funeral service at 6 p.m. Friday, October 9. The Divine Liturgy will be served at 10 a.m. on Saturday, October 10, with burial and Mercy Meal following, all at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, 414 E. College St., Clinton. Burial will be in the Clinton Cemetery next to the Church.
Matushka Sissy leaves her husband, Father Paul Yerger of Clinton, three daughters, Wisdom Yerger and Mary Yerger of Jackson and Mrs. Margaret Elliott of Memphis, son-in-law Michael Elliott of Memphis, two grandsons, James Rucks Elliott and Paul Hite Elliott of Memphis, two brothers, John H. Gooch, III, of Savannah, GA, and Dr. William R. Gooch of Kingston, NY, three sisters, Elizabeth Gooch Dearsley of Richmond, VA, Frances Gooch Saval of Petersburg, VA, Rebecca Gooch of Middlebury, VT, and many nieces and nephews. She is preceded in death by her parents, John Hite Gooch, Jr., and Elizabeth Cave Gooch, stepmother Ann Humphrey Bintliff Gooch, and a sister, Mary Jane Gooch.
She was born in Houston, TX, April 22, 1942, and grew up mainly in Texarkana, AR, and Richmond, VA. She attended St. James Day School in Texarkana and Thomas Jefferson High School and Westhampton College in Richmond. In Richmond she worked for A.H. Robins pharmaceutical company and Virginia Commonwealth University. In April, 1971, she met her husband, then the Episcopal clergyman Norval Yerger of McComb, Mississippi, and they were married six weeks later.
In 1977 the Yergers embraced Orthodox Christianity and settled in Jackson where her husband, now Father Paul, became the first pastor of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, which relocated to Clinton in 1980. At Holy Resurrection she was the first choir director, bookstore manager, janitor, and everything in between. For many years she invited every visitor and single person at the Saturday evening Vespers service to her home for dinner, which contributed greatly to the growth of the church. In Jackson she worked as Communications Director for United Way and Copy Editor for Godwin Group advertising agency. In her youth she enjoyed sailing, horseback riding, golf, tennis, and jogging. She loved the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, PA, and visited there many times.
Memorial gifts may be made to Holy Resurrection Church.