June 13th, 2012

This is Burk Wyatt’s fine tribute to his mother-in-law, Ruth Swadley, well-written and shared with deep emotion at her funeral.

               I got to know Ruth through her only beloved child, Bren, my girlfriend, my wife and the mother of our children.  When I first met Ruth, I was a little nervous to say the least.  You see I had finally found this young woman, Brenda Hawkins, that I knew was the one and I did not want to screw it up!  However, when I entered Ruth’s home in Johnson City, Tennessee in 1991 it was full of love – – her kind of love which was Southern country cooking and lots of it.  It was her way of putting everybody at ease.  We had a great meal and conversation.  And better yet I had not screwed it up with respect to Bren.  As you see, when we were leaving her home Ruth asked me “When are you coming back?”


               I could not believe where this was going.  I really liked her daughter.  Well it morphed into deep love and I was back in Johnson City at her home again and again.  She would always ask me “When are you coming back?”


               I didn’t think Ruth knew what was coming next, but she probably did!  I returned and asked for her daughter’s hand in marriage.  We had another big meal at her table and discussed the great news of our pending plans.  As we were leaving, she asked me – – “When are you coming back?”  I was not sure how to answer the question as we were getting busy with wedding plans, my legal practice and, of course for those who know me, my golf tournaments.


               Marriage came and as we left for our honeymoon – – she asked the same question.


               Three kids came (Frankie 17, Sydney 15 and Eli 11 whom she adored all very dearly as they are Ruth’s only grandkids) – – she asked the same question.


               Her second husband died – – she asked the same question.


               Her beloved older sister Aunt Beck (also known as “Velma” and her longtime sidekick) died – – she asked the same question.


               Her health declined and we decided it was best that she move closer to us so we could care for her more.  There were more questions now, each time just as we were getting ready to leave even after she was recovering from open heart surgery and brain surgery.


               As with other families, you see life was now really busy for Bren, the kids and me.  We had a full schedule doing everything a mother, father and children do as we grow, get older, learn, accomplish, fail, and complete the circle of life.


               Ruth would talk about love – – real love especially for us and for Jesus.  Ruth would talk about her walk with Jesus.  I always seemed to try to steer the conversation there as we were getting ready to leave her assisted living facility or nursing facility.  My queue was when she would say she loved us – – and she really meant it when you looked unflinchingly in her eyes.


               You know what she would ask then as we had just been with her?  “When are you coming back?”  I was confused as to why she kept asking that same question now especially since Ruth was living in our town and we saw her more.


               She asked that same question again on her last birthday (she would have been 83 on Tuesday; she outlived most of her friends), her last Christmas, her last communion, and her last Mother’s Day.  Ruth talked about love, Jesus and “When are you coming back?”


               You see – Ruth was the youngest and last surviving sibling.  Her 4 brothers and sisters all predeceased her, namely Fred, Carroll (he died in Northern Africa during World War II at 18 years of age and received a Purple Heart and a letter from President Roosevelt), Harold (who died in a car accident) and Velma/Aunt Beck.  We appreciate the fact that several members of their families are here to celebrate Ruth’s life.


               I also want to tell you about an interesting thing that happened last Friday as Bren, Frankie and I were with Ruth right after she passed at the nursing home.  Her roommate Charlene Stewart was with Ruth for a long time.  Charlene is infirmed and confined to the bed.  I told Charlene that Ruth just went to heaven.  Charlene said “what?”  I repeated that Ruth was in heaven and then Charlene broke into an effusive laugh and, if she could walk, I am sure Charlene would have done an Irish Jig dancing all around the room.  Bren and I left Ruth’s room with a huge smile.


               You know what?  Ruth got it.  After you strip away all the layers of varnish, life and eternal life really comes down to a few things – – love, belief in your Savior and Lord Jesus, and “When are you coming back?”


               Well Ruth, I finally understand why you always asked that last question of so many times.  You got it!  You wanted to make sure we are coming to join you someday in heaven just as you are doing now with Aunt Beck, Fred, Harold, Carroll, Harry, David and your other great Christian friends.  We are coming to see you Ruth.  Your legacy, influence and fingerprints are all over this place.  You paid it forward as each of us should do. 


Well done on earth dear sister.


               We will see you in the future.    



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