by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Eighty-year-old Gertrude Gibbs already has her funeral all planned out. Indeed, it was a funeral that provided her with perhaps her favorite place to pray.
But that’s getting ahead of the story.
About 40 years ago, Gibbs and her husband Bob left Topeka for Wichita. A cradle Catholic, she said she never tried to pressure her non-Catholic husband into joining her faith tradition. And “the marvelous man” she married always supported her and their children in their faith as Catholics.
Nearly three years ago, Bob became ill. A priest visited him and asked if he’d like to be received into the Catholic faith.
“He converted on his deathbed to Catholicism,” said Gibbs, adding that his conversion really was the result of being exposed to the faith over time.
“He’d been exposed to the faith for 59 years or more,” she said. “Even though he was not a full-fledged Catholic, he was Catholic.”
After Bob’s death, Gibbs brought him back to Topeka for burial at the only Catholic cemetery in town, Mount Calvary. Burying him on their 59th wedding anniversary, Gibbs remembers thinking the timing was appropriate.
“We made it through,” she said. “We got it done.”
After burying her husband, Gibbs decided to remain in Topeka. She became a member of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish and began walking her chihuahuas through the cemetery to check on her beloved’s grave.
In short order, the cemetery became her favorite place to pray. There, she feels a sense of closeness to her husband, but there’s more to it than she ever dreamed.
“I liked being there. It was quiet. You got in touch with nature,” she said. “I got to reading tombstones. And so, when the weather was nice, we would go over and walk.”
As she read the names on the tombstones, memories of departed family and friends came back to her.
“I did a lot of reminiscing,” Gibbs said. “It fostered a sense of gratitude for all those before me who gave me the gift of Catholicism.”
As she walks, she prays. Sometimes she just meditates on the names; sometimes she prays a formal prayer, like the rosary or the Hail Mary.
“Sometimes, I like to sing. No one has to listen to me there,” she added with a chuckle.
During Lent, she often sang “Were You There?” for her meditation.
“The ability to think about what I am singing, the words I am saying. . . . It has a greater impact for me,” Gibbs said.
Last year, Gibbs underwent chemotherapy. As a result, she cut back on the time she spends at the cemetery and in another favorite form of prayer, eucharistic adoration.
“Life, for me, is changing,” she said.
Nowadays, her brother brings her Communion. The two go over the Scriptures and pray together. Sometimes, she watches the Eternal Word Television Network and follows along with the Mass, the rosary or the chaplet of Divine Mercy.
“My mind wanders, though,” Gibbs said.
Frequently, Gibbs said she finds herself thinking about her husband and her next earthly home, the cemetery. And, as already mentioned, she already has her funeral all planned out.
“I’m just waiting for the Lord to call me home,” she said.