Friday, August 31, 2012

A Big Smile And A Firm Handshake

My husband and I went to a funeral home visitation this evening. I, as always, dreaded going. These occasions are never pleasant, but unfortunately, they are a part of all our lives and we must, from time to time, deal with them. I go with clenched teeth, feeling uncomfortable, and leave as soon as I can manage it without appearing unsympathetic.

But this time was different. Aside from the fact that none of us likes to see others suffer the loss of a loved one; there was nothing about this gathering to make anyone feel uncomfortable. You see, the deceased was an Alzheimer’s victim. Many of us have gone to church with him and his wife for years. We knew him before his brain and body were assaulted by this devastating disease.

Ralph didn’t talk much, but he always had a big smile and a firm handshake for everyone. His wife, Drema, is grace and charm personified. They were a perfect match. The question in everyone’s mind is, “Why?” Why do lovely people like these have to be beset by such a hideous illness?

In fact, why does anyone?

From Sunday to Sunday, we watched the gradual decline in Ralph. As it worsened, one couldn’t help but think he’d be much better off if God, in His mercy, would rescue him. But our ways are not His ways, so we had to wait and watch as this sweet man suffered, first, the humiliation, and then, the pain that this disease inflicts upon its victims – and watch his family suffer right along with him.

As the illness progressed, they had to stop coming to church. We missed them, but knew they were going through a rough time. Ralph had falls that resulted in visits to the hospital and subsequent home health care. We all knew it wouldn’t be long.

The mood at the funeral home visitation almost seemed like one of relief: relief that Ralph’s suffering is finally over and that his loved ones can stop worrying about him complicating matters even more by falling and breaking a bone or worse.

Drema, looking beautiful, stood near the coffin greeting guests. Her brother stood beside her. To their right, their 90-something year-old mother sat in a comfortable chair, also greeting guests. She was as delightful as always and very pretty, too – wearing a royal blue blouse that emphasized her sky-blue eyes.

Lovely flowers surrounded the casket. The entire scene was moving and inspiring.

What a distressing ordeal Ralph, Drema and their family have been through! But it's finished now. Tonight, Ralph is in his Heavenly home, whole and well – smiling and shaking hands again. The pain and suffering are over.

God has indeed rescued him.













Sunday, August 19, 2012

Some Tears Will Never Dry

Mr. H. dropped a bomb on me this evening. Without warning, he walked up to my side while I was typing, flung the newspaper down on the table beside me and said, “Shocker, Jonathan is dead!” My heart skipped a beat – or two – or three and I almost fell out of my chair!

I wish his Mama had taught him to be a little gentler when bringing bad news.

We’re not talking about a casual acquaintance. This is a lifelong friend. We met in school, in the early grades. We’ve been friends always.

His parents were divorced and his mother remarried. They had a son of their own and my friend felt pushed out. To make matter worse, his stepfather drank heavily and was abusive.

Jon often came home from school with me. My parents felt sorry for him, especially my mother. It soon became natural to include him in meals and, many nights, she made a bed on our sofa for him. He spent more nights there during our Junior High School years than he did at home. I was an only child and he became almost like a brother. He was there on holidays and birthdays and most other special occasions. My parents treated him like a son.

But, like most young boys, he grew restless and, at sixteen, talked his mother into signing papers allowing him to join the Air Force. And there he stayed for more than 20 years, getting married and starting a family while serving his country. Since he went in so young, he was out before turning forty. He obtained another job, raised his family and lived a rather cushy life for many years afterward. We were always in touch.

When each of my parents died, he was there holding my hand and shedding tears right along with me. When his mother and brother died, I was there for him, too.

In recent years, we’ve e-mailed and sent cards and talked on the phone, but we've both had busy lives and our contact has been waning somewhat. I didn’t even know he was ill. But of course, he didn’t want me to, I’m sure.

When I looked at the obituary picture this evening and saw his face looking back at me in a way that I’ve seen a million times before, I had a two-minute memory clip of my friend as tears filled my eyes.

I’m already sensing a growing void in my life.







 












Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Are Good Manners a Thing of the Past?

When was the last time you heard a young child or teen-ager say, “Yes, Ma’am,” or “Yes, Sir,” to an adult? It’s almost unheard of these days, isn’t it?

My husband and I were both brought up saying, “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Sir.” And we raised our five children to do the same. Once they could talk, these words were part of their vocabulary. No questions asked.

When I was old enough to go out on dates, every young man who came to my house spoke to my parents in this respectful way. If one of them hadn’t, my father would have educated him.

I’m told that, today, we’re fortunate if they speak at all... or if they come inside. The majority of them, I understand, drive up to the house, honk the horn, your daughter yells, “see ya’ later,” runs out to the car and they drive away, only to return in the same manner a few hours later – if you’re lucky.

How often do you see a man open a door for a woman? A car door? My husband still opens doors for me after many, many years of marriage. I appreciate it very much! I’d like to see all men do it, but don’t see many.

Oh, how I miss good manners! The bad thing is, just like good grammar, if it isn’t learned early, it may never be.

What’s the answer?

I wish I knew. As far as I can tell, these things aren’t being taught in schools, and with both parents working in many families, it’s difficult to find the time to teach children extras like this at home.

There must still be a few left though – here and there. Mr. H. and I went shopping today and just as we started in the door of a store, a little boy, about five, on the other side, opened the door for me before Mr. H. had a chance. I smiled and thanked him. He beamed, looking quite proud of himself. His mother, father – or both – are doing a good job with the young child. That’s unusual these days. Let’s hope it takes – and lasts throughout his life.

One thing is certain; the only way to receive respect ourselves is to show it to others.


 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Art Gallery


I’ve written much about spending time with my maternal grandparents during the summers of my childhood, but almost never have I mentioned that I used to visit my father’s parents also.

It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it, but rather, because of Aunt Betty, my mother’s sister. We were so close in age that it was almost like having a sister, which I didn’t. Betty and I had wonderful times – but I also have some great memories of the time I spent with my Toney grandparents.

Grandpa Toney was a coal miner. A foreman. A Company man. Right away that put him at odds with my maternal grandfather, who was a union man! They didn’t like each other much; a fact I didn’t know until I was grown.

As a foreman, Grandpa had things just one notch better than union men – a little more money, a larger house in a better location and the respect that comes with being “boss.” My grandmother was able to have help with her housework, cooking and laundry, which made her seem a trifle proud. Also brusque and a little scary to a child like me. Truthfully, I was afraid of her. She let nothing pass. She’d yell at me for the slightest infringement. I wasn’t used to being yelled at, and didn’t take it very well. She hurt my tender feelings almost daily.

But I had a satisfying way of salving my wounds.

In one corner of the dining room, there stood a coat rack. An unusual place for one, to be sure; nevertheless, that’s where it was. Many coats hung there year around; it occupied the entire corner. A small child, say... about 3ft. tall could easily position herself behind the coats and hide there for long periods if she chose to – and that’s exactly what I did. Always accompanying me was a nice soft-lead pencil that made very nice pictures on the walls behind the coats. There were drawings of cats, dogs, trees, rivers, the sun, the moon and the ocean. The corner was a virtual art gallery! And it was my secret.

Then one sunny April morning, my grandmother announced to the help, “It’s time for spring cleaning!” Everything was moved so the walls could be painted and my beautiful art collection was discovered! Luckily, I wasn’t there. But my grandmother had no doubt who the artist was.

At our next visit, the story was told in the presence of my parents. My mother took me to the bathroom and lectured me about how bad it was to mar my grandmother’s walls like that. “I’m sorry.” I said meekly. “Don’t tell me,” she said. “Go apologize to your grandmother." Opening the door, she gave me a little shove, and then closed the door, remaining there herself.

I’m sure I imagined it, but, as I walked slowly toward the living room, dreading what I had to do, I could have sworn I heard laughter coming from the bathroom.


 

What About Sue?

We lost another relative. Our family is getting smaller. John was not a “blood” relative, but he’s been in the family for many years.

After a while, you forget. That “blood thing” becomes less important.

His wife, Sue, is my cousin. We played together as children.

We’re told we should celebrate when someone passes—that he is in a better place. I find it hard to celebrate when my heart is aching. I know John is in a better place, but what about Sue? John has been by her side for more than half a century?

Death is cruel!

It breaks hearts.

And leaves hurting people alone.

What will Sue do... without John?