Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Gift


Larry did a funeral this week for someone that we'd never met and at the last minute I decided to go along.  I'm glad I did.

The crowd was small, maybe thirty people or so had gathered there in the small chapel.   I was immediately introduced to one of the sons who in turn introduced me to his wife and two daughters.  I chatted for a moment and then asked a bit about his mother and if she had been ill for long.  "Ten years," he responded.  "She had Alzheimer's."

Alzheimer's.  My heart suddenly went out to this man, his family.  They'd not said their goodbyes just recently, they had lost her ten years ago. 

Right inside the doors of the chapel stood two easels displaying photos, a montage of this woman's life.  Some were just of her, one a black and white of a little girl in a short dress and another as a college graduate.  And family shots of course, several of them.  The son pointed out one in particular.  It was his mother just out of school,  standing with another young woman of about the same age.  "My mother decided she wanted to see the country, so she hitchhiked across the country with this college friend right after graduation."   I could still hear the pride there, sixty some years after the fact.  His mother, Lois the Brave, had trekked across the entire continental United States simply because she wanted to do it. 

The service was about to begin and I took my seat in one of the chairs off to the side of the room. After the opening prayer and scripture had been read, Larry asked if anyone had something they'd like to say.  Immediately a woman, casually dressed and sitting by herself in the back row, stood.   She introduced herself and fighting tears, told her story.  Several years earlier her life was a mess and she had no place to go.  The woman being remembered that day in that little funeral chapel had taken her in, given her a place to live.  "I stayed there for the next six years,"  she continued.  "She was nothing but kind to me,  and I will always be grateful to her for what she did for me."  She could no longer hold the tears back. "I will always hold her dear in my heart." 

I was moved by the words of the grateful woman who had been so deeply impacted by the kindness of another. I looked for her after the service ended, but she was already gone.  An hour earlier I had known nothing of the lady whose funeral I was attending except that she and her husband had once owned a bicycle shop across from the church that Larry now pastored.  But the woman in the back row had given me another glimpse of who she had been, someone I would have felt privileged to have known. How difficult it must have been for the family, especially for the three sons that she raised, to see their strong, adventuress mother fading away.

But there is a bit more to this story that I was privileged to hear.  Three years before her death, seven years after the onset of the disease, this brave, kind woman wandered away from the facility where she was living, walking through an unlocked door into a frigid night.  They found her the next day, the harsh weather had taken quite a toll on her.  But ironically, during the next three days she was herself again.  She knew her family, calling each of them by name, remembered events and was aware of the happenings around her.  It was an amazing, joyful time for them all, something they hadn't anticipated.  And then suddenly she was gone, disappearing once again into that world that had been her companion for the last seven years.   "It was a gift," Larry said.  The son smiled.  "Yes. A Gift." 

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