I know this is not a title that is going to draw you in, but if you’ll allow me to explain, I will.
Last weekend, I said goodbye to a lady I’ve known for many decades. She was a kind lady, and a lady who suffered from many chronic health conditions, yet through it all she smiled. Having suffered a few chronic conditions myself over these last few years, I know how hard it is to smile through them, so I usually don’t. But I don’t throw myself a pity party if that’s what you’re thinking – and it was what you were thinking wasn’t it?
I digress. This wonderful lady always had a smile and a kind word for everyone. She always had a smile and a hug for me.
The last couple of years of her life weren’t the greatest. Her husband, who had been her primary caregiver for many years, was no longer physically able to care for her or himself – he is 97. The family had no choice but to put them both in a nursing home. Both were in failing health – her more than him – they needed more professional health care than any family member could have provided. I know too, they were both thinking that surely one of their five children should have and could have taken them in and provided for their care. Realistically, however, to be honest, and not a defender of the couple’s children, the medical care both of them required was more than the family could have provided. The only choice was every older person’s biggest nightmare: a nursing home.
I know what a hard decision that is. I know how hard it is to put someone you love in a nursing home – I had to do it with my father. The day my sister and I took him to the nursing facility, knowing he would never leave, was one of the worst days of my life. I cried.
Anyway, the lady and her husband languished in the nursing home and hardly anyone visited. Of their large family of five children and sixteen grandchildren (and even more great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren) only four or five of them visited regularly. And I’d guess less than a dozen people visited them in the two years since they became residents of the nursing home.
You know it’s true – there will, for all of us, come a day when there is no tomorrow. And on Valentine’s Day, the mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great-great grandmother and kind and sweet lady passed from this Earth.
I went to the funeral out of respect for her.
Ever my mom died when, I was just ten-years-old, I harbored a morbid dread of going to funerals. However, at my age it’s impossible to avoid them (even, I suppose, my own). I’ve been to several funerals including, besides my mother’s: my grandfather’s, my grandmother’s, an aunt’s, and some friends’. My father, stepmother, and my sister have all passed away as well, but they chose not to have funerals, or any ceremonies at all. They were cremated, their ashes combined and scattered – thanks to my youngest son – in the rolling waves of Lake Erie, on a warm and sunny summer day.
So I will tell you this: It was not with much enthusiasm that I attended the funeral of this special lady who passed away just six weeks shy of her ninety-first birthday.
Her funeral was at a Presbyterian church and her body lay in a cloth-covered coffin near the alter in the sanctuary. When I first went in I was surprised at how many people had come to pay their respects.
I hardly knew any of them.
No matter how jaded a person is, it’s hard not to shed a tear or two at a funeral, especially for a wonderful lady like this who was always kind, always gentle and who always had a kind word to say about everyone regardless of their stature in life or in the community. She suffered from all kinds of maladies for over twenty-five years. Yet she managed to smile through pain and disappointment. Her smile almost made me forget about her bruised body, her puffy face or her swollen ankles and arms. Her beauty was inside and it never faded. She was stoic. She was brave. She was kind.
And now, she’s gone.
I was sitting there talking to some of the few people I knew there when I looked up and saw her husband, standing over the coffin, touching his fingers to his lips, kissing them and then placing the kiss on her forehead. He looked so forlorn and lonely. He stood there kissing her that way for at least fifteen minutes.
They had been married for seventy-three years. How in the world do you say goodbye to someone who has been part of your life for seventy-three years? Looking at him, I couldn’t even imagine his sense of loss.
Watching him kissing his fingers and placing his fingers on on her forehead, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.
Just then, everyone was surprised when the pastor stood up and read her last words. They were words of forgiveness and of hope. They were words of love for her family and friends. They were words of love for her God and for His son and of her faith. They were happy words. They were words of hope.
But there was one part of her parting words to us all that touched me more than any of the others. She told us all we should do a kindness for another person, today, right now. She told us to go visit the long. She told us to go and see a sick friend – today, right now. She told us to be kind to a stranger. She told us to tell our children and our grandchildren how much we love them. And don’t wait. Don’t wait for tomorrow – do it now.
How profound her words were. How deeply they touched all of us.
There I was, in a sanctuary, with perhaps fifty or sixty other people, all who managed to make their way to the funeral, but most of whom never went out of their way to see her when she was ill and lonely in the nursing home. Most of them were always too busy to take a few minutes to visit and to wish her and her husband well.
And I thought this too: I was one of the ones who was always too busy to take a few minutes to visit her. I was only there to see here three times in two years. I was always too busy to take a few minutes to see her when she was alive, but on this day I found three hours to spend with her when she was dead.
She was so right. We shouldn’t wait until someone dies to pay our respects, or to spend time with them. We should not wait to let someone know we are thinking of them.
Her beautiful words touched so many last Saturday, I wanted to pass them on to you so that you will remember to visit someone who is lonely, to comfort someone who is ill, or help a stranger, or tell a family member how much you love them, or spend time with your children or grandchildren. Give someone you love a hug. And don’t wait until tomorrow. Do it now. Do it today…because tomorrow may never come.