A Eulogy for Marie

23 07 2015

Marie was my big sister.
I thought I knew my big sister until these last few weeks. After all, she was my go-to person for anything that came up. She was always just a phone call away. Every time we visited, we would stay up far too late at least one of the nights solving the problems of the world. I really thought I knew her. However, in the last two weeks as Marie suffered through the end stages of acute leukemia, the outpouring of letters, stories, phone calls, flowers, food, and visits have given me the strong impression that Marie was much bigger than even I thought she was.

As a way of understanding our Marie, let me start by telling you a little about our family. Marie was the oldest of five, born during World War II. She was a year old when her Daddy came back from Europe; she cried when this stranger picked her up for a hug and a kiss. A couple years later came Dan. Dan is our sibling with the most education (not just one Masters degree, but two). He is responsible, generous with his time. Dependable Dan. Then came David. David has always traveled the road less taken. He has jumped out of airplanes, ridden in hot air balloons, and has lived life to the fullest. Daring David. Then came me. As a child, my nickname was Bony Bottom Beth. My sibs would probably all agree that my nickname as an adult should be Bossy Butt Beth. Then last of all: Lucy. Lucy the generous, Lucy the giving, Lucy the Loving. But I think my sibs would agree that of the five, Marie was the best.

Yet as I listened to her friends these last few weeks, I’ve discovered, as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.” I discovered the Marie who regularly sat at the Welcome Desk at church, answering the phone and greeting visitors in such a friendly, reassuring way that frantic callers were calmed down by the time they spoke with the pastor. I discovered the Marie who met regularly with a group of women, The Golden Girls, for Friday night dinners, games, laughter, and a little wine. I discovered the Marie who, in her last visit to her house just ten days ago, befriended the plumber over a conversation about a Civil War sword. I discovered the Marie who was one of the Peaches, a group of Columbia College suitemates who meet in various locations all over the South a couple times a year. Three of these Peaches came all the way to Nashville from South Carolina and stayed with Marie her last two days, holding her hand, reading her cards to her, and laughing over old memories. I discovered the Marie who took a leadership role in every group she belonged to. She upset the Peaches one year when she missed their reunion because as President of the United Methodist Women, she had to go to a UMW conference scheduled for the same time. (They still have not forgiven her for that.) I discovered the Marie who added backbone to the charity given to the families helped by the nonprofit group she was involved with, making sure it was offering “A Hand Up” instead of just a Hand Out. I discovered the Marie who deeply touched the lives of everyone she came in contact with, whether in her Sunday School class, the Sumner Mediation Services she was instrumental in, or the yard man who cut her grass. Marie’s sparkle, her smile, her positive approach made her instant friends with everyone around her. Just a couple weeks ago, on Fourth of July, Marie was talking with me about a new friend she had just made at church and how tickled she was to have this new person in her life.

In her last days, when her prognosis became clear, her focus was not on herself, but on others. She wanted to make sure that everyone else was okay with her passing. The last night she was able to talk, she told me to make sure her grandchildren, the lights of her life, would have access to people or books to help them work through their grief. That same night, she spoke with her niece Christa on the phone, imparting wisdom in the form of humor: “It’s best to let sleeping aunts die,” and “It takes a special aunt to do something like this in such a spectacular fashion.” And her last bit of wisdom to me, clouded somewhat by morphine: “When faced with a hard decision with two difficult choices, always choose the positive one.” Let me let that sink in for a while. “When faced with a hard decision with two difficult choices, always choose the positive one.” Remember, there was morphine involved.

I knew what she meant, though. Marie had a rare ability to bring out the best in people by always seeing the positive. This was not a trait she was born with. She told me flat out she worked hard to develop this.

So let me end on a positive note:
I am positive Marie led a good life;
I am positive Marie left this world a better place;
I am positive that Heaven is a better place for having Marie in it; and
I am positive I’m going to miss my best big sis.

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The Magic of Marie, on the Occasion of Her 60th Birthday, June 10, 2004

23 07 2015

2013-11-29 11.59.00

Looking back through my files, I came across the following letter that I wrote for my sister Marie’s 60th birthday.

I have been asked to write down my recollections of Marie as my present to her on this, her 60th birthday. And since paper is infinitely easier to store than the massive, bulky, very expensive present I was going to give her, I will humbly comply with her request.

YOU’RE GETTING OLDER WHEN…

– You wake up, looking like your driver’s license picture.
– It takes two tries to get up from the couch.
– Your idea of a night out is sitting on the patio.
– Happy hour is a nap.

First, let me make it clear that Marie is MUCH older than me. For the past month, every time I mention that we were going to go to Tennessee for my sister’s 60th birthday party, everyone’s eyes got a little wider and the response was, “Your SISTER is turning 60?!!!” Marie is fifteen years and three months older than I am. It must have been a bit embarrassing for her to be a teenager and have her mother be pregnant with me and then two years later with Lucy. I can imagine the snickers of her friends as they winked knowingly at Marie.
But if she was ever embarrassed by having a sister so much younger than her, I was unaware of it. My earliest memory of Marie was one night when she was babysitting Lucy and me (live-in babysitter: one advantage to spacing out your children!). She was trying to get me to bed and I was resisting in my usual charming way by latching onto her leg and forcing her to drag me into the bedroom. In an attempt to bribe me into good behavior, she told me that if I went to bed peacefully, she would let me feel her whiskers. Looking up at her from my leach-like position on her leg, I said disdainfully, “But Marie, I can already feel your whiskers. They’re all over your leg!”

YOU’RE GETTING OLDER WHEN..
– It takes longer to rest than it did to get tired.
– Your memory is shorter and your complaining is longer.
– The pharmacist has become your new best friend.
– You get two invitations to go out on the same night, and you pick the one that gets you home the earliest.

I didn’t see much of Marie as a young child. I have spotty memories of visiting her at Columbia College. I vaguely remember hearing my parents talk about the fire in her dorm. I remember listening to Marie sing a solo in church; listening, not seeing, because Lucy and I were with Daddy in the chapel since we couldn’t sit still yet. I remember getting a puppy we named Seiko when some of Marie’s college friends found it and needed a home for it. I remember attending Marie’s graduation and being proud of my big sister crossing the stage wearing that funny hat. And I remember visits in the back yard with a cute “friend” of Marie’s: shy at first, then gradually warming up to him until I finally was hanging all over him in true pesky little sister fashion.

I was proud to be a flower girl in Marie’s wedding. My job was to sprinkle rose petals in the aisle before Marie. Nervous but excited, I fulfilled my task, only to see Lucy get halfway down the aisle, run out of petals, and run back down the aisle for more. “She’s only four,” I reminded my big six-year-old self. For being flower girls, Marie gave each us of a heart-shaped locket necklace, which I still have and wear frequently to remind me of my older sister with the bristly legs.

YOU’RE GETTING OLDER WHEN..
– Let’s face it, traveling just isn’t as much fun when all the historical sites are younger than you are.
– Every time you suck in your gut, your ankles swell.
– Age always corresponds inversely to the size of your multi-vitamin.
– Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.
– It’s harder and harder for sexual harassment charges to stick.

Fast forward three years or so, and thanks to Marie, at age nine I became an aunt. I enjoyed playing with Becky and watching her grow. At one point, I remember Marie had both Lucy and I over to play with Becky on a Saturday morning (cartoons were on), and for lunch she served us toasted cheese sandwiches made with Cheddar cheese instead of the cheese food slices that Mama always used. I, of course, refused to eat it.
Several years later, Chris was born and again I was a proud aunt. By this time, Marie and Rick had moved away, making the rounds of the Air Force bases, so our contact was limited to short visits on vacations.

YOU’RE GETTING OLDER WHEN..
– Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.
– Your supply of brain cells is finally down to a manageable size.
– Things you buy now won’t wear out.
– No one expects you to run into a burning building.

It wasn’t until I was married and had kids of my own that I truly began to appreciate the “magic of Marie.” Marie’s visits have become a much-anticipated event in our household. Christa and Annalise have grown up with a loving “Aint ‘Re” who always gives neat gifts and gadgets even when it’s not Christmas or birthdays. Aint ‘Re always takes time to listen to them and watch them show off their latest tricks. And Aint ‘Re is always fun to be around, even learning to play the nose whistle and enduring jibes about her snoring.

As for myself, I look forward to visiting with her for the midnight chats, her acceptance of all my little faults, and her good-natured attitude toward life. Even though she is a Democrat, she has forged a solid relationship with Brian to the point that, although he would never admit it, he looks forward to her visits also. However, one of the best parts of having Marie as a sister is that, being 15 years and 3 months older than me, she is forging a path through life for me and proving to us all that life doesn’t end at sixty, although the legs are still bristly.

YOU’RE GETTING OLDER WHEN..
– In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.
– You’re sitting on a park bench, and a Boy Scout comes up and helps you cross your legs.
– You run out of breath walking DOWN a flight of stairs.
– You look both ways before crossing a room.
– You come to the conclusion that your worst enemy is gravity.
– You realize that a stamp today costs more than a picture show did when you were growing up.
– Your children are beginning to look middle-aged.
– You light the candles on your birthday cake, and a group of campers form a circle and start singing “Kumbaya.”

Happy 60th Birthday, Marie!
I love you!

My lovely, loving sister Marie died on July 16, 2015 after a short illness. I miss her terribly but will continue on the path that she forged for us.