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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