We celebrated a wonderful Deaf woman’s 98 years today with stories and memories, songs and Scripture. We filled a big church and stayed for hours afterwards. She was surely smiling down upon us, even if we shed a few tears at our loss. We gathered in the same church where we had gathered when her daughter died. We gathered again for her husband. I looked around at the many people there and knew that Love had found roots in her life and it spilled out over to all of us.
Walking in, I found myself taking a deep breath. It was her daughter’s somewhat sudden death 8 months after my sister’s that help to bond her and I in new ways. I stared up at the stunning stained glass window at the front of the church and remembered how hard that funeral was. All of us were shell-shocked and heart-broken for the family. Jean and I would find quiet moments to share about our grief. I was ahead of her, stumbling along but able to turn on occasion and cast a beam of light into her darkness.
This woman was the matriarch of our Deaf community. She lived completely, even in her grief. I listened as her granddaughter read a letter composed by her mother, the remaining daughter. Her grandson who I used to walk up and down the halls at the interpreter service at the very beginning of my career when he was just weeks old now paid tribute to his hero as he called her. The former pastor of the Church of the Deaf entertained us with stories from decades long ago. Jean who had friends of all ages was well-eulogized by a woman with whom she used to work.
My own wonderful memories of Jean flitted through my mind as I listened. She was a proud wife, mother and grandmother. She was a friend to many because she was a remarkable listener. I often said that she was the wisest person I knew. A couple of years back I had visited her in the hospital one day and even though her eyesight was failing, she examined–because she did not merely look at–a photobook of my most recent trip with great interest. Her curiosity and keen mind did not miss a beat. She had questions and brilliant comments. Spending time with Jean was pure pleasure. She delighted in life and by osmosis drew in those around her to our own happy places. Throughout my career, she was a supportive cheerleader. She was that way for most of us, even if we were having an off day. Never a bad word was given. She was simply grateful for the service and always said thank you.
A woman of an era fading, she was one of those kind and polite people who blessed anyone who encountered her. I pray that we might all find the grace to shower one another with blessings like she did. I do not think there were many encounters that I left her without a big smile on my face or a warm feeling in my heart for her. Even in our saddest sharings, she gave me a joy of the privilege of seeing her soul. I was trying to find a photo I had taken with her at her 95th birthday party but I could not. She was so happy that day. She loved people in a deeply rooted way and we loved her back. It made me think of a Winnie the Pooh quote I read the other day: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Tonight as I sign off, I realize how lucky–how blessed–I am to have journeyed with Jean. I have a longing to emulate Jean’s joy. If I can live with such impact on our world, I will have kept a piece of Jean alive.
How do you wish to honour someone that you have loved and lost?