How Quickly Plans Can Change

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This isn’t a library related post if you’d prefer to skip it.

Today was the first day of a nice four day weekend. Budge and I planned to do a little housework, do a little yard work, and do a lot of nothing. That all came to a screeching halt with one phone call today at 3:00. I may have never said this, but I hate telephones and cell phones especially. Of all the inventions ever invented, it is the telephone that allows the wide instantaneous spread of misery better than all others.

I had a splitting headache today, so I was taking a nap when the phone rang. I heard Budge say, “Oh God. We’re on our way.” I sat up blinking to the news that my great-aunt, the woman who had babysat me as an infant until I started kindergarten, was dead. She was 70 years old, my Granny Hughes’ baby sister.

She’d gone “to town” to get some money out of the bank from her Social Security check. On her way back home, as near as we and the police can piece together, she got turned around at a new cloverleaf and instead of going down the on ramp to the highway, she went across the intersection like the layout USED to be and went down the OFF ramp. We’ll never know if she realized her mistake or not.

She got to the bottom of the ramp and shot across three lanes of traffic before a young girl driving an SUV stuck my aunt’s mini-pickup truck at full highway speed and slammed it back into the barrier wall between north and southbound lanes. My aunt, who was always a small woman and sat too near the steering wheel as small elderly ladies often do, was not wearing a seatbelt and the steering column and steering wheel itself crushed her chest as the airbag that was meant to save her life instead detonated into the side of her head with the force of a baseball bat. She was killed on impact. The young girl, blessedly, suffered only a broken leg, but I can only imagine how the mental trauma of this accident that she in no way could have avoided will haunt her the rest of her life.

My aunt was a widow with one daughter who is four years my senior. I was always viewed more as a brother and a son than a nephew. Therefore, it fell to me to take my cousin to the hospital to first positively identify her mother’s body and then to say goodbye to the only remaining relative in her immediate family. I don’t know how many of you have had the experience of standing in a morgue. Shows like CSI and its offspring don’t really portray the utter hopelessness, the complete lack of warmth in a holding room when you see a loved one, vibrant and smiling just a few hours before, wrapped in a sheet to hide body trauma lying cold, grey and lifeless on the stainless steel table. I don’t know how many of you have had to listen to or maybe even utter that most heartrending of cries, “Why?!” The question for which even Christ on the Cross received no answer.

The last seven hours have been a whirlwind of phone calls to other elderly aunts and uncles as well as to their children, cousins barely remembered from long ago play times on the “home place”. The phone, that demon with a bell or a ringtone, never ceased its macabre music for long at a time. I was able to see my cousin safely to her home where I left her in the care of a trusted family friend. When I spoke to Sis last, she was slipping into the blessed bliss of a tranquilizer and that for the best. She bore up well under the shock of the day, but as any doctor will tell you, the pain of an amputation is always least when it happens. The next day will reveal the beginning of the agony.

Then I had to turn my attention to Mother who has now lost three of the dearest people to her in less than six months. Then there is Granny, my aunt’s sister, whose growing dementia keeps her from understanding that the sister she held closest in love has been taken away. How do you explain to one in her second childhood that one of the most important members of her first childhood won’t be by to sit on the couch and watch Family Feud while eating forbidden ice cream with her anymore?

I keep returning to the theme of poverty and its effects and this is another example. I am by far the best educated member of my family. I’m the only one on Mother’s immediate side with a Master’s degree (or even a BA, for that matter) and one of just a bare handful who finished high school. The family’s perception of me is one of dependence. In times like this, for whatever reason, the family turns to me for guidance and advice as if having a limp piece of paper on the wall somehow has given me better insight into how this off-kilter world runs. In times of death or crisis, I am asked for answers that I do not have, but I must provide some measure of comfort. It is expected.

Also, a fact that many, even those like Cathy-Jo, who are closest to me may not know, is that I am an ordained minister. I’ve never been to seminary, but I do have my ordination and license to preach and perform the offices of the church from two separate ordaining bodies. I am the minister of my family. Even though they attend a myriad of different houses of worship, my late grandfather was the one who was called upon for ministry to the family and with his passing, that responsiblility has fallen to me. I confess that since his passing, I have been in a crisis of faith the likes of which I have never experience nor even imagined, but which is very real nonetheless.

For now though, I must push aside my questions and my agony of uncertainty to take up an agony of a different type. I must do what I feel unable to do and provide my family with comfort and direction over the next few days. Tomorrow, Sis and I will meet to make final arrangements at the funeral home where the last two years have seen me all to frequently a visitor. She has no one else to help her and so I must, even if I feel I cannot.

I have tears of my own to shed for this beloved lady who has been taken from us so abruptly, but just as I could not grieve for my grandfather until I had seen my mother through the crisis, so to must I bear up grief again and somehow shepherd Sis through this unbearable time. It never ceases to amaze me how people are capable of doing what they cannot do when it must be done.

So Tuesday, while the rest of the country watches television and huddles in tense expectation for an election that, regardless of its outcome, will be historic; as many of my colleagues make their way to the annual education technology conference, I will be, once again, standing before an open grave attempting to provide a channel of peace that I myself do not feel because it must be done.

I ask two boons of you all. First, remember my huddled and bewildered family in you thoughts, but second and more important, take a moment tonight or tomorrow at the latest to call some family member or friend whom you have not seen in a while or with whom you have some petty disagreement. Make things right as much as it is in your power to do. Don’t let another sun set without clearing air or reconnecting with a loved one. I do not say this as fearmongering, but from my heart . . . you never know what conversation, hug, or argument you have with someone will be the last. Keep that in mind, my friends and acquaintances in the blogosphere and believe me when I say I hope that it will be a long time before any of you receive one of those calls.

I hope you will all forgive my ramblings. It has proven to be a long and trying day. Tonight, I’ll let each of you decide on your own if you want to wash your feet or not.

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5 responses »

  1. I’ve just seen your blog for the first time and, although I don’t write comments often, I feel compelled to let you know how deeply moving your words are. My mother-in-law passed away very unexpectedly just two weeks ago. Life has changed. We are still processing just how much. My prayers are with you and your family.

  2. I was led to your blog by a link at Cathy Jo’s —

    yes, your family will be in my thoughts today, tomorrow and for some time.

    my thoughts will also be with the girl who became a part of this tragedy as well…..as she deals with what I cannot even fathom.

    thank you for sharing……….
    you are in our thoughts and prayers.

    JW

  3. My thoughts are surely with the whole lot of you and yours. Life is but a brief moment in eternity. You aunt is in a much better place….and her feet are forever cleansed. And brother, take heart in the knowledge that your heart reveals significantly more than you know. Demons may give chase, but the heart perseveres. Once saved, always saved. Thanks for sharing and I feel humbled and honored to get a shout out here.

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