I wrote this as my quarterly column for VALLEY LIVING soon after my sister Lucy's death, and post it today in her memory:
While we were watching around her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn’t see...
She saw Old Death,
Coming like a falling star...
And Death took her up like a baby...
On to the Great White Throne,
And there he laid sister Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.
I thought of these lines from James Weldon Johnson’s “Go Down, Death” as we gathered around my dying sister Lucy’s bed September 15, 2003, just eight years ago. At 74, she was in what seemed like a deep sleep, each breath becoming slower and more labored.
Hers had been a 19-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease, and it was ending with her at home, surrounded by those dearest to her, her husband Alvin, her four daughters and two sons, all present to the last. There could be no more wonderful way to go, I thought.
I was only nine when Lucy, whose name means “bringer of light,” married the love of her life, Alvin Schrock, one of the most stable and gentle men I have ever known. Their children, blessed with good genes and great parents, turned out remarkably well, and were supportive and caring beyond the call of duty during their mother’s long illness.
One of my regrets is that Lucy’s marriage had her leaving home well before I was finished growing up. She was the third in our family and I was number eight, next to the youngest. As a child, Lucy didn’t thrive, health-wise, like the rest, but managed to grow up to become a hard worker and a great Mom. She always seemed a little less argumentative, less aggressive than her three brothers and five sisters, a quality I associated with her saintliness and self-control.
Life isn’t always fair, one of the ministers at Lucy’s funeral reminded us, and yet, he added, it often offers us more blessings than we deserve. For those of us left behind, Lucy was clearly one of them.
At the close of her memorial service the congregation sang together while we went to a private meeting room at the church for a last family viewing. Only Lucy’s husband and her children and ten grandchildren stood around the open casket at the end. Alvin, though an ordained minister, was now less the patriarch and pastor than the grieving husband of nearly 55 seasons. After a time of silence, he shared halting and heart-felt words of memory with his family flock, then personally arranged the cloth casket lining around Lucy’s body--as if tucking her in for the last time--and solemnly closed it for good. Our tears came freely as we heard the congregation nearby, in beautiful four-part harmony, sing “O come, angel band, come and around me stand. O bear me away on your snowy wings to my eternal home.”
At the burial site, with signs of Hurricane Isabel approaching, the pallbearers, three nephews and three grandsons, lowered her casket into the grave and lovingly covered it with Augusta County soil. Other friends, family members, grandsons and granddaughters likewise took turns shoveling blankets of earth over the grave. No professional funeral directors were present, only Lucy's loved ones surrounding the family gathered under the white canopy, singing from memory hymns of faith to strengthen the soul and comfort the heart.
A bittersweet goodbye to our Lucy.
Heart-broken husband--weep no more;
Grief-stricken son--weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter--weep no more;
She’s only just gone home. (James Weldon Johnson)