Monday, December 14, 2015

A Christmas Of Sorrow and Grief

photo by grandnephew Michael Shifflett

Early Saturday morning we received the terrible news that my younger sister, Mary Beth Shifflett, 69, and her husband Harven, 77, perished in a fire that destroyed their mobile home in nearby Greene County. We are still in a state of shock and disbelief.

Neither my sister nor her husband were in good health, and had been in and out of hospitals for various life threatening conditions over the past number of years. So we would not have been surprised to hear that one or the other was in some kind of medical crisis at UVA. But we were never prepared for this.

My now deceased sister came into our home at four months of age as a foster child, the first of a dozen or more children my parents, with eight living children of their own, took in during my early childhood. I was six when she came to live with us, and we quickly grew so attached to her that my parents adopted her some years later. As her next older brother we spent a lot of special time together.

Mary Beth loved Christmas, and loved preparing gifts for others for the holiday season, as well as at any other special time. As an adult she was the most active of any of us in encouraging our family to get together for regular reunions and other occasions.

As a young adult she was able to find her biological mother and a blood brother and sister, and for a while spent considerable time with them. At that time she was told that her father was no longer living. This proved to be untrue, and she later found her aging father at a nursing home near Waynesboro, and maintained a relationship with him until he passed away some years ago. Yet throughout she has maintained her primary family ties with her Yoder family.

I will miss her very much. In many ways she had a troubled life, but she was a stubborn survivor, and will always be in our hearts.

The following is an excerpt of what my oldest brother Sanford, who with his wife Martha lives in Costa Rica, wrote on our family email group:

"I have so many happy memories of sister Mary Beth. The day she arrived as a little baby we were all so excited. As she grew she became my little favorite, often sitting on my knees, singing with me... (We) mourn a great loss but are committing the present in the hands of a just and holy God ...who is perfect in love, perfect in mercy ,and perfect in grace. He has done his will in his mercy and in his time, as He will with each of us."

I will post funeral plans here as soon as we finalize them, probably later on today.

Thanks for your love and prayers.

12/14/15 Update: I learned today that we will need to wait for the court to determine to whom the bodies are released after the autopsies are done, so plans are on hold until we get more information.

12/15/15 Update: Autopsy folks in Richmond did DNA matching today to legally determine the identities of the bodies, say they may not be released to the funeral home until "up to" ten days, though it could be less. This makes any kind of planning very frustrating, to say the least. Sounds like we may go ahead with a graveside service within a day or two of the bodies being returned and plan for a memorial service sometime this weekend. Sorry I don't have more details to share. 
Over 750 people have visited this blog post as of this evening, a near record. We so appreciate the outpouring of love and support.

12/16/Update:It looks now like we may have a memorial service at the Dyke Fire Hall Saturday or Sunday afternoon, January 2 or 3, with a meal either provided by a local group on a free will offering basis or with a carry in meal. We would have a half hour or so for scripture and a meditation (and special music?) followed by food and having a roving microphone for people to share memories. 
The time of the burial is still unknown due to the uncertainty of when the bodies will be released. 
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