Sunday, July 30, 2017

Testament to Tammie

Friendship is something that happens quite accidentally. We can look for friends, try to be a friend, and be surrounded by friendly people, but there is something unplanned that leads to true friendship. If we are lucky enough to have a best friend, “one who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), then we are doubly blessed! My relationship with Tammie began in high school.

High school is filled with young people trying to find their way to fit in. There are the popular ones, the brainy ones, the quiet ones, the kind ones, and the funny ones. I couldn’t make myself popular, but I could be helpful! Being helpful is symbiotic, benefiting both the giver and the receiver. Getting something obviously helps the receiver, but the giver feels important and needed. This became my place in high school, being helpful! I picked up dropped papers, opened doors, straightened desks, and so on. I was not popular but I had my place!

When Tammie arrived she was in a cast from neck to waist as a result of a recent surgery. I saw a need and was soon running defense for Tammie as she maneuvered from class to class, carrying her books and making sure she made it without being hurt in the bustling hallways. She was needy and I was helpful. We were both friendly but I was mainly fulfilling my role.

Our relationship grew to include activities outside of school and our roles continued unchanged for a while. I remained the helper, modeler, and leader giving advice, support, and transportation. Tammie was younger, less secure, and, because of her physical needs, more sheltered. She remained the receiver.

Time passed. Each of us married, the other at our side. We moved away and back and started families. Memories were built through letters and face-to-face. We became equals. I still gave, but Tammie was able to give back. She gave devotion, kindness, unwavering love and steadiness. She dealt with the constant limitations from spina bifida with humor and acceptance. Tammie started to give to me more than I gave to her.

Finally the spina bifida began to take its toll and she started declining more rapidly. Her grace and humor continued through surgeries, strained relationships, and physical deterioration. We talked on the phone nearly daily since I once again moved away. I traveled to visit several times a year. Near the end, Tammie struggled to carry on, but was tired and ready to go; ready to be whole again with her Savior. It was so hard to let go.

Tammie ended up giving back to those of us who knew and loved her in spades! We witnessed her life with all its ups and downs and we grew as a result. I am a changed person because of her. I miss her so and can’t wait to continue our relationship in heaven. Below is the poem I wrote for Tammie’s funeral.

Tammie’s Lessons

You arrived fragile, helpless, needy
We loved you, took care of you
We taught you to walk and talk
We taught you to play and laugh

You grew up slowly, through trials and pain
We helped you, nursed you, cared for you
We taught you to persevere, survive
We taught you to trust and mature

You blossomed into womanhood, marriage, and motherhood
You were a caregiver, teacher, companion
God taught you to be patient, giving
God taught you to be grateful and strong

Your body failed you, you grew weak
You were patient, selfless
You taught us to appreciate life
You taught us to be brave, loving and grateful

In the 70s

At my wedding

Cotton candy at the Dallas Zoo

At my grandmother's funeral

Tammie's wedding

Tammie's tea pot

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Lelah's Life Lessons!

When I was young, I lived on a large piece of property on the outskirts of town. My neighbors were an older woman, Lelah, and her husband. I saw them now and again, but since our houses were separated by a large, lightly wooded field, opportunities for visiting didn't arise naturally.

While I was expecting my oldest daughter, Lelah's husband died unexpectedly. I felt a burden to look in on her now and again through this trying time. Soon Lelah and I had established a close relationship.

We continued to visit at least weekly during the early years of my daughter's life. Lelah taught me to garden, giving me a small patch in her garden to work. She babysat while I ran errands occasionally. We visited and enjoyed each other's company!

After a while Lelah's mother, Sally, came to live with her. Sally became my daughter's first best friend. She would ooh and ah over her and play silly games! When Sally died, that was a 4-year-old's first taste of death! She was sad and missed her friend, Sally.

Lelah and I looked after each other, helping when possible. She had no children and we happily filled the gap.

I started noticing that Lelah was forgetting words. She would point and say things like, "put it down over there on that thing, you know, where we eat!" in other words, the table. This continued for some time and we would just laugh it off. After a while I asked Lelah if she shouldn't see a doctor to see if she was developing Alzheimer's. She took my advice and came home with a positive diagnosis.

Things continued to deteriorate. Soon she was not able to drive, forgot how to cook, was not able to pay her bills and so on. Once I went over to find all of her pills dumped together in a big bowl. She was stirring them and told me she wasn't sure which ones to take. I started hiding a single dose of pills with a glass of water and calling her during the day to tell her where to find them. I got her signed up for Meals on Wheels. I went over at night to check on her after work, to be sure she had food to eat. I balanced her checking account, paid her bills, bought her groceries, helped with her laundry and so on.

One day I came home to a frantic phone message with Lelah calling out for help! I ran to her house and found her calmly watching TV. I asked her what was wrong and she told me nothing. I looked all over her house and finally started examining her body. There were several circular burns on her hand and lower arm where she had laid it on the hot burner! I called her family who lived out of town and told them Lelah could no longer live alone! They developed a plan for a family member to move in and share her home until the time came where she had to be moved to a nursing facility.

Throughout the later stages of her dementia, Lelah remained calm and happy. I remember one of my last visits where she was coherent enough to have a slight conversation. She told me, "I don't know who you are, but I like you!" That was heartbreaking, but comforting. She had held on to her joy, right up to the end.

What did I learn from this? I learned that happiness has more to do with attitude than circumstance. Lelah was never sad or distressed over her situation. She laughed at herself when she did silly things or forgot words. She didn't feel sorry for herself, but pressed on. Up until then I had thought about old age with a certain foreboding. Now I look on it as just another step in life. As a Christian, I know something far better waits at the end. Lelah taught me to be brave during the journey!

Lelah, Bethany and me at Easter

Purse and gloves Lelah gave to me