Friday, February 4, 2011

Saying Farewell from Afar

I don't remember how I met Carol, but I know it was some years back, most likely as my family volunteered at the library or the senior center, or participated in community events and gatherings. I do know that Carol was one of those people that once you met, she never forgot you, and you never forgot her.

Whenever she happened to see me or my mom, she always took the time to ask about us, what we were doing, how we were, etc. It was if we were the most important people to her at that moment. Even after I left for Uganda, Carol faithfully asked about me, as well as my sister Leah, who has been away from home for several years.

My mom told me of Carol's declining health in December and how she had to leave her hometown of Clatskanie, to be cared for by family elsewhere. I was surprised and saddened to hear this news as Carol seemed full of life and the near picture of health the last time I saw her. But, that was more than a year ago.

Because mail is so sporadic here, all of what I send to the states I ask folks going back to the U.S. to carry with them and mail from there. A missionary friend left here on Jan. 18th, and with her three cards, one of which was for Carol.

The card arrived Jan. 24th, the day Carol died. She never had the chance to read it. But, her daughter mentioned its arrival when she hugged my mom at Carol's memorial service last Friday. I hope that its message was a blessing to the family as I spoke of what a blessing Carol had been to me. It was as if I was saying goodbye as I wrote the card, though I hoped I would see Carol again.

I had similar feelings when, Jerry, a dear lady from church was promoted to heaven last May. I loved Jerry's ever-ready hugs, smiles, encouragement and humor that greeted me each Sunday morning and whenever else we happened to meet. She was one of my faithful cheerleaders as I prepared for Uganda. When I learned Jerry was in hospice, I sent an e-mail message hoping it would be read to her. I am not sure she ever heard it.

I had only known Jerry for a few years and she wasn't someone I always chatted with, but she was someone I always imagined would be there. I thought the same of Carol, too.

It is hard to think of going home and not seeing these two precious women around town and at church.

I asked my hometown newspaper to send me Carol's obituary, which was a beautifully-written tribute to a beautiful woman. Carol was not known for being famous or exceptionally talented. She was known for her care, her ever-present interest in others, and her love for friends and family. I can only imagine that the church was packed for her service - filled with people who had been touched by Carol and her care.

Here is a portion of her obituary:

"Carol not only enjoyed a career in nursing, but carried the ‘caregiver' personality into everything she did and to everyone she met. She had a sharp eye for the needs of others and could make anyone she met feel at ease and important...Family and friends were everything to her.

"She was a mother who combined great strength along with warmth and compassion. She raised five boys and one girl - all of whom adored her and counted their blessings regularly for being born to her. Her favorite saying was, 'If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.' She not only quoted it, but lived by it.

"She also lived her faith and relied upon her Christian belief to get her over the speed bumps in life as well as to celebrate the many joys. Carol may not have been rich or famous, and she lived what could be seen as an ordinary life, but in a very extraordinary way. She has touched all those who had the good fortune to know her. She had a true zest for life and she will be missed greatly."

I have learned that one of the drawbacks of living halfway around the world is the inability to quickly be at home when dear ones like Carol and Jerry pass away. It is hard to say goodbye from afar.

Even as I do miss these women, I am so thankful that they were a part of my life, and I benefitted by their love, care and examples.

In tough times like these, I look to Jesus, whose presence is not hindered by time or distance. I wrap myself in His comfort and pray the same for those closest to those who say goodbye to this life.

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