The long journey home
By: By Lisa Smartt
Our friend, Mary, died a few days ago. She was not quite 90 years old when she broke her hip and fell in her kitchen in Denton, Texas. The emergency calling system that she wore around her neck needed a new part and was rendered ineffective on that fateful day. A neighbor found her; she was taken to the hospital where she died that night. My dad had been to visit Mary the day before. They had tested the emergency system and found that it wasn’t working. He called the company and they put a new part in the mail that day. It came a few days too late.
Mary’s claim to fame was that she was on no medication whatsoever. Her mind was clear and her body was still in pretty good working condition. My parents and others checked on her frequently. They bought her groceries (all health food), took her to church and took her out to eat. Her life radiated joy and satisfaction. People loved to be in her presence because she knew how to make them feel loved. She had a prayer list a mile long. Any time our family had a need, we rushed to get it on Mary’s list. She was serious about prayer and faithful in her desire to lift up others. But in the midst of her joy and blessings in life, Mary was restless. Any time a song about heaven was sung at church, she would whisper to her neighbor, “I can’t wait to go.”
My husband’s grandfather died right before Christmas. Pa Butler was 88 years old. Such a character. A personality so big that it filled the room with his booming voice and his coveted story telling. Everyone knew him and loved him. Despite his heart condition and diabetes, he was blessed to be active through the use of an electric wheelchair which he rode all over town. One day he took a wrong turn on a one-way street. He was hit by a truck ... and died two days later.
Pa’s aging body had been on a lot of medication. But with optimism and enthusiasm, he rejoiced that he could still go out “visiting.” He too had experienced the loving grace of Christ and his life radiated satisfaction. In those last moments at the hospital his concern was for his wife of 67 years. Assured that she would be well taken care of, he passed on peacefully.
At first glance, Mary’s story and Pa’s story sound tragic, don’t they? Ill-fated mistakes. Bad timing. Close calls. If only the emergency calling system had worked. If only Pa had not made that wrong turn. Some would even go so far as to say, “We all knew Mary shouldn’t have lived alone. Someone should have been there around the clock.” Or “Pa shouldn’t have been out in that wheelchair so much. If he had stayed within the confines of his apartment, this never would have happened.” It’s tempting to look at their tragic deaths in that way. But that’s not what they would have wanted. I’m glad we didn’t “protect” Mary and Pa from the lives they wanted to lead. If they were both here, they’d smile and say, “It was all a part of the long journey home.”
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 1.30.08
Lisa Smartt, The Smartt View