A life is a precious thing. A collection of years bound up with love and tears and hope. How can words do a life justice?
It was my fifth eulogy. But as I sat to write it I was filled with the same sense of inadequacy as when I wrote the first one about twenty-four years ago.
Thankfully, there’s never a single thing we confront in life that we’re forced to go alone. No, my God provided the words and the relevance and then gave me the courage to speak them. So while I received many compliments, I know the truth.
To Him be the glory.
He always gives the increase. He moved these words on my heart and I share them with you humbly. If you are sad and grieving, know that I am praying for you. And if you pray, I ask that you put me and my family in your prayers as we continue to miss my beautiful Aunt Debbie…
Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
If there’s one thing I know about Aunt Debbie, it was that she was one of the helpers. Her lifelong friend Fran Green said it best: “I could go to Debbie with anything, joys or sorrows, and she was always ready to share, to half a trouble or double a joy.”
In 1988 Aunt Debbie’s grandmother, my great-grandmother died. I think I was twelve and that was my first experience with death so I was really try to figure it out… Aunt Debbie still lived in Houston at that time and she invited me to come spend the night with her after the funeral.
Thinking back now, maybe she didn’t want to be alone and wanted some company because she must have been terribly sad about Nannie’s death. When we were almost to her apartment I started crying. I cried all the way there and being the helper, Aunt Debbie patiently gave me a long, gentle talk about death.
What she didn’t know is that I wasn’t sad about Nannie at all. No, the truth was I was at the stage as an “almost teenager” when I no longer liked to be away from my mom overnight. I was crying because I wanted to go home!
A few years later I stayed with her again. This time it was my birthday and she got us tickets to go to a Star Trek convention! Holy moly, that was so exciting. We stayed up late the night before, opening up packages of Star Trek trading cards and reading and organizing every one of them. Yes, we were two very serious “Trekkies.” The event was amazing and I was like a kid in a candy store. But one of the things I remember most about that weekend was when we were driving into downtown Houston. I looked up at all of those buildings towering above us and thought… “Wow, Aunt Debbie is so brave to live here all by herself!”
And she was… brave and independent and fiercely opinionated. You never had to wonder what she thought about anything. We had more than a few rows about things like politics… but in the end none of that ever really mattered because we were family and that was all that counted in Aunt Debbie’s book.
Family was everything to Aunt Debbie
Her first memories were of her family…
… of the little house they lived in near Nannie and P’pa’s house…
… of Aunt Sharon in the kitchen when a mouse ran up her leg…
… of brushing her teeth outside and how all 4 of the siblings (Sharon, Cathy, Ricky and Debbie) took baths in the washtub…
… of having to sleep on her back with the covers to their chin and laying really still because teeny, tiny little men would come and get them…
… of how they were so excited one time when grandma got a paycheck of $100!
…. of a birthday party for her and Ricky with a pink, blue and white cake that said “Happy Birthday Debbie” on one half and “Happy Birthday Ricky” on the other…
Later, she doted on her nieces and nephews and then their kids too. She kept notes on things like “Corey-isms” the funny things my nephew would say as a little boy. She loved all the little children, taking joy whenever new babies came into the family.
Aunt Debbie was a good storyteller, and she was the first to nurture my dream of being a writer. She would let me sit at her computer for hours typing up my little stories and saving them to diskettes. She always, always believed in me and lifted me up.
Because she was a helper.
She enjoyed taking care of people. It was truly her calling and it fed her soul. That’s why she was such a gifted nurse. In one of her journals under the heading of “Things that brightened my day” she almost always mentioned doing things for others, like “hugged the family members of a patient.” That is what gave her joy.
On Facebook my Aunt Emily wrote of Aunt Debbie: “she was very special to us when she was a hospice care giver! She was such a strong comfort.”
When Aunt Debbie left one of her nursing jobs her coworkers gave her a lovely photo book with personalized notes thanking and encouraging her. The one that stuck me most said, “Thank you so much for your patience and kindness and all the help you gave a zygote R.N. And thank you for respecting my religious beliefs.”
Her notebooks have countless entries about God, trusting Him, remembering that He has always taken care of her.
Still, it was sometimes a struggle to remember His faithfulness, and like most of us she marveled at His good works. She once was out running errands, paying bills and doing some grocery shopping when she remembered she’d left a candle burning at her house. She said she prayed her rosary all the way home and found every thing was all right. Because as she said, “God is good.”
She was a faithful, Godly woman and an example and blessing to me and those around her.
In 1999 she wrote that she finally dreamed about my sister Cori who’d died several years before. “I dreamed God gave her back to us for a few days. I followed her into her room and we laid on the bed and I told her how much I missed her…” In that notebook entry Aunt Debbie thanked God for letting her have that dream.
Even though we knew this day was coming, it feels that there just wasn’t enough time with her. That if we’d only had a little more, another day, another family get together. Just a little bit more. And while I feel the pain of her absence, I know too that she was ready to be home, to meet Jesus and to see those loved ones who had gone before her.
We don’t have to understand it to know that God’s timing is perfect. When mom told me Aunt Debbie had left us, she remarked that it was Good Friday. And my first thought was, “Yes, and Jesus died today too, but just like He promised the thief, she’s with Him now in Paradise.” Then just a few hours later I spoke to Aunt Debbie’s friend Fran and she told me that her sister had told her, “Debbie gets to spend Easter with Jesus.”
And isn’t that just the most beautiful thought? Because Aunt Debbie loved Easter and family and her Heavenly Father. Yes, God’s timing is perfect and in that we can find some joy even in sorrow.
So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. John 16:22
And if Aunt Debbie were here now I think she might say this to us just like Spock told Captain Kirk, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”
Are you enjoying Tawdra and Olivia’s He is Risen devotional? Available exclusively on Kindle Vella, we’re sharing a different entry every day as we follow the risen Lord for forty days. And you might also like our Notes on a Spiritual Walk series. Check out The Faith Book and The Prayer Book today.