I am delivering a eulogy of a close friend this week.
I know it’s an honor; albeit one I’d prefer not to have. Instead of standing in front of a room commemorating the accomplishments and celebrating his life, I’d rather be talking with him over lunch at the Marina. Alas, ‘tis not a choice. We take what’s given.
According to statistics, the average 40-year-old will have attended ten funerals by that age.
Of course, it increases where – if you’re so fortunate to celebrate your 90th tour around the sun, you will attend no fewer than 50. I guess that makes me “lucky” in some fashion, since I can count those I’ve attended on one hand.
Although not backed by data that I could find, I assume most people attend memorials as a tribute to the one who passed, as a means to support the family, and/or as a ritual of closure. I highly doubt – with the exception of the two primary characters in the 1971 dark comedy, Harold and Maude – anyone attends because they enjoy it.
We do what we can to avoid them; very few of us have what it takes to continually be subjected to so many painful losses.
Until not too long ago, I would have said that none of us do.
That was prior to meeting a middle-aged foster mother from the South.
Speaking at a convention of “fost-adopt” parents, I was introduced to Wendy. Unpretentious, down-to-earth, casually dressed, with collar-length “dirty-blond” hair that she repeatedly brushed away from her forehead with a swipe of the back of her right hand; she sat against the off-white wall at the back of the conference room; a bright orange blouse making her stand out against the bland background.
“I’d get up to greet you,” she said as I approached her table, “but you can see my hands are full.”
“I do,” I replied, drawn to the baby she cradled in her arms. “Thanks for meeting me.”
It wouldn’t take a medical degree to determine that the infant she held had critical medical issues.
He was severely stunted in size and his proportions were alarming; his arms extremely undersized; virtually no lower body, and his head was distended. His eyes were permanently closed with his tiny fists clasped on either side of his over-sized head. Most alarming was a thick ring of sores encircling the crown of his head; the skin discolored, raw, and bruised.
Trying not to stare, I forced my focus back to Wendy, attempting to re-compose my thoughts.
With a quiet, unassuming, soft east-Texan drawl, she spoke to my unease, “Don’t feel self-conscious. It’s hard for most people to not be taken back when they meet Johnathan. We’re used to it.”
She went on to explain that Johnathan’s biological mother was a severe, practicing drug addict and during pregnancy, continued to use. Johnathan was born in the back room of what we might refer to as a “crack house,” three months premature; discovered by paramedics when his mother suffered some form of seizure.
“It must be difficult carrying for him,” I commented. “How do you do it?”
“I’m used to it. He’s not my first.”
“Not your first? What do you mean?”
She expounded that she was a special type of foster parent who focused on the care and treatment of babies like Johnathan. (There’s a classification for them but I can’t recall what it is.)
“How many children like Johnathan have you cared for?”
“It’s hard to remember because I’ve been doing this a long time and most don’t live more than a couple months, sometimes just a few weeks.”
“A couple of weeks…?” I stuttered.
“Yes, I care from them right up until the day they meet the Lord. I’ve been to over 100 funerals.”
I audibly gasped; as if pounded in the chest. “Over 100 funerals? Oh my God! How do you do that? You seem so upbeat and positive.”
She looked up to meet my gaze; her eyes calm and loving,
“Honey,” she said, reaching out with her free hand to take mine, “It’s all about beliefs. I know that the good Lord wants each and every one us, no matter what the circumstances into which they were born, to be loved fully from birth until passing. I am so fortunate that I get to be the vehicle by which His love is passed along. It’s not easy – but it’s worth it. Johnathan actually gives me life.”
What would it be like if we all had a Wendy in our lives? More importantly, can we pass along that just a little of her spirit?
About the author: Scott “Q” Marcus is a THINspirational speaker and author. Since losing 70 pounds over 23 years ago, he works with overloaded people and organizations who are looking to improve communication, change bad habits, and reduce stress. He can be reached for consulting, workshops, or presentations at 707.442.6243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He will sometimes work in exchange for chocolate.