Farewell, Friend

Day 21 - Empty Beds

Forever

What lofty, unknown journey is encountered by mans’ soul
When he has trod his path on earth and met the Father’s goal?
The fact is simple in my mind, it nestles in our heart, to
Bring us joy and peace and love and never shall depart.

jah
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Her amazing courage while facing this final adversity of life bolstered my own bravery. Propped regally in bed and comfortably cushioned by the soft down pillows, on this day, as had been her lifelong practice, she was totally in charge of the present situation. In any relationship or circumstance she was the dominant force. Perhaps this need for control emerged from her youthful struggles as an orphan, or was some genetic trait passed from a parental lineage she never chose to acknowledge. To know her, and be her friend or enemy, one had to accept this absolute fact and be willing to relinquish the leadership role to her. It was for this reason I sat at the foot of her bed that hot July afternoon, pen and pad in hand, writing furiously as she issued precise orders to me. She was on her deathbed, yet in full command until that final breath would reluctantly release her to the omnipotent authority of another. The only one whose judgment she trusted implicitly.

“Go to the closet and get the wedding photo off the top shelf. Take it to town tomorrow and have three copies made. Then I want you to buy three nice silver frames and wrap them each in white tissue paper. I’ll tell you later what names to put on them,” she said, appearing to be anxious to get on with business.

“Be sure to pick my daffodils when they bloom and don’t forget to give Ruth a cutting of my pink azalea I promised her last year.”

She continued with the tone of one routinely making a weekly grocery list, as she randomly sifted through the small pieces of papers scattered before her on the bed; mumbling under her breath, while reading the notations on each one.

“I want you to have the living room painted next year. Make sure Mr. Richter uses sky blue on the walls and ceiling and tell him I want dark green carpet. After all, the Master Artist painted His world in hues of blue and green and we should all follow His example in such matters.”

Stretching with some difficulty across the pink silk comforter, she retrieved a lacy white handkerchief from the drawer in the table beside her bed.

“This is the handkerchief I want folded under my watch band. Reach in and get it just before they close my casket. It belonged to a mother I never knew and I don’t see any reason to take it with me. It’s yours, so don’t forget it,” she firmly reminded me.

“I don’t want any flowers at my funeral. If anyone asks, tell people I’ve already had a lifetime filled with their beauty, and besides, I won’t be able to enjoy them anyway. They’ll just wilt and die in the hot sunshine over at the cemetery. You be sure to write that down,” she said, “so you’ll remember.”

Even in the seriousness of the situation I had to restrain my chuckles at such blunt, matter of fact remarks. Apparently, the nucleus of her spunk and vinegar had not diminished in the least. Death’s arrival had not altered her personality one iota.

I faced her in quiet disbelief and I continued to obediently record her detailed directives. There had been no hint of the unusual task ahead when she had summoned me by phone only an hour ago.

“Yes, I’ll be right there,” instantly responding when she demanded my immediate presence . I knew she was ill, but had no idea how grave the circumstances had become. Her weakened tone revealed an urgency I had not detected in previous weeks. I had sadly observed her steady decline in health, but naively let myself believe that surely death would forever bypass this staunch paragon of knowledge and authority.

What had begun as a friendship between two families had grown through many years into the closeness and respect of a young girl for a family acquaintance, then teacher, mentor, co-worker, personal friend and eventual confidant. It is only now, reflecting on the past, that I can begin to clearly envision the influential role this opinionated, flamboyant, intelligent woman had played in my life. Her wisdom, effervescence and determination had guided my life in numerous ways, yet to this very day I am puzzled by her true motive for assuming this self imposed authority over me.

At the age of ten I was privileged to be one of her fourth grade students. Her teaching techniques, self titled “Organized Chaos”, poured a rich abundance of jewels into my treasure chest of learning. A love for reading was one of the seeds she planted and nourished in those early years, all the while her wisdom realizing that the growth of this product would be mine to reap and feast upon for a lifetime. Unorthodox, yet fascinating methods of imprinting music, science and even physical education upon the burgeoning minds of her students was a gift unknown to us at the time, as we gleefully absorbed and blossomed under her provocative tutelage. The students in her classroom were a world unto themselves, joyfully following a radiant beacon of leadership jealously envied by others who were not as fortunate to be guided by her daily presence in their lives.

It was she who dared speak up with authority on my behalf to the powers that be when I was seeking my first teaching position. She, who seemed only a few classrooms and steps away when my immaturity and lack of experience as a fellow instructor needed a nudge or suggestion to help my own eager students reach their maximum potential. She, who dared buck the reigning leadership and fought for advancements others had not even dreamed could be implemented, much less achieved. Once again, standing strong and steady, she was my lighthouse on the turbulent and precarious seas of life.

A lingering cloud of sadness as suffocating as the humid southern heat shrouded my entire being that somber August evening as I slowly gathered the clothing I would wear to her burial the next morning. The reality of never seeing or interacting with her again was unimaginable. The influence she had so diligently bestowed on others, particularly her students, would continue to flow like the predictable ocean tides to shores far and wide. A plethora of lessons learned, integrated and freely bestowed by the many her life had touched. She had shared herself unselfishly and honestly, simply seeking to fill a void where darkness and ignorance would have otherwise resided.

As dawn gently nudged me awake from a restless night, I instantly felt the comforting buoyancy saturating my soul as a sign that I had indeed made the correct decision in the unexpected calmness of this emerging day. My choice to remain at home retaining a heart overflowing with an abundance of memories overtook that final deathbed directive. I shall not attend her funeral, nor pluck the folded handkerchief from under her watch band, or gaze transfixed upon a stillness where once there dwelt such radiant ebullience; choosing instead to immerse myself in a spirit of private, tranquil solitude, quietly reflecting and shedding my own personal tears, both sad and happy, for the transformation of my dear friend, Evelyn.

Jane-Ann Heitmueller

Jane-Ann Heitmueller is a retired teacher whose stories and poems have appeared in various publications and online. You can find her work at Dew on the Kudzu, The Old Tennessee Valley Magazine, Oxford So and So Magazine, A Quick Read, Nostalgia Magazine and Muscadine Lines, to name a few.

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