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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Storm of Memory

Last week I was asked for the second time in my life to write an obituary.  The first obit I ever wrote was for the 96 year-old father of my future brother-in-law and the second for his 88 year-old mother who survived her husband of 73 years by a mere 99 days.  Little Sister and her fiancĂ© wanted something more personal than the fill-in-the-blank style paragraph the funeral home typically draws up for publication in our local paper, and I was honored—on both occasions—when they asked me to help.
I knew Mr. Roy Hardy and his wife Mrs. Jewell Hardy only briefly (we’d spent a few holidays together at my sister’s place) but during my short acquaintance with them, I found them to be lovely people—charming and endearing in a way that people of a certain age often seem to me.  It was through the process of writing their obituaries and later Mrs. Hardy’s eulogy with my sweet sister and aunt, assisted by notes from various family members and photo albums, that I truly came to know the lifelong partners—to understand how hard-working, generous, funny, loyal, steadfast, honest and loving they each were in their own way.  I wish that I had known them better while they lived.
Writing the obits set me to wondering what people might have to say about me when I’m gone.  Will they stick to the basic facts: place and dates of birth and death, a list of survivors?  Or will they be compelled to say more as the family of Mr. and Mrs. Hardy were?  I confess that I hope for the latter.  It would also be nice to leave them with 90 or so years of biography to work with, too.  But you never know.  The devastating storms that racked my state and the entire Southeast the day before Mrs. Hardy’s funeral are proof enough of that. 
The tornados of April 27, 2011 resulted in tremendous loss.  The small community where I live and adjacent small towns were hit hard.  Neighbors lost their lives, friends and co-workers lost their homes and all their worldly possessions, people were hurt and some remain missing.
I weathered the storm hunkered down with some of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Roy and Jewell Hardy in the large and comfortable house of my sister and her soon-to-be hubby.  Inwardly I agonized over the fate of my own small home in The Valley, but I was relieved to be safe with my children—if I’d lost everything I owned that night, at least I’d still have them…the little people I strive every day to give something to that they’ll be able to recount at the end of my days.
We all made it safely through that night and I have to say that the ordeal, in addition to my work on the eulogy my sister delivered at Mrs. Hardy’s funeral service the next morning, has made me feel a lot closer to the Hardy Family.  We’ll all remember that night forever…the people we sat next to in the dark huddled around laptops, smart-phones and radios, eager for the latest news…and the dear lady whose passing brought us all to the same place of safety.
I received my first “review” for the obits, by the way.  One of the directors at the funeral home said to my sister, “You write the best obituaries.”  Little Sister just smiled—for arguments sake let’s assume she was grieving and unable to form the appropriate response of, “My fabulous older-but-only-by-ten-months-and-twenty-seven-days sister wrote them and I’ll be sure to pass your compliment on to her,”—but one of the other family members interjected and put forth my name so that they (the funeral home) know who to call if they ever get tired of faking it with those pitiful, half-hearted remembrances they send in to the paper.
I hope anyone who happens to read this also made it through the terrible storms of last week safely and that each of you will do at least a little something for someone who didn't.  A few hours of your time, clothing or household items, blood or cash.  Whatever you can spare.  Find an organization you trust--the American Red Cross or local churches--and give.  I myself have donated to the family of a classmate of my 2nd grade son, whom were badly injured and lost their home.  I'm also looking into book donations for twelve Alabama public libraries that were badly damaged.  Please leave word if you have books you'd like to donate as well.