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Saluting a Life

July 16th, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

Clara 400

SALUTING A LIFE

“Whoop – whoop – whoop!” A Salina police officer used his siren to clear an intersection as the funeral procession began.

“They’re doing those ‘whoops’ for your mom,” I told Dave with a smile as we drove away from the church. Headed toward the cemetery, several police officers played leapfrog in the inside lane. One officer would hold an intersection open until his replacement arrived, then he zipped ahead to the next stoplight.

At the cemetery’s entrance, next to his car in the roadway, a policeman stood at attention and held a salute until the last car turned.

I’ve attended five funerals in Salina and they have all been graced with a police escort. With each salute, my eyes have filled with tears. It’s a gesture of respect for the life that has passed.

And each life is worthy of respect. During our time here, we touch others, we leave trails of ourselves behind. We do big things, and little things, and kind things.

My mother-in-law, Clara, lived 90 years, a long and full life. She shared 70 of those years with her late husband, Henry. They had five children: Larry, Curt, Dave, Jim and Deborah. Henry passed away three years ago, and it’s been five years since Deb died from a work site accident.

During the visitation, one of Clara’s neighbors said to Dave with total sincerity, “I just loved her.”

Dave replied, “Her strength of character stayed with her until the very last minute. If she could speak at all, she’d say ‘thank you’ to the hospice nurses. That was just her way.”

I knew Clara to be a kind soul. She had a good heart and she accepted all of us, her family and others, exactly as we were.

Family was a big deal to Clara. There was nothing she enjoyed more than being surrounded by her children and their spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Although she and Henry had some health issues when we held the annual family campouts 20 years ago, they camped in tents like the rest of us. In the morning, Clara was the first one out with a fishing pole and the last to put the pole away at night.

Clara loved to sew. She was active in a sewing circle at her Presbyterian church, and she made quilts for each of her kids. She stayed in touch with family by email and made personal greeting cards for birthdays and anniversaries.

Like many mothers, before we left her house, Clara always gave us something to take home: sandwiches or pie or cookies. Last Thanksgiving as we backed out of her driveway, Clara stood at the front door, her posture uncertain with pain and age, but she was there and she waved goodbye. “Mom waving – that’s the image I’ll always remember of her,” Dave said.

As her health declined this past year, her sons spent time with her on weekends, taking her out for meals and errands. Clara stayed in her home through Christmas and then moved in with Curt, Nancy, and their daughter, Caitlin, near Manhattan. They all enjoyed that time together.

Eventually, she needed constant medical care and spent the last couple of months in a rehab center, a hospital, and a hospice home. Dying isn’t easy; there’s often pain and suffering. The hospice made Clara as comfortable as possible, offering her strawberry ice cream and morphine.

As bystanders, we observe a loved one’s physical abilities diminish and watch the tapestry of life unravel before us. We think of how much this person has meant to us, how they have enriched our lives. And we also can’t help but think of our own mortality and we pull our own tapestry a little bit tighter around us.

Ninety years can go by like a moment in time. At her bedside we felt that power of time rush past us. What matters most in this world is the love we give, and Clara had a giving heart.

It is love that connects us. Our family appreciated the kindnesses: memorial gifts, cards and words of sympathy, the police escort. Clara’s church provided a meal for the family after the burial. There was food left over, and just as Clara would have done, the ladies of the church sent us all home with sandwiches and grapes and cookies.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh

Salina PD

columns, Kansans, life on the ground

  1. Roger
    July 16th, 2013 at 13:03 | #1

    Wonderful and sweet, Cheryl.

  2. Kathy Matrai
    July 16th, 2013 at 15:32 | #2

    Nicely written..what a tribute! Made me think of several ladies in my family who’ve gone on to Heaven! A beautiful honor to what sounds like a wonderful lady!

  3. Linda
    July 16th, 2013 at 19:35 | #3

    You have such a beautiful way of writing about life and death. Your columns about your dad and now this one about your mother-in-law are a couple of my favorites. Thanks for reminding us all of how fleeting life is and how each piece along the way contributes to the final journey. Some of your reflections really resonate with me — I’m a Mennonite girl from the fields around Goessel who sees her mom aging and misses her dad like crazy………….

  4. ginger porter
    July 16th, 2013 at 22:43 | #4

    Another beautiful piece! Thanks Cheryl!

  5. July 17th, 2013 at 06:07 | #5

    What a beautiful piece of prose. Brought tears to my eyes thinking about sitting with my dad as he passed away three years ago.

  6. July 17th, 2013 at 15:17 | #6

    Well done. Made me teary.

  7. July 18th, 2013 at 08:33 | #7

    Reading this with tears in my eyes, Cheryl. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman.

  8. Wendy
    July 18th, 2013 at 11:58 | #8

    Your words cut through all the wax in my ears and bring comfort in ways I would never think up on my own. Over the years, your voice captures the line of Stafford’s from “Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron”: “heads in the light/ feet that go down in the mud, where the truth is.” Elegaic and beautiful. Thanks for writing this. It means a lot to me. YF, Wen