A Life Lived Truly And Well

Once upon a time in the South there was a boy named Johny. He was a good boy from a good home. Then all his family died. He was ten years old, and all alone. He was farmed out to the community. A week here. A month there. Depending on who needed some free labor. Years passed. Then the war came. World War II. Johny signed up. It seemed like the thing to do. He was seventeen when he landed on the beach at Normandy.

For those of you that don't have a visual pop into your head, think about the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Think about the memory from The Greatest Generation of the medics on the beach realizing that the only way off the beach was through a mine field and deciding to use their own bodies as markers. They split the morphine among themselves, running forward until their legs were blown out from under them. Then they'd shoot-up with morphine so they could be calm enough to tell the soldiers that followed them where not to step as they lay there bleeding to death.

His exact movements during the rest of the war are fuzzy. He never talks about them much. We know that there was an incident where he was trapped in a foxhole for days and days. We know that he was a sniper that could light a match at such an obscene distance that most of us couldn't even see the match. We know that he came home.

When Johny got home, there was suddenly a variety of opportunities available to him. Employment, education, emancipation. He wasn't a ward of the state to be used as essentially slave-labor anymore. He was his own man.

That was the state of things when he saw Mary. She was perfection. Beautiful beyond all reasonable standards. Smart. Funny. Charming. Spirited. Unattainable.

Mary was from a good family, THE family in their community ... if you know what I mean. Her prospects were unlimited. It was unthinkable that she'd marry a nobody. But she knew something that very few women of any generation ever seem to grasp: Substance over shine. Any man can be polished up later, but if there's nothing to his soul then nothing good will come of marrying him. She knew a diamond in the rough is still a diamond. And she saw the sparkle in the gentle boy that rescued hurt animals, but could beat to pulp any man that deserved it. They got married, and fifty years later Johny still can't figure out how he got that lucky. He's a modest fella.

They moved up North to work in the car factories, where they stayed for a few years until they built up a nest-egg. Then, tired of the snow and yankees, they moved home. Literally. Her father gave them some acres at the edge of his farm to build a house. He liked the idea of having them close, and the grandchildren within walking distance. By that time there were children. Eventually six charming children, with pretty eyes and sweet natures. With steel spines and deep tempers. People say they got it honestly from both sides!

Johny had no inclination to be a farmer, especially in the community that had looked down on him as nothing more than cheap farm labor. He went to work for the government. For decades he supervised sensitive construction projects, popular because he brought them in under budget, ahead of time, with superior quality, and fewer accidents.

His free time was never free-n-easy. Johny never quite got over that incident in the foxhole. He couldn't sit still for more than thirty minutes. He had to be moving, doing something, anything but just sitting. Its a good thing he was an usher at church, so he could stand in the back and walk around a bit. He never missed a single time the church doors were open. That might have stemmed from the dream he had several decades ago.

One morning he woke up and told the weirdest dream ever when the family sat down for breakfast. He was so worked up he couldn't eat a thing. In the dream he had been asleep and two men woke him up, but Mary didn't hear them and stayed asleep. They told him to come with them and he did, although he kind of wanted to stay. He wasn't afraid. They walked across the yard, and through the woods, up across the fields past the fire-tower on the ridge. Johny asked them what was going on and they just told him he'd find out soon. Not to be scared. Everything would be ok. It was pitch black in the forest until they cleared the top of the ridge, and they just kept walking up into the air! Johny found himself walking with them. Suddenly one of them shrieked. "LOOK at him! We've got the wrong one!" "Quick, put him back!" Johny woke up in his own bed. Very very alarmed. Now for the weird part: When Johny got to work, he found out that a neighbor had died in his sleep of a heart-attack. They looked very similiar. They lived in houses with the same floor-plan on lots of the same layout less than two miles apart. It rather got hold of his attention, especially for a non-superstitious man.

Years passed, each much the same as the one before. Johny puttered in the vegetable garden, and washed his truck. He played with his kids, and all the other kids in the neighborhood. He ate watermelon in the porch-swing, and played his guitar in the twilight while we chased fireflies. He laughed a lot. He prayed for his boy in Vietnam. He volunteered as a local firefighter. (Well, he did until he realized a few years ago that the neighbor he car-pooled with to fires had driven around with a bloody hatchet in the trunk for two weeks after he dismembered his wife. Johny quit the fire department, saying that if his judgement was so bad he couldn't recognize a crazy ax-murderer he'd be unreliable in a fire-situation.)

More years passed. Johny coddled his grandchildren, and played Rook at the annual Christmas party. He watched his children become successful adults with families of their own. CEO's and truckdrivers, teachers and artists, mathmaticians and special forces.

More years passed. Johny got cancer. The result of some of the "sensitive and classified" projects he worked on for the government. He beat the cancer, fighting with everything he had. Which left him with little to fight the virus that caused the heart damage.

A few months ago he caught a virus, just a cold really. Nothing special. Except that it caused a significant amount of heart damage very very quickly. (Side note: Same virus I caught? Mother did visit Johny and Mary just before visiting us in the Spring) John had a massive heart-attack. On Medicare, he learned that he would have to wait thirty days before getting heart-surgery. The thirty days passed. Then he learned that his doctors have decided that his body is too ravaged by the cancer and its treatments to survive the surgery. So.

Johny went to Mary's family reunion last month. HIS family reunion, hordes of people that love him. That would move Heaven and Earth to save him, and yet can do nothing. Except love him. Which may be everything. Especially to the sweet boy who knew so little love and tenderness. Who was left all alone in the world, with no family. Thats a man who truly understands the blessing of having family.

My husband can't take any time off from work, and supervising house construction. Traveling for me will become more and more uncomfortable as the weeks progress. Besides, traveling for a funeral always struck me as shutting the barn-door after the horse has wandered off. The time to go is BEFORE they die.

Dad is flying in tomorrow to drive me and the children back to the South, since I can't handle the drive all by myself. I'll be gone for two weeks. Then, when I get home, I'll write the letters. I won't be able to go back for the funeral, but the situation demands recognition. I've decided to write a real letter to each of his children (especially Norman) and have the letters ready to go so that I can Fed-Ex them as soon as I get the news that Uncle Johny has died.

At first glance, a little depressing. Until I realized that when he got to the end of his life, he could be proud of a life lived truly and well. We should all be so lucky.


Lucy, my uncle had to make that decision about when to come for dad. He wanted to be here for mom when dad passed, but she told him no, come now, while there's still time.

He came, and dad woke up, and spent two days entertaining us with stories and having two days the way he lived, surrounded by friends and family, a going-away party.

I have to tell you though. My aunt and uncle ministered to us more than I can even tell you during those days. Just being there, being calm and gentle, ready to step in when we needed a break, just THERE.

I'm so glad they didn't wait for the funeral.


Leni | 07/11/2005 - 05:11 PM

Lucy! You have comments! How cool is that! Look....can you see me? I haven't been able to comment on here in so long, I forgot what it was like to be heard on the other end! Yeahhhhhh!!!! You tell the hubby how happy he has made me ok?

And how long has this been working? Or do I even want to know?

Anyway....now that I have babbled on...I don't want to take to much space or make a big fuss or anything...so I'll go...but, I hope you are doing well and I'll be back soon!


Sheilah | 07/12/2005 - 05:47 AM

This is the same decision I am making now -- to go back to see Grandma while she is still alive rather than be there for the funeral.

I understand the "being there" for those left behind thing... And if I lost my husband, NOW, I'd want certain people there for the funeral...

But, Grandma's the last. She lost her husband 30 years ago. Her daughter living there has her husband. And her granddaughter has HER mom as well as her husband. And it still seems to me, to mean more to the person themselves to be there while they are still alive.

(In fact, there is a Little House episode in the 1st season about this. A woman living with another old woman sees all the relatives of the other old woman shows up only for her funeral so, when her children say, once again, they "can't" come see her this year, she gets some of the townfolk to fake their own death to bring her kids in to town before she dies.)

My Boaz's Ruth | 07/24/2005 - 05:53 AM

1st time visitor to your blog. A touching post and how true for a host of people who live, love and die. As I get older, I wondor how many of us pass away in an ideal circumstance, such as...perhaps in our sleep? Dream on Maggie.

Maggie Ann | 07/28/2005 - 03:50 PM

Denise,Our thoughts and perryas are with you and your family.Words cannot express our sorrow for your loss.Although we have not meet but only seen one another in passing at ppm events. The compainionship you both shared, and the kindness around you and David beamed.I'm so sorry. Joan and Tim Todd

Ignacio | 03/31/2013 - 11:56 AM

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nhitdvc | 04/02/2013 - 12:02 AM
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