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Love and Loss at Christmas

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Posted 12-13-2010 at 08:56 AM by Jeff Westover
Updated 12-13-2010 at 09:05 AM by Jeff Westover

He was a man sometimes overlooked. That happens a lot to people in wheelchairs. For more than 30 years he battled with MS. A body that once loved to play basketball and, in its youth, engaged in competitive sports had fully rebelled. But the man inside the body was not bitter. He was a cheerful “old soul” – a man who simply wouldn’t or couldn’t be put down. His name was Randy.

I would see him primarily at church where he would sit in the back, in his wheelchair, each week, greeting those who walked by with big smiles and a hearty hello. Occasionally I would be called upon to teach a class and Randy was always there with an engaged mind and a willingness to participate. I loved hearing him speak up, if only because his perspective usually sharpened the point I was trying to make.


In good weather Randy would drain the batteries on his wheelchair, thrilling in the speed he could achieve as he raced up and down the street. I once asked him why he did that and he confessed to me how much he missed running and feeling the wind in his hair.


Randy wasn’t a young man when I met him and he had lived with his parents all those years as his body slowly lost functionality. When his father passed away a year or so ago I wondered what would become of him as his mother was quite frail. But each week he would be there at Church, smile on his face, his slight mother at his side.


Then, a few months back, I heard Randy was sent away. Presumably, his mother just could not care for him and he went to live with one of his ten siblings. Then suddenly, as neighbors concern for her grew over her failing condition, word reached us that Randy had passed away in a hospital of liver failure.

I cannot tell you how his passing has saddened me. Randy was such a bright light, a person who warmed my heart each time I saw him. He had reason to be down and perhaps justification to be bitter. But he never was. In fact, Randy was quite the opposite, seemingly happy in the face of great adversity. I didn’t recognize how much he had inspired me.


Funerals for some are depressing events. But they aren’t where I live and in Randy’s case I know that just can’t be. It just wasn’t his style.


This Christmas season is humbling to me because it is the first in which I’ve have to deal with so much loss. My mother is coming off a difficult year having suffered a stroke in May. She’s almost completely back, adding new definition to the term “Thanksgiving”. But Sandy’s grandmother had a stroke in October and is failing, at age 89, to recover. We feel her slowly slipping away.


Our neighborhood recently suffered another loss but one that is keenly felt as a triumph. Amongst us was a family raised in this area who were one of the first to build a home here. Their children are long raised and gone but as a couple they inspired us with their undying love between them. His name was Dan and her’s, Daleen.


Some years ago Daleen suffered health issues requiring dialysis three times a week. That’s never good news. Those who knew this woman well knew how determined she could be so when she claimed she would fight it so that she could celebrate a grandchild’s 12th birthday. She made that target and then set another, shooting to make another grandchild’s high school graduation.


Milestone after milestone she has kept going, eating as little as a cup of food a day with just a little water while attending to a regimen of dialysis that would make anyone weary.


She accomplished this with the loving companionship of Dan, who was so entirely devoted to her. He took care of her every need, only showing up at Church occasionally when he could get someone to sit with her so that he could attend a meeting now and then.

Dan was a big man, involved in construction, I believe, before he retired. He was handy and could do just about anything. He had a personality as big as life and became known and beloved at the dialysis center where he took Daleen those many, many years.


How many years? From what I understand it is going on nine years now. I’m told that about five years on dialysis is the norm and Dan and Daleen got used to losing friends they would make in going to dialysis.


A month or so ago Dan was out working in the yard when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Nobody ever thought for a moment he would be called home before Daleen. As his children and grandchildren gathered for his funeral I’m sure I wasn’t alone with my other neighbors as feeling a bit like an intruder as they tearfully accounted for his life well lived.

Daleen, of course, was there at the funeral. I had seen her at Church, with Dan, just a few weeks before, one of the only times I had seen them together in public ever. I didn’t think it strange at the time, in fact, I thought it hopeful. My naïve nature was telling me that maybe she was getting better in some way if they could both go to church together. It was heartwarming to see. It turns it that it was the first time in years they had a chance to do that and it would be their last.


With Dan’s passing, like it was with Randy’s father and Randy himself, we all wondered what would happen with Daleen, whose care needs are prodigious. And we wondered if after all these years if a broken heart would be what would finally get Daleen, as she and Dan are sweethearts in the truest sense of the word.


My wife serves on a committee that supports families in crisis, meaning that for every funeral hosting and feeding duties for visiting families are met. As she prepared for Randy’s funeral tomorrow she received word that Daleen is failing and will be ending her dialysis treatment. The doctors say she will be gone sometime between 3 days and two weeks, depending upon how her body reacts.

Death and sadness at Christmas is not good for some. But all of these good people passing to the other side is not a sad thing in my eyes. It is, in fact, the very essence of Christmas. The great celebration of the birth of Christ has been known to mankind since before Christ was even born. It is not the celebration of the birth of a baby but of the overcoming of death itself – something only made possible by Jesus Christ. That is what we celebrate.


I always knew there would be a season of death in my life and I suppose I’m lucky to have avoided it for so long. But I refuse to allow it to dampen my Christmas spirit. In fact, these things give me more hope than ever.
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  1. Old Comment
    I am so very sorry for all the loss you have undergone and are undergoing. Thank you for this wonderful entry in your journal, Jeff. It gives me the perspective I feel I need because I too know that sooner or later I will be facing a season of death. I just hope I will be able to handle it and think of it in the way that you do. Blessings.
    Posted 12-13-2010 at 12:50 PM by caninemom3 caninemom3 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    I do understand about a sense of loss and the Christmas season. In fact, one of the songs that I wrote, The Remembrance Carol, was written the first Christmas after my Mom passed away. Yes, she's in a better place. However, I still miss her. Afterall, she was the one that instilled the "Christmas Spirit" into me. It was those thoughts that went into that song.
    Posted 12-19-2010 at 08:55 PM by ccape ccape is offline
 
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