At my age, I have learned to expect the unexpected. I am well familiar with the old adage, "the best laid plans of mice and men."
This Sunday afternoon I am sitting out on my deck, with Wife and Ralph the Dog, alongside me. Ralph is doing what he does best -- sleeping, but with his ears up, just in case something should happen that needs his attention (even though he's going deaf). Wife is reading.
This past week is a blur. I worked in town last Monday and Tuesday. I took our Mission CEO to meet with an influential friend of mine late Monday afternoon. I had a Mission Executive Committee meeting Tuesday night.
Wednesday morning I drove over to Memphis to work for a couple of days (or what I planned to be a couple of days). Thursday morning I got word that a dear friend, the lady who lived next door to me growing up in South Arkansas, Mrs. M., had died the night before.
This was not unexpected. She had had Alzheimer's for about six years. Her husband, Dr. M., died in August 2009 after faithfully caring for her. After that she went to live with her son and she's been there ever since. The last time I saw her, a couple of years ago, she did not know me.
To give a little background, I met Mrs. M. in 1968 when her family moved in next door to me. She and Dr. M. had four children, two older and two younger than myself. I loved them all and over time they became like family to me.
Mrs. M. and I had a special friendship and she remained a faithful friend to me throughout my adult life -- calling me on birthdays, writing me notes -- until she became ill and could longer communicate independently. She and Dr. M. were also good, faithful friends to my parents.
Anyway, when I heard that she had died, I knew that I needed to go. The funeral was to be Saturday afternoon. It's about a 7.5 - 8 our drive from home and, since I was already three hours down the road, Wife and I decided I would just stay in Memphis and go from there.
This was totally selfless on Wife's part because we had a number of things scheduled this weekend. Both Daughter and Younger Son are out of town and we had a wedding to attend Friday night and had accepted another invitation for Saturday night. Wife was helping host a brunch Saturday morning (not at our house) and we always have a running list of projects, of course. She knows how much Mrs. Mr. and her family meant to me, though, so she gave me her blessing.
On Friday I felt something, a little bit of a "nudging," a feeling that I should write down some of my thoughts about Mrs. M. I decided that, if it would be at all appropriate, I would share this at the funeral on Saturday. I would not push it on them and would only do it if it would fit, and I did not even call in advance to ask. I would just discreetly mention it when I got there and if I didn't speak at the service, I would just give the family what I had written down and let them read it at a later time.
Friday night I drove to Little Rock to spend the night with Wife's parents. I got a text from longtime friend (and blogger friend) Kelly, who had heard about Mrs. M. and knew of my friendship with the family, asking me if I would be coming. We agreed I would meet her for lunch.
Lunch was delightful. We talked nonstop and could have talked hours more. Old friends are the best (even though Kelly and I are still, of course, quite young. We've just known each other a long time).
When I arrived at the visitation just before the funeral service, I spoke to one of Mrs. M.'s daughters. I told her what I had written down and told her I would be happy to share it but only if it would be appropriate and if it would fit in with what they had planned. She smiled broadly and said she thought it would be perfect, that they had planned a brief, simple service and that she, her two sisters and brother had all wanted to say something but didn't think they could, emotionally, handle it. Her husband, a pastor, was conducting the service. We spoke to him and he said he thought it would be a great idea.
I talked to the other siblings to make sure they were OK with it and they all told me that they would love it and thanked me.
So at the start of the service, I gave a brief talk about my memories of growing up next door to Mrs. M. and what she and her family had meant to me. I said that it truly "takes a village" and that Mrs. M. had been such an integral part of the village that helped raise me.
I talked about the wonderful neighborhood in which we had grown up -- where we played touch football games in the non-busy street during the day and kick-the-can at night. We all looked out for each other and Dr. and Mrs. M. had been like another set of parents for me.
It was a simple little talk, but it was well received, and I'm so glad I got to do it. I have no doubt that the "nudging" was God urging me to step out and do something that didn't make me feel comfortable but, in the end, made me feel very good.
After the graveside service, I took a walk by myself over to the headstone that marks the graves of my parents, buried side by side. I know that they are not "there" in the truest sense, but I smiled, and even laughed a bit, as I read their names on the headstone.
And in my old hometown, downtown where I had lunch with Kelly, at the funeral and at the cemetery, I felt them with me, as well as Dr. and Mrs. M., and others who were all part of my "village," and I felt very warm, and very thankful.
I got in the car about 5 p.m. and drove back to my current "village." At 12:45 a.m. I climbed into bed with my wonderful sleeping wife, who always puts my wants and needs before hers, and I counted my blessings until I fell asleep.