My mom’s cousin Shirley was the kind of woman who changed a room when she walked into it.
It wasn’t sheer beauty or style; it was her personality. She had a laugh that went straight down to her toes and made you laugh along with her, even if you didn’t know why. Her smile made you feel special, like you were the only one in the room and the smile was just for you. She was 75 years old, but she was one of those people who seemed eternally 55, maybe just retired but still active and full of life.
That life had been dimmed a little in the past few years as she dealt with a cancer diagnosis that kept moving to different parts of her body. Earlier this summer, when doctors removed a tumor on her spine, Shirley was left paralyzed. It was a big blow for an independent woman who loved life and had never known much sickness.
She passed away on Friday afternoon.
And I miss her. I think about her loud entrance to family Christmas celebrations, and tears come to my eyes. I remember her hugs that enveloped you, and I wish for one. I regret not doing more to reach out to her in these last few years when I could have, but simply thought I’d have more time. Or that my time was more important.
Which, of course, it wasn’t.
When I was 13, my grandfather (my mom’s dad) passed away. I’d been to funerals for two of my great-grandmothers as a child, but Grandpa’s death is the first one I remember clearly. I felt his loss keenly. In those long days of visitation and funeral, my brother and I spent a lot of time hanging out in a family lounge at the funeral home, watching TV, reading, and studying for a science test we were going to take when we returned to school. And somewhere in the middle of all that, Shirley and her husband, Robert, came to the funeral home and took my brother and I out for hamburgers.
It was a small act of kindness, but one I never forgot. In the midst of our sorry—which was her sorrow, too, since my Grandpa had been her uncle—she was thoughtful enough to know that we needed a change of scenery and that my parents needed time when they didn’t have to worry about us. It made me feel special that day, and when I was older, it was an example to me. Love is a pretty word, but it’s not anything unless it becomes a verb. Shirley loved in word and deed, and I’ve never been able to forget it.
Her funeral is tomorrow. I won’t be able to attend, but I’ll honor her just the same. I have a deep, otherworldly understanding that Shirley is completely healed now—that her smile is back, as brilliant as ever, as she is held in the arms of her Savior.
So it’s goodbye for now. But not forever.