Humans have funny traditions about grief. I mean, if you think about it, we’re the only species that acts startled when one of us dies. We moan, cry, tear our clothes, and do weird things like embalm the dead, put makeup on them, and give them pillowed caskets as they are ‘laid to rest’. As if they care! Other species act much more rationally, from the worldly perspective. They leave their dead where they fall, or eat them.
I think we get all jumpy because at some level, we know it’s not supposed to be like this. We were created to be eternal beings, and death wasn’t part of the original plan.
I’m an unashamed Christian, and believe that my Christian mother understood this thoroughly. When she was buried, she didn’t give two cents what we did with her. In fact, she made that clear to the rest of us in spades.
I remember one conversation I had with her at the dinner table, several years ago. She had this riotous sense of humor, and wanted to tell us about the arrangements she and Dad had made for their respective burials. She was laughing so hard, she could barely get the words out.
“Vicky, Vicky, listen to me. This is how it works for cremation. Don’t forget, I want to be cremated! And no open viewing! NONE! See, they put you in this casket, and then take you to the service in this really, really nice oak casket. MAKE SURE IT’S CLOSED! Then, you have the service, and then…..” (she starts cracking up) “… THEN! they open a trap door on the side of the casket, and slide you right out! It’s all cardboard! They put you in cardboard, and then off you go to be cremated! It’s so much cheaper! You just rent the casket, you don’t even buy it! You go get cremated in cardboard! Then they put the ashes in a nice bronze urn, and you bury that! It’s so much less expensive because the plot is so much smaller! Heeeheeeheee!”
My brother and I just looked at each other. Who was this person? Hee-hee. It was mom, a Depression era girl, who looked for a deal even in death. What a gal.
When we were making her program, we acceded to another American tradition. Some people spend money to honor people. They sent flowers, gifts, all kinds of things. It’s no use to say “No flowers, please” people will just do it anyway. So we picked the three charities that were the closest to her heart. There is a local pregnancy center, a local food bank, and a fund to educate my children than some very kind friends set up when Chris died.
We put the addresses to each of these things in the program. Boxes and boxes of cards came in, and many people made very generous donations. One, in particular, moved me so much I just had to share it with you.
Byron Post is an elderly friend of my family that lives back east. Byron has had a difficult life. He’s in his seventies now, and was declared ‘different’ by society when he was a teenager. By today’s standards, he would have received an ADD label as a child, and maybe ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ as an adult. Today, he very likely would have gotten some very helpful medicines, and had an easier time of it. In the sixties though, the mentally challenged had a very hard time.
My mother always had a heart for the hard cases, probably because she felt so different being so poor in the Depression. She always helped Byron whenever she could. She helped him buy food, helped him go to church, helped him get and keep various low level jobs.
The card I received from Byron had this in it:
“Dear Victoria, it was a privilege to read Chris’s words in his Caring Bridge blog before he died. I am very glad that you are continuing to write in Victorias Visits. In the crises times, the mundane still has a way of pressing in. Please accept this as a hug and a token of my love for you, Chris and your mother. Love, Byron.”
Inside the card was a very carefully stapled check for nine hundred, thirty eight dollars and fifty cents, made out to me.
I had met Byron perhaps 5 times in my 47 years. Tears suddenly jumped into my eyes, and I felt very, very loved. Byron barely knew me personally, but he knew my heart intimately over this weird, new form of communication called the Internet. He had figured out how to go to the library when Chris got sick. He figured out how to get on Chris’s Caring Bridge blog. He heard me when I transitioned it to victoriasvisits.wordpress. He continued to hear me, faithfully, every week over the past year or so of posts.
But why 938.50$? Byron worked a minimum wage job at a storage facility. He didn’t have that kind of money to give away. Why not an even 900$? Why so much? I thought about it.
My mother taught me about budgeting when I was a little girl. I have saved twenty percent of my income since I have had any.
My mom was a saver, I think this came from her daddy having to shoot her pet goat to have meat for dinner one week. She worked next to her mother cleaning the local church, and any other work they could find. These things really shaped her.
She very likely imparted the same skill to Byron. 938.50$ sounded like a budgeted amount. An amount carefully set aside from a very small check, stashed away until just the right moment. This was the right moment.
I looked at Byron’s check, unsure about what to do with it. My children will receive an education, their choices are just limited with only one income. This was a huge amount for Byron. Should I keep it? I thought some more, and this mental picture came to mind.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Byron had shown me the best example of sacrificial love I had seen in a while. I deposited his check into the education account, and sent him a heartfelt thank you.
I thank you again, Byron, from the bottom of my heart.