And, just as important, with simply remembering the many happy times we've shared.
That means I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about my dear Doris, who died three years ago this month, just shy of her 98th birthday.
Over the last six years of her life, Doris and I spent a great deal of quality time together, lunching weekly with her amazing daughter, visiting and singing and jabbering, sifting through thousands of her family photos, and wrapping up nearly every Friday afternoon with a spirited scrapbooking session during which we tried to artfully arrange the best of those photos – some dating back to before the turn of the last century.
Being so immersed in this photographic history, I got to know Doris and her family very well over the years. I learned all about the courage of her mother Lydia, widowed at an early age; about the love and humor of her husband Frank; and about the extraordinary kindness of her mother-, father- and sister-in-law.
Of special note were loving characters like Uncle Gus’s wife Aunt Coddle. She insisted on hand-making young Doris’s special-occasion dresses for such events as her First Communion. These dresses weren’t exactly fashionable, as the photographs demonstrated. In fact, the prospect of having to wear them out in public sent Doris to her mother in tears, hoping that she’d be told she could wear something else.
But no dice. Lydia invariably said, “Oh, I know it’s awful, Doris dear, but Aunt Coddle would be so hurt if you didn’t wear it. You’re just going to have to.” And so she did.
Maybe it was being raised by a mother like Lydia that gave Doris such a compassionate heart. Because in my eyes, at least, she was the epitome of the Christian woman – a doer of the word, not just a hearer (James 1:22).
Perhaps most telling, I never once heard her say an unkind word to anyone, or about anyone. Never. On the contrary, she always greeted staff and residents with the friendliest “Hello!” you’ve ever heard, and the brightest smile. And she often commented on what terrific people they were when they were out of earshot.
Nor did I ever hear her complain about anything. Not once. Not when a neighbor was ear-splittingly noisy, a staffer was cross, a fellow resident gobbled down all her chocolates, or an aide was painfully slow to respond to a call light. Not even when reflooring the hallways necessitated detours that were inconvenient for all and a trial for a 90-something woman relying on a walker; rather than complaining about it, she lauded the workers, complimenting them enthusiastically on their efforts.
What’s more, Doris seemed to be obsessed with your comfort, especially when you were sitting in her room. She wanted you to take the best chair. She wanted the temperature to be set at your comfort level. She wanted you to have just the right amount of the right kind of light, incandescent or fluorescent, for the task at hand.
The foundation of it all: a heart filled to overflowing with gratitude.
“I’ve had such a wonderful life,” Doris said more than once. And indeed, it was clearly a life filled with love and simple pleasures – her lovely extended family, a relatively modest but well-built and tidy home, long lists of girlfriends who got together regularly, family vacations at rented cottages in northern Wisconsin, volunteer work at a local hospital.
This gratitude continued into the last years of her life. Even though her daughter made repeated efforts to persuade her mother to come live with her, Doris kindly refused. She found her final earthly home beautiful, loved the staff and her fellow residents, nested happily in a room filled with family photos and favorite knickknacks, appreciated the food and courtyard garden and thoroughly enjoyed the constant slate of activities, all tailored to the interests and abilities of her generation.
And now I wonder: If this splendid woman found so much to love about this fallen world, even while dealing with the infirmities of great old age, how do you suppose she’s finding heaven?
Doris was one of a kind, and I will never forget her. Happily, thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that won’t ever be necessary; we’ll both be in that happy, heavenly throng, singing our hearts out in worship (and, she and I always hoped, doing so with far more beautiful voices than those we had in this life).
Until we meet again, my beloved friend.