A Classmates Lament (May 2009)
Lately I have been around folks dying more than usual. My nearly 94-year-old dad is in an assisted living facility, and death routinely visits the families with loved ones there. We never know who will be next, departing this life, but it comes like clockwork several times a month.
Last week, I went to the funeral of Gweneth Iuliano Vick, the mother of our classmate, Pat Horan. She was a simple countrywoman born in Dinwiddie County, near Petersburg Virginia in 1915, who at the age of four wrote in a Sunday School notebook that she wanted to be a “Sunbeam for Jesus” and then spent 93 years becoming one. At her funeral I learned about Pat’s mother and even more about how my friend, Pat, became the caring, hard-working, thoughtful man of integrity and peace that I know. He was nurtured by the love of his mother for his entire life.
In the past two weeks, we learned of the deaths of two 57 classmates, Sharon Hough Meyers and Suzie Oliver Trefny. Their deaths especially touch me. I remember both them as young pretty girls in school, bright, cheerful, and full of life, charm and energy. I think that I will always hold them in my memory as young girls but for the past several years, they have become grimmer parts of my thoughts. Sharon suffered profoundly with Multiple Sclerosis, trapped in a wheelchair for the past ten years and unable to move from her house, and Suzie has been confined by melanoma cancer and slowly disappearing.
I talked with Suzie’s husband, my old pal, Jimmy Trefny, a few times a month since the doctors' declared her terminally ill shortly after our 50th reunion. Jim said after her funeral today in response to a compliment about how he had cared for Suzie in such a dedicated way, “For me loving Suzie, by caring for her at the end of her life, was a great privilege for me”. With that remark, Jimmy etched himself in my memory. His dedication has been heroic.
As Suzie slipped away, I was in touch with Alma, Suzie’s dear friend since a 1945 first grade classroom in the old school at the end of Prospect Parkway. Her perceptiveness about Suzie’s last year was insightful and comforting. Alma is an old soul. Gloria and Mac, her close social friends for a lifetime were there for Suzie at the end, just as they had been for her as she faced many of life’s challenges, shared child raising, and family concerns.
At our 50th Reunion, many of us had our last delightful visits with Suzie. She was critically ill and never let on the seriousness of her illness. She doffed her wig a few times to show us her baldness from chemotherapy and laughed uproariously at the result. Suzie and Loretta Willis Marshal had a spiritual reunion in October 2007. This was a gift for two old friends to share when the going was tough.
Donnie and Donna and Gene and others visited Suzie in hospital and after their several visits I learned of their reactions to the gradual deterioration of the body and the never say die spirit that Suzie had until the end of her time. She was undaunted and cheerful to all who visited, and they cheered her on in spite of the sorrow in their hearts. Visits cheered her heart.
Suzie’s funeral was evidence of her impact on the folks at Cradock who have lived with her and proof of a love among our classmates than most of us readily acknowledge. Present at the funeral of 163 mourners were, Hugh and Betty, Gene and Ellen, Donnie and Donna, Katherine Powell, Thom Perry, Fred Crouch, Richard Huneycutt, Jimmy Moy, Ray Cox, Hope, Alma, Yvonne, Jeanne Knutson Livesay, Rodney, Mac and Gloria, Billy and Loretta, Jack and Rosalie Lawson, Pat Horan, Donna and Bernie. We all showed up to say good-bye to that vivacious tiny puffball of sprit that we knew as dynamite in a small package. Whenever possible she was laughing at us or with us. Maybe she still is.
We remembered her jitterbug dancing (fast dancing) with Freddie Crouch and Bobby Gray at sock hops, and teen-age events, when we were kids and with Jimmy for the past thirty years. Suzie loved to dance. The theme music played at her funeral was “I Love Beach Music”. Since it was first performed, whenever I heard Don and Phil Everly singing “Wake up Little Suzy”, I thought of our little Suzie. We remembered her pride in being a Cradock Varsity cheerleader, her zest for life and her social leadership in high school. Suzie was there if there was a party. We remember that Suzie never had an enemy because she was so full of love. We remember her great love of Marion and his family and her great love of Jimmy, and her pride and love of her precious daughter Megan. Dennis Levin, a preacher at the funeral described her love of Jimmy as especially tenacious; He said, “it had to be, she married him twice.”
I chronicled Suzie’s slow demise for more than two years in issues of News and Notes to 57 Classmates, and each month as I wrote about Suzie, I thought about us as a group turning 70. I thought, we are all facing death. The end of our lives is simply not as apparent as it was in Suzie and Sharon’s lives. Few of us have more than fifteen years left. We are indeed in the end days of this quite wonderful trip we have had.
Around death, bold, cathartic experiences are available. We often miss these experiences as they occur. Maybe occasionally we get them from a movie or a dramatic performance but not very often. Sometimes we get them from a funeral. It is similar to when something horrible happens in your life, and you come away from it shaken but also in a way settled and peaceful. Maybe this is happening now.
My prayer for Suzie and Sharon: Your memory is our keepsake, with which we will never part. You are no longer in our daily keeping, but you are forever in our heart.
bk with love, 5-6-2007