We know that life and death happen daily around the globe. Some are celebrated with great fanfare, others with palatable sorrow, and yet others come and go barely noticed.
Yesterday, a small gathering of the “Ferguson clan” met once again on the beautiful hillside Cemetery of Lebanon Baptist Church to quietly honor another life and death in our family. The place we gathered, though virtually obscure, has become sacred to us over the years. That hillside is a small portion of the original Ferguson Farm, a place where our ancestors hammered out a meager living. My Great Grandfather, Samuel Ferguson was not only the donor of the property to the Church, but also the first to be laid to rest there, his body awaiting the Resurrection. My dad often told the story of seeing his grandfather Samuel kneeling at his rocker weeping for the lost and asking God to call preachers of the Gospel from his lineage. God has honored a poor pastor/farmers prayer long after he entered heaven. The Gospel mattered to him, as did honoring family. I wish I had known him.
We have stood under many tents on that slice of land over the years, honoring lives we loved and lost, many of which seemed to be swept from earth far too soon. Few of our Ferguson clan have lived long lives, brevity seems to be the norm, long life the exception. Yesterday was one of the exceptions.
My sister and I were privileged to serve as Caregivers and Guardians of our Aunt for the past decade. We followed in the deep footsteps of our parents, who had meticulously overseen her care for over 40 years. Our Aunt Sissy was a victim of the sweeping Infantile Paralysis (Polio) of the early 1930’s, which altered the course of her life. She was born healthy, and remembered running and jumping, speaking clearly. It was however, an era when medical treatments, therapies and education for those with disabilities was virtually non-existent, especially for a poor pastor/farmer family. Many tragedies took place in Sissy’s young life, including the loss of her mom (my grandmother) to cancer, which spiraled my grandfather into decisions that we as a family have questioned and regretted. He did the best he knew how to do in the depths of his own grief and loss, we do understand that. I have however, struggled through the years that our Sissy was victimized not only by the ravages of an uninvited disease on her young body, but also by the generation of institutionalization of disabled children. That was the norm.
Through the course of time, Aunt Sissy responded to the Gospel of Christ. My brother baptized her while he pastored FBC DeSoto, a challenging feat with her crippled body. Sissy became a true prayer warrior in spite of her decreasing ability to speak. Eventually her crippled legs failed to carry her body, and she was confined to her wheelchair. She loved music, flashy jewelry, bright colors, Bible Studies, Bingo and laughter – always laughter.
Many things were impressed upon our lives as a family because of Aunt Sissy: compassion for disabilities, respect for quality nursing homes and the caregivers on staff, the value of Churches seeing skilled nursing facilities as points of mission and ministry, the joy a simple Birthday Party or Happy Meal can bring to a care facility resident….and laughter, much laughter.
A global pandemic is a grievous time for anyone to begin the end of life progression, but particularly so for those with disabilities. Isolation and inability to communicate are cruel companions. My sister and I were recipients of great kindness by the Hospital staff attending her, they assured us of their tender care and alertness of her condition….and they allowed us the gift of “sneaking in” to sit with her for a couple of hours, in spite of Covid regulations.
Life impacting moments happen in the unexpected, time together for final words becomes an immeasurable gift. We sang hymns to her, and FaceTimed the family she loved in order for her to tell them goodbye. She knew she was heaven bound. As we spoke with her about her imminent journey she said with a gleam in her weary eyes “me so excited!”. And she was…truly…so excited to get to go to heaven…finally.
I kissed her goodbye for the final time that day. When I whispered “I love you Sissy”, her faint response was “me know”.
One simple life, forged in tragedy….and altering the hearts of all who knew her. She was the personification of courage, joy, contentment, peace….and the presence of Christ.
Life….death….and life eternal…
The Gospel truly is good news for all who will believe.