Whether we like it or not, life is about change. We are born; we grow; we mature; we age; we decline; we die. We can (and should) rage against the dying of the light, but sooner or later the light always dies.
Faithful readers of my blog know of my experiences caring for my mother, Laura, who suffered a stroke and struggled to regain a satisfactory quality of life before she succumbed to lung cancer 38 months later. For anyone who is not familiar with the tangled tale, I invite you to read my blog, titled “Dreaming Out Loud,” about our experiences. You can begin with Dreaming Out Loud, Chapter 1, and follow the tale through multiple chapters. I am currently up to Chapter 13. I post new chapters on my website about every two or three weeks.
Our family suffered another terrible loss recently. My mother’s sister, Polly Mead, died on September 16, 2013. Because a link to an online obituary does not last indefinitely, I reproduce the entry here:
Polly Ayres Mellette Mead, 82, loving mother and grandmother, tutor and career civil servant passed away Sept. 16, 2016. Polly was born Jan. 9, 1931, in Andrews, S.C., daughter of Robert S. and Eloise Holladay Mellette, and grew up in Marion and Florence, S.C. She graduated from Winthrop College in 1951 and married Loren B. Mead of Florence on Aug. 25 of that year. In 1965 she received a master's degree from the University of North Carolina. In the 1950s, Polly worked as an assistant to the president of The Opportunity School in West Columbia, S.C., and later as an administrative assistant to Prof. Reuel Howe at Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria. In 1957, she moved with her family to Chapel Hill, N.C., where she worked in the anti-poverty program Operation Breakthrough. In 1969, Polly and her family moved to Washington, D.C., where she pursued a career in federal civil service. She was a leader in the TRIO Programs of the Department of Education; planning director at Gallaudet College, and later worked with the EEOC and the Office of Management and Budget. She was one of the first women selected for the Federal Senior Executive Service. She retired in 1994 and spent eight years as a volunteer tutor at the Oyster School. "GrandPolly" was a published poet, an enthusiastic gardener, and known among her friends as a hostess extraordinaire. After living in northwest Washington for more than 30 years, she and her husband moved to Goodwin House at Bailey's Crossroads, Va. She is survived by her husband of 62 years, Loren B. Mead; one brother, William Mellette of Washington D.C.; four children, Walter, Chris, Barbara and Philip; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; one niece and four nephews. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday (Sept. 20) in St. Alban's Episcopal Church at 3001 Wisconsin Ave., NW Washington, DC 20016. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be sent to the Oyster School Library, to the attention of Edith Shorts, 2801 Calvert St. NW, Washington DC 20008; or to St. Alban’s.
I wrote a blog about Polly and her husband, Loren, on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary in October 2011. Interested readers can find the original posting, titled “Reflecting on Life’s Milestones,” here.
At a time when family members are grieving, words seem to be a poor substitute for the reality of a loved one who has died. Yet words are all we have to express our feelings.
I recently researched the life and times of Henry David Thoreau for a book I wrote about American environmentalism. I loved reading Thoreau’s account of why he chose to live in the woods:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
My aunt Polly did not go off to live a Spartan existence in the woods, but I believe she learned what life had to teach and she sucked out its marrow. She drove life into a corner. The numerous family and friends who spilled into the church to remember and revere her life were a testament to the richness of a life well-lived.
So, yes, I grieve for her loss. Yet I like to think that Polly lived up to Sophocles’ definition of good fortune:
Let every man in mankind’s frailty Consider his last day; and let none Presume on his good fortune until he find Life, at his death, a memory without pain.
A Happy Change
Sometimes a season of change includes happy occurrences. In this instance, I am pleased to say that my grandson, Aswad Elisha “Ellie” Woodson, will come to live with me later this year. Long-time readers of my blog may recall a posting from October 2012 titled “Through the Eyes of a Child” about my trip to see Ellie in September 2012. I also visited him (along with his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother) in May 2013. We took him to see the Grand Canyon. This photograph of Ellie, taken during a rafting trip on the Colorado River near Page, Arizona, in May, is one of my favorites. Stay tuned for more postings about Ellie and our family.
So change, whether characterized as sad or happy, is a part of life. As the Byrds (with assistance from the book of Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger) tell us in “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” change is necessary and inevitable. There is “a time to every purpose, under Heaven”:
A time to be born, a time to die A time to plant, a time to reap A time to kill, a time to heal A time to laugh, a time to weep.