© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen
Chapter 7: Impact of a Loss
The day before Thanksgiving was always an exciting time at Lila Lewis’ home. She worked diligently to prepare a perfect Thanksgiving meal for her husband and three sons. It was one of the major annual traditions and usually varied little from year to year. There was always a gigantic tom turkey in the oven overnight. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, noodles, pumpkin pie, dressing, a big relish plate, and some type of cranberry salad were always on the table or on the counter when the table was too full to hold any more.
Lila knew that she would end up throwing away the cranberry salad in a couple of days. The boys never wanted any of it, but she always prepared it because it was a part of Thanksgiving’s tradition.
Everyone in the family knew of Penny’s trip to Lansing. Even Chauncey asked a lot of questions of Lila about the procedure which Penny had to go through to help her sister. Kerry and Ben said nothing, but Robert knew that they were very much aware of the noble deed which his special friend had done for Julie.
Lila was using Wednesday morning to get the noodles cut and the pies made. She had to go to her job at the corrugated box factory by three o’clock Wednesday afternoon so she was trying to get as much done as possible before leaving for work.
Ben had been watching her for a half hour. Not much for cooking, himself, he enjoyed watching Lila or his oldest brother whenever they cooked. Robert did most of the cooking at night when Lila was at work.
“Mom,” he finally managed to begin talking of what was on his mind. “I’ve been wondering something.”
“What’s that, Dear?” she asked.
“My friend has a problem, and I wondered if we could help him with it.” Ben did not often ask favors. Usually, he remained quiet and tried to work out his own problems.
Realizing that this was an opportunity to have more communication with her quietest son, Lila was open to whatever he had on his mind.
“Which friend are you meaning, Ben?” she asked, opening the way for him to talk more.
Pausing briefly, Ben squirmed a bit, then answered, “It’s Martin, Martin Jackson. He’s a senior this year, and he wants to graduate from Chester High.”
“Well, why can’t he? What’s the problem?”
“His dad is moving to Wisconsin right after Christmas for a different job. If Marty can’t find somewhere to stay, somewhere in this township, he will have to move with his dad and not graduate here.” Ben did not appear comfortable with all the questions, and he realized that his mother would need to do more probing before he could even hope for her to grant the request he was about to make.
As expected, Lila had some pointed questions. “How do you happen to be so close to a senior, Ben? You’re only fourteen years old. This Marty must be seventeen or eighteen in order to be a senior this year.”
Not looking up into his mother’s eyes, Ben tried to make it appear innocent. “He’s usually down at the store front where we practice at night. See, he’s a good bass player, and he practices with us. We don’t run around together or anything, just work on our music. He’s a good guy, Mom. You’d like him.”
Trying to not chase her youngest son off with too many questions, Lila tried to change the direction of the conversation to a degree. “What did you think I could do about his problem with finishing school here? I’m not quite understanding what you’re trying to ask me.”
“Never mind, Mom,” Ben tried to dismiss the questions, hoping that he may be able to bring it up again later. “We can talk another time. You’re really busy now, OK?”
Pausing with a smile, she washed her hands and sat down at the table with Ben. “No, Ben. I have time now. I’m not too busy to spend time with you. Now, tell me what you had in mind, Son.”
The heat was on for Ben. It was time for him to open up to his mother.
“I know we’re kind of crowded here now since Grandma moved in. But, to help Marty, I would let him share my room if we could find another bed,” he began.
Lila’s eyes widened. “Well, I didn’t expect this kind of request, Ben. We really are crowded right now. Besides, I’m awfully busy with working and taking care of Grandma’s needs and all the work I have just for our immediate family. I don’t know about taking in one more person.”
“Just forget it!” Ben was quickly defensive. “I don’t have any rights here anyway. Maybe I’ll just find somewhere else to live. I can’t have my friends here or anything.” His anger was irrational. He got up to walk out the back door.
Rising to stop him, Lila called, “Ben, don’t go out. I want to discuss this. I didn’t say that we can’t help. Just give me a chance to work on it.”
When Ben stopped and turned around, she continued, “You can have your friends over. Sometimes you do have company. That’s all right. But taking someone in is something else.”
“Mom, bring it up some other time, when I’m not angry,” suggested Ben. “For now, I’m going to the store front to practice.” He walked out.
Within a few short minutes, Lila’s spirits had changed from joyful anticipation of one of the biggest family celebrations of the year to a dark feeling of slowly losing one of her dear sons.
Kerry walked in at just that moment and noticed the despair written on his mother’s face. “Mom, what’s wrong? I saw Ben outside, and he looked upset. Now, I can see that you’re worked up, too.”
“We just had a misunderstanding, Kerry,” Lila said. “It will clear up. It’s going to be OK.”
“I’m not too sure, Mom,” he answered. “He’s been changing a lot lately, for a few weeks. Robert said something to me about it, too. He needs some kind of help.”
“Maybe after the holiday,” she sighed. “We can work on it then. For now, we must plan on a good day tomorrow. We have Penny coming for Thanksgiving, and it will be a good day. I’m sure. Your dad and I will deal with Ben later.”
Thanksgiving Day dawned with a lot of excitement in the Lewis home. Lila was excited about the entertaining and the cooking involved for her as she wanted to again provide a perfect meal for her beloved sons and her mother. And, the realization that Penny would be present added to her determination to have a perfect day.
Robert was up early, anticipating his trip to Bill and Beulah’s to get Penny. He figured he would need to wait for her to finish getting ready. He was correct as she had got up only a half hour earlier and was in no great hurry to get around. So, Robert waited about forty-five minutes before opening the passenger side door of his car for her.
Entering the Lewis home, Penny’s big, warm smile met Grandma Sullivan first and then Ben, who was sitting with a scowl on his young face. Her smile seemed to have a good influence as Grandma began babbling, and Ben started to grin.
Hearing the commotion from the kitchen, Lila came into the living room and gave Penny a hug. “Welcome back. I’ve been waiting for your help, if you feel like having a part in preparing the meal.”
“Of course, I do,” Penny squealed. “I won’t cut the noodles one at a time this time.”
“The noodles are already cut,” said Lila. “But I haven’t yet whipped the cream to put on the dessert. Care to do that?”
Nodding with delight, Penny responded, “Yes, just show me what to do. That’s something I’ve never done.”
Standing directly behind her, Ben couldn’t resist rolling his eyes in disbelief. This time, however, he did not mouth any disrespectful comments as he had done earlier. It was clear, however, that he found it incredible that a twenty-one year old woman didn’t know how to cook at all.
Lila gave Penny brief instructions and went back to carving the big turkey. Chauncey was watching from the doorway between the kitchen and living room. It was always an irritation to him when Thanksgiving dinner was not ready precisely at noon. Lila was very much aware of Chauncey’s irritation so she worked as efficiently as possible to get the meal on the table.
Just about the time Lila had the table as perfect as she could, Penny began asking, “What did I do wrong? The whipped cream was getting really pretty, but now it’s getting lumps in it. Did I do something wrong?”
Lila burst out laughing as she inspected Penny’s project, saying, “You’ve whipped it too long. It was ready earlier, but when you kept whipping it, it became butter.”
Laughing at herself, Penny said, “I’m sorry. Like I said, I’ve never done this before. Now, I’ve ruined the whipped cream. It’s not funny, but it really is funny, too. Now there’s no whipped cream for the pie.”
“No, that’s not true,” Robert chimed in. “I squeeze a lot of cream from the cow every day. I’m sure we can skim enough off the milk in the fridge to try again. Right, Mom?”
Delighted with Penny’s latest kitchen problem, Lila laughed, “Of course. I’ll skim off some more cream and let you start over again. Don’t be upset, Penny. This happens a lot to new cooks.”
As expected, the eating of the meal did not begin until after Lila asked Penny to pray a Thanksgiving prayer. In the past years that had not been a part of their custom at the holiday, but this year was different, and no one seemed to mind, not even the impatient Chauncey. After Penny’s prayer, Chauncey glanced at his sons with a big, toothless grin and winked. Clearly, he thought highly of this young lady.
Talk around the table was general, nothing specific about Penny’s trip to donate marrow for her sister. During a lull in the conversation, Grandma began one of her times of nonsense talk. As everyone realized that she did not know what she was saying, no one felt the need of any type of explanations or apologies. They just let her talk.
“Today, today, today, today,” said Grandma Sullivan, over and over. Nothing more than the one word, today.
Robert mentioned to his mother, “Mom, I heard her early this morning, and that was all she said. I wonder why.”
“It’s hard to say, Son,” Lila answered. “She probably doesn’t even know what she’s saying. It’s OK, just let her say it.”
The meal ended. Lila said, “I’m leaving everything on the table. Everyone can just come in and pick up whatever they want for the rest of the day. But for now, let’s go into the living room and be more comfortable.”
Lila would not have been surprised if some of the boys had excused themselves to go outside or to their rooms, but none did. Even Chauncey stayed inside, waiting to hear anything he could about Penny’s medical ordeal of a few days earlier.
“How are you feeling, Penny?” Lila finally asked, hoping the question would open the way for Penny to talk about the donation.
“Oh, I’m great!” was Penny’s answer. “I’m a little sore from the puncture, but it’s not really too painful. I’m glad I could help my sister.”
Now, everyone felt they could ask questions. “Is she friendlier to you now?” To the surprise of everyone, the question had come from Ben.
Briefly overtaken by an expression of sadness, Penny lowered her eyes and answered, “No, not really, Ben. She would not talk to me before the procedure, saying she was too sleepy from the anesthetic and too sick from the chemotherapy. So, I accepted it for the time. But, after it was over, I waited around until the next day, hoping to get to talk to her. She wouldn’t talk.”
“I’m so sorry, Dear,” consoled Lila. Grandma, too, seemed aware of Penny’s sadness. She watched her and rocked in the rocker and wiped her eyes briefly.
“Sorry. Today, today, today,” repeated Grandma as she rocked.
Penny decided to continue. “I went to Julie’s room on Tuesday, two days ago, just before Janet drove me back to Adrian. I told her I was praying for her and that I was glad I got to be the one to donate marrow for her.” At that, Penny could no longer hold back the sobbing.
Chauncey got a very uncomfortable expression on his face and looked at the floor. Ben began shuffling his feet and put his hands into his pockets and then pulled them out again, clearly ill-at-ease. Kerry quietly walked out of the room and went to the bathroom, saying nothing.
“Today, today, today.” It was Sarah Sullivan’s chanting.
Finally, Penny composed herself and manufactured a small grin. “This is Thanksgiving, not a funeral.” she announced. “God is helping me. He knows, and I know, and I think my sister knows that I love her deeply. My gift to her was not conditional. I did not ask her to repay me by being pleasant to me. I think she will think about it for a long time, and she will some day be grateful and thankful.”
“I hope so,” finally Robert spoke. “She needed what you were able to give her. That should mean something to her.”
Her smile returning, Penny suggested, “Robert, why don’t you play the piano for a few songs. This is a holiday so we need music.”
Kerry and Ben usually did not hang around when Lila or Robert played the piano, and this time was no exception. Ben said, “Mom, I’m going to the store front. I think Marty and some of the others are going to be there this afternoon to practice. OK?”
“All right, Son,” Lila answered. “Bring them in for some leftovers after a while if you want. There’s plenty.”
Kerry just quietly disappeared for a few hours, most likely going to a friend’s house for football. Chauncey slipped to the master bedroom for an afternoon nap. This left Penny, Robert, Lila and Grandma in the living room where Robert was beginning to play chords on the piano as he decided what songs to play.
“That’s an Easter song, Robert,” laughed Lila as she recognized that he was playing In The Garden. This is Thanksgiving.”
“I know, Mom, but it’s one of my favorites,” said Robert. “This song touches me deep inside sometimes.”
“Me, too, Robert,” said Penny. “Go on. Play it. I like it, especially the chorus. It says, ‘And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joys we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known’.”
Robert played the song a few times. Lila spoke to Penny while his music continued, “This reminds me of a friend of mine, many years ago, when I was a teenager.”
“You mean, this song?” asked Penny with a big smile.
Nodding, Lila told her, “Her name was Ethel, and she was going with a boy named Andrew. Whenever they sang that song in church, some of us would look at Ethel and laugh, and she knew what we were thinking.” Lila was beaming as she told the account.
With her face beaming with happy anticipation, Penny asked, “What were you thinking?”
“The chorus, we changed the spelling of a couple of words and sent Ethel a note. Instead of ‘And He walks with me and He talks with me’, we changed the words to ‘Andy walks with me; Andy talks with me’. It was so funny. We shortened the name Andrew to Andy. Ethel and Andy finally got married, and we’ve always laughed with them about how the chorus sounds.”
“That’s hilarious!” squealed Penny. “I can see that you liked to have fun when you were young. So do I. None of that ultra serious stuff for me. I think God wants us to laugh and enjoy life.”
Sarah Sullivan clearly enjoyed Penny’s good spirit and joined in with, “Today, today, today, today.”
Robert finished the song, played a couple more songs and then suggested, “Let’s go out for a walk, OK, Penny?”
Getting up with her contagious smile, she replied, “Sure thing. Let me find my jacket.” She went to the guest closet and pulled out a rather well-worn red jacket and slipped it on as Robert opened the door for her.
It was a nippy day for a walk, but the temperature was still above freezing. They decided they could endure the chill and walked about two miles and then walked back to the Lewis homestead. Their walk was slow in order for them to have more time to talk.
When they got back into the house, Lila and Grandma were just finishing with the dishes. Grandma was all smiles as she loved to dry dishes. Also, she always lit up when she saw Penny.
“How was the walk?” asked Lila in an effort to have conversations open up. It was clear that she thought highly of Penny. No doubt, she hoped the relationship would develop into an eventual marriage proposal.
Lila’s question went unanswered for some time. Robert said nothing, his countenance being less than joyful. At last, Penny decided to converse.
“It’s kind of cool, but it was nice to get away from the noises of the city and to hear a few birds and see a few wild creatures. We even saw a pair of deer a long way back from the road.” Her face with filled with the trademark smile which they all loved so much.
Knowing her son rather well, Lila decided to not ask any more of Robert, allowing him to talk whenever he was ready. Still, she began to worry about his quietness on this holiday, and especially with the presence of the girl he seemed to care quite a lot for.
They snacked and played a few rounds of Scrabble until around six o’clock when Robert announced he needed to change his clothes and go get the cow milked.
“Oh, let me come and help you,” squealed Penny. “I’ve never tried to milk a cow.”
Robert worked on a weak smile and said, “Sure, we’ll make a farm girl out of you yet.” With that, he went and changed and led Penny to the stable.
Penny was laughing and talking a lot when they got back inside. Robert showed her how he strains the milk and puts two gallons into the pasteurizer each evening. He seemed more at ease now, but Lila felt there was still some sort of problem he was stewing about.
After eating some warmed over food, Penny asked Robert to return her to Beulah’s where she would stay for the weekend, until Sunday night.
Robert was back home rather quickly after taking Penny to his uncle’s, more quickly than Lila had expected. Since Kerry and Ben were still gone, and Chauncey had driven over to see his mother for a while, only Grandma Sullivan and Lila were at home. Robert decided to talk.
“Mom, there’s a problem,” he began.
“Yes, I could tell that something was wrong after your afternoon walk with Penny, Son. What is it?” she asked.
“Well, she’s going away,” he answered with the expression of a whipped puppy on his face. He was not too talented at hiding his feelings, especially from Lila.
“Who? Penny?” she asked. “Where?”
“Yes, Penny,” he responded with some disgust being evident. “Her friend at college, that Ramona who called here that one Sunday afternoon, she’s talked Penny into going into what she calls ‘home missionary work’, in Texas of all places.”
“Texas? That’s hard to believe. I mean, she’s only got a year of college left, doesn’t she? Why not finish first, before going into something so far away?”
Lila had strong ideas concerning being practical. It was a product of having to raise three sons on a limited income and of living on a farm. Careful planning was an intimate part of her nature.
“She says God told her to go,” explained the young man. “Her friend at college, Ramona Santana, is from near El Paso, Texas. She told Penny that she could do home missionary work among the Mexican people there and at the same time get some training as a nurse at a hospital there.”
Silence filled the room for a couple of minutes, finally broken by Sarah Sullivan, “Today, today, today.” Robert and Lila looked at each other upon hearing Grandma’s words.
Although it was still rather early, too early to go to bed on this holiday evening, Robert excused himself to go to his room. For him, solitude was often a necessity, to enable him to sort out his thoughts, and to pray. This night would be spent in his room although he often took long walks around the farm, even late at night, to meditate and pray.
Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, usually was a big shopping day for Lila. She always planned a big Christmas for her family. It was one of the reasons she worked at the factory, to provide good things for her boys. Today, however, she was distressed about Robert’s quietness, and also about Ben’s request to help Martin Jackson by finding a place for him to stay until graduation. She’d still not confronted Chauncey about that situation. Too, this year she had Grandma living with them so Lila decided to try to stay around home on this big shopping day.
Robert came in from milking the cow. “Good morning, Son,” Lila welcomed. “Any plans for the day?”
Before he could answer, the phone rang.
Lila answered it and handed the receiver to Robert, “For you, Robert. I think it’s Penny.”
He was a little brighter in spirits after ending the phone conversation. “It was her. I’m going to Bill and Beulah’s, and we’re going to town for a while.”
With a smile, Lila said, “Have fun. Tell her ‘hi’ for me.”
Mostly, Robert and Penny just rode around, stopping occasionally when a particular store or strip mall seemed of special interest to one of them. The shopping trip served as a chance for them to talk with some leisure as they enjoyed each other’s presence. Neither Robert nor Penny wanted to open up problem areas to discuss although both were eager to have the discussion of problems out of the way.
“I’ll be around yet for Christmas, and even New Year’s,” said Penny. “So, that means I want some ideas for Christmas gifts I can get for your family. Know what I mean?”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” Robert replied. “It means you are determined to go to Texas. I can’t change your mind in any way, can I?”
“Don’t say it that way. It sounds so pessimistic,” she answered. “Besides, I prayed and feel it’s an open door for service, and I should go.”
“Won’t that door always be open? I mean, it’s in the United States, not overseas where you need visas and such. You can always go to Texas, even in a year, after you finish your degree,” he countered.
“That’s not definite, the open door part,” she explained. “Ramona’s older sister is in the admissions department of the nursing school at Columbia Medical Center. She can assure my acceptance for the spring term and can help me find some financial assistance. I can get an LPN degree in two years or an RN in about three and a half years. That door may not remain open, such as, if she is no longer working there to help me get in.”
“But why clear out there?” queried Robert. “There are hospitals here in Michigan with nursing schools.”
“This is a special one, with three locations in El Paso and is in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains. Ramona has told me all about it,” sighed Penny.
“How do you know that God wants you there?” was Robert’s response.
“I just know it. Everything is falling into place, and my heart wants to go. I can be a missionary to the Mexican people there and still be getting my nursing degree.”
“But you have just one more year and you’ll be finished with your teaching degree here. Why not finish it first?”
With some frustration showing, she answered, “God’s ways are not as our ways. That’s in the Scriptures. His ways do not always sound sensible to humans, but years later, we sometimes see what He had in His plan that we could not see earlier. This is, definitely is, God’s will.”
Such talk continued throughout the afternoon hours. The young man realized that there was no need to try to persuade her to change her plans.
Robert spent as much time with Penny as he could, any week days that she had time, he drove to Adrian to be with her. She spent every weekend at Bill and Beulah’s so they could be together. It seemed to Robert that she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her. Still, she did not budge concerning her decision to go to Texas. He hoped that their time together would change her mind, that she would consider the possibility of building a future with him rather than going several hundred miles away from him.
Robert bought her a fancy, leather-bound Bible commentary for Christmas. He knew she would enjoy its use in her private devotions, and maybe, for her school work. He found a side-by-side Spanish/English Bible and had a sales clerk hold a copy of it for him in case he decided to buy it at the last minute for Penny. He knew that she had no knowledge of Spanish and felt it could be helpful if she did, indeed, move to work among Spanish speaking people.
As always, Lila had big Christmas plans. Her living room was extra large, but by the time she got the Christmas tree up and the tremendous number of gifts under it, the room seemed too small. The evergreen bushes outside the front of the house were decorated with electric lights long before Christmas. Electric candles were in every window which faced the road. Lila had stored several canisters of homemade candy and some of Chauncey’s favorite store-bought chocolates and caramel squares. The only grocery store in St. Leon was holding three cases of assorted flavors of soda pop for her until Christmas Eve. She knew that she could not try to store it at the farm. The boys would find it and begin celebrating with it before Christmas. Lila was ready for Christmas, her absolute favorite holiday, although she really seemed to enjoy every holiday.
With the boys and Chauncey being so impatient about holiday celebrations, Lila had decided several years earlier that the best time for their Christmas celebrating was on Christmas Eve rather than waiting until the next morning. Besides, if Robert’s girl friend was being included this year, and Lila was determined to include her, it would be more convenient to celebrate the evening before Christmas. She discussed this with Penny a couple of weeks before Christmas. Penny said that her family usually did not get together for the holiday; they just phoned or sent cards or both. Christmas Eve fit into Penny’s schedule quite well.
In the middle of the afternoon on the day before Christmas, Robert drove to Adrian, to Mrs. Draper’s house, to pick up Penny. She would enjoy the evening with the Lewis family and then spend the night at Bill and Beulah’s house. Robert was nervous about the trip. He planned on asking a question which he feared asking.
“Penny,” he began when she was seated in his car and they were already on the outskirts of Adrian, headed toward St. Leon. “Um, can we talk? I mean, I want to say something to you. I kind of don’t know how to start.”
Seeing his awkwardness, trying to put him at ease, she gave him her open, friendly smile. “What is it, big boy? You aren’t afraid to talk to me, are you? Let me help you get started; is it good or bad?” She laughed to put him at ease. She was so good at being friendly and approachable.
“Well, I’ve known you for almost four months now,” he began. “And, I think, really, I know, that we enjoy being together. Right?”
She nodded and continued her warm, smile-filled encouragement.
Swallowing with discomfort, he continued, “I’d like to offer you a better alternative to moving to Texas.”
“And what could that be?” she asked, still carrying the open smile on her slightly freckled face.
“I’m scared to say it,” he confessed. “Give me a minute to, just wait a little. I’ll say it yet.”
She seemed to have no notion of the message he was trying to give her. “Don’t be afraid of me, Robert. Just say it,” she laughed.
“The alternative is to help me plan a wedding,” he finally managed to say. “Penny, I would like for you to consider marrying me. Later, we could think about going somewhere in Christian work or whatever God wants of us. What do you say?”
“Wow! What a surprise!” she blurted. “I’ve not been having such serious thoughts about our future, Robert. I enjoy being with you, yes, but I’m really not ready for such a commitment.” She paused, watching the clouds cover his young face, then added, “I’m not saying ‘never’, just not right now. I’m sorry if I’m hurting you.”
Embarrassment showed. Robert tried to cover it. “I was too blunt, I think. Don’t let this ruin Christmas for us. OK? I picked a bad time to bring this up. It’s just that I really don’t want you to go to Texas in a couple of weeks. Really, I’ll miss you terribly.”
“I understand,” she consoled. “Maybe God will work something out; I don’t know, but for now, I must make the move. We’ll keep in touch. After all, you’re one of my closest friends.”
Robert determined to keep his emotions under control and enjoy the last few days that he had available to be with his copper-haired Penny.
He succeeded fairly well at not showing the hurt he felt during the holiday activities. The Christmas Eve celebrations were quite pleasant for him, and for Penny, and most of all, for Lila. Her face lit up every time someone opened a gift from her. It seemed she enjoyed the giving as much as they enjoyed the receiving. It was a happy evening.
Grandma Sullivan was as confused as ever, but she seemed to enjoy the attention and the activity surrounding her. Sometimes she referred to Penny as ‘my daughter Ruth’. At times, she returned to her, “Today, today, today” chant.
Robert drove Penny to Bll and Beulah’s late that evening and thanked her for the sweater she had bought for him. He realized that her finances were tight and that it involved some sacrifices on her part to afford the gift. A quick, good-night peck on the cheek reaffirmed his growing love for her.
“Thank you,” she said after the little kiss on the cheek. “I’ve hoped for that for some time. It means a lot to me, Robert. And, I really had a great time with your family tonight. I almost feel that I’m part of their lives. You’re all such a beautiful family, no big problems, lots of good feelings toward each other. I envy you. Good night.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, if you’ll let me,” said Robert. After all, that’s the real Christmas Day.”
“Okee doke,” she laughed. “Just don’t come around too early.”
Realizing Penny’s need to rest, Robert did not arrive until after one in the afternoon on Christmas Day. He wanted to avoid lunch time at Beulah’s as well as allow time for Penny to sleep late.
He had to work during week days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but he spent evenings with Penny as she was at Bill and Beulah’s during the whole week. He was uptight about her impending move to Texas. She, on the other hand, spoke openly of it, anticipating the excitement of exploring a new locale.
New Year’s Eve found Penny at the Lewis home, enjoying the festivities with Robert and his family. She was to leave in three days so she intended to squeeze everything she could from the time remaining in Michigan.
“Today, today, today,” chanted Sarah Sullivan, as she had been doing often the last few weeks.
“No, Grandma,” said Penny with a chuckle. “It’s three more days before I go into missionary work, not today.” Then, looking toward Lila she continued, “I don’t think she understands what I’m saying so I was just having fun with her.”
“Yes, I realize that,” said Lila. “It’s OK. Grandma likes the interaction with you, even if she doesn’t really understand it. It’s good for her to have you talk to her.”
At that moment, Grandma slumped in her rocking chair and began falling forward. Lila and Robert rushed forward to catch her before she fell onto the floor.
“Chauncey, quick, call an ambulance!” yelled Lila as she and Robert tried to carry Grandma to the couch.
Grandma did not regain consciousness until after arriving at the hospital. Lila and Robert were in her hospital room when she opened her eyes. With permission, Robert went to get his father and Penny, who had ridden along with them in the family car.
As they watched, Grandma began to smile. “Oh, look at the beautiful flowers,” she said with a glowing smile. Then, she began to call out names as if she were recognizing some people whom only she could see. “Luella, you’re here. Oh, John, my boy John! I’m so happy to see you here.” Many names were on her lips during the next few minutes, many whom Lila recognized as having died years earlier.
Hardly holding back her tears, she said, “Chauncey, Robert, I think she’s seeing into Heaven. She mentioned John, my brother who died in World War Two, and Luella, her sister. I think she sees into Heaven.”
Chauncey was speechless but clearly awed by the experience. Robert just watched and tried to appreciate that he may possibly be in the presence of the angels who were to take his grandmother to her eternal home.
Grandma Sullivan looked around the room and called each one by name, correctly. Then, she said, “I saw Heaven and my friends who are there. Oh, Lila, it’s so beautiful there.” Then, her attention turned to the unseen scene she had been viewing earlier, and she resumed talking, “I knew Jesus looked like that. I’m ready! I want to stay.” She paused only a moment before lifting her elbow from the bed in a gesture that suggested someone was touching her elbow to help her make the step into a doorway. She said, “Robert, Robert, I knew you would be here to help me in.” Her arm collapsed on the bed, and she stopped breathing, a smile of contentment on her withered old face.
The family doctor who was standing by pronounced her dead. She died only a few minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve with some of her beloved family present.
The funeral was on the second day of January. Her living children were all present. Penny was present as she was to leave for Texas on the third, the next day. There was little crying as Grandma Sullivan had joined her precious Savior and her earthly husband in Heaven.
Some had suggested the song Beyond The Sunset for the funeral, but Lila and Robert had already talked of plans for the music and had agreed that Grandma’s passing was not as much like a sunset as it was a sunrise. No “old people’s songs” were used in the funeral, only upbeat songs of rejoicing that one of God’s children had gone to her home.
“It’s what she had been living for,” said Robert. “And, it’s what I’m living for, too, even though I’m not old yet.”
Return to Roi Allen's Some 7000 Sunrises table of contents