These are some thoughts I shared at my sister’s funeral in 2004. We were shocked to discover Beth had died in her sleep and we really never learned all that happened. But her life should be remembered, just like everyone’s life should be remembered. I want to share these thoughts today to remember her and to celebrate the sister and the amazing person she was.
I wanted to take some time to tell you about Beth. You already knew her and you loved her I know, but her story is such an amazing one that we just have to tell it again and again. I was going to say that Beth wouldn’t want us to make such a fuss over her, but really, she would want us to! She so enjoyed sharing her accomplishments and her news and any little thing that she was involved in. She had this idea right – that good and happy things you share are doubled in their excitement and pleasure; and sad things you share are somehow divided in their pain and their hurt. So I know Beth would want us to tell you about her life in a way that only her family really saw and knew it.
Beth was a Christmas baby. I had just turned 5 years old when Beth was born on December 22, 1961 and the most traumatic thing in my life at the time was not knowing whether my mother had seen the Chatty Cathy doll that Santa had brought me for Christmas that year. Because Mama was in the hospital getting ready to bring home a little sister for us, I wasn’t sure that my news about my Christmas toys had reached her. My parents, however, were in a trauma of their own when they realized that Beth was not an ordinary baby and she was not like the rest of us. She was born in an unusually difficult position in that her legs were not straight. They were positioned bent and crooked. The doctors were puzzled and said they really didn’t know why Beth looked like she did and prepared my parents that she might never walk or even sit up. And that was just the beginning of her problems. There was the nourishment issue. Beth couldn’t eat solid foods until she was 6 years old because of esophagus problems. She had all her food pulverized so it would be as liquid as possible. She had bells palsy on one side of her body and it seemed to be a permanent rather than a temporary thing, affecting growth and development along one whole side of her body. Her speech was slow to come. There were casts and braces on her legs for a very long time. There was a very painful month-long stay in the children’s hospital in Durham for cerebral palsy patients. There was an extended visit to a children’s hospital in Philadelphia for much testing and probing and discovering. There was the move to “the country” as we called it because there we could find a house large enough to install parallel bars for Beth to practice walking and to get the physical therapy that she needed so often. There were 2 extremely difficult scoliosis surgeries where recovery was 6 months or more; there were more than 15 major operations to try to correct and fix and make normal.
But somehow everything was trial and experimental and never really came with all that much certainty that it would work and that it would help. Doctors continued to be puzzled; they continued to be baffled and undecided about how best to treat Beth. Mama and Daddy would have given their very lives to have Beth’s straightened out. They tried everything that was known to them and everything that could possibly have helped. They left no stone unturned.
But we remember. We remember when Beth walked for the first time at 3 years old. We remember when she sat up for the first time. We remember when she could swallow normally for the first time and celebrated with a chocolate meringue pie all her own in Dr. Youngblood’s office. We remember when she celebrated a straighter spine and more normal walking gait. We remember when she walked across the stage at Hunt High School to get her diploma to a standing ovation from her friends and peers. We remember when she learned to drive against everyone’s better judgment! We remember a life of trying and not giving up. We remember a spirit of determination and hope. Even though Beth in her adult years has been plagued with so many problems and so many obstacles and at times her resolve would weaken and almost leave her completely, somehow she managed to not stop. Somehow she fought and somehow through it all, she cam out ahead of where she had been. She came through things believing that she was going to be all right. Sometimes those of us who knew her well and were close to her had to convince her that she would be okay and had to plead with her to not give up. She would come through.
Beth and I had this discussion recently about her purposes in this life. She started reading the book, The Purpose-Drive Life, and we discussed what she thought she was really put on this earth for. I think Beth was trying to discover something about why she was like she was. I think she was making peace with God about her uniqueness and her one-of-a-kind body and spirit. I think she was accepting who she was in a way unlike she ever had before. I think she was coming to terms with her adult self and her adult life.
At this season of the year, we celebrate the extraordinary that happens in the very, very ordinary. The birth of the Christ child in an ordinary stable to such ordinary people in such a very ordinary way changed everything for our world. The extraordinary life of a girl born in an ordinary family almost 43 years ago has changed us forever too. We hurt but we have such hope. Beth is finally able to run, she’s finally free of pain and discomfort, she is finally able to speak clearly and even sing, something she never could do here on this earth! While we never could really be certain of the outcome all those years when Beth was going into surgery or getting ready for some procedure, we have absolute assurance now. We know she’s whole for the first time. We show she’s rejoicing because she’s free. We know that she is with our Lord and Savior who redeemed her and who gave her a purpose and a calling and a reason for being here. We know the outcome now!