As a child, two of my favorite people in the world were my maternal grandmother, Sue Sherwood, and her brother Jim. Sue and Jim lived most of their adult lives just a few miles apart from each other in southern Vermont. They were as close as siblings ever get to be. They each married, had careers, lived their own lives, yet they remained very devoted to each other; as long as they were both still living.
One of the things I loved about both of them was their gift of storytelling. Uncle Jim in particular could weave a tale about his youth that would leave you spellbound.
Jim owned a Texaco garage, and was known as one of the best mechanics in Bennington County. He and his wife Ruth loved to travel in their Airstream trailer, and went all over the country. And their summer cottage on Lake Champlain was one of my favorite places on the face of the Earth. Uncle Jim had a twinkle in his eye and a chuckle in his voice that could instantly win you over.
Rev. Dr. John Danner. PHOTO PROVIDED.
Sometime in the late 1970s my uncle began to experience the devastating effects of Alzheimer's. First his ability to work as a mechanic, then his storytelling, and finally, even the twinkle in his eye disappeared. People said: "He's just a shell of his former self." And then one day, after having been kept like a baby in a nursing home, James T. Huntington, one time mechanic and storyteller par excellence, died.
By that time his sister, my grandmother, had developed health problems of her own. We were all very concerned about how she would deal with the death of her lifelong confidant, friend, and brother. Our worry was unnecessary. For though she was most certainly grieved, Grandma put it all in perspective. At his viewing, as she paused at his coffin, she said, in her quiet way: "That's not Jim -- that's just the house he lived in." And then she moved on.
My grandmother was able to cope with her loss because she understood that this earthly life -- as wonderful and as beautiful as it can be -- is not designed to last forever. She believed that when this shell of life is cracked and peeled away, we pass on to an ever more beautiful existence.
She too is now gone. As are so many others I have known and loved over the years. Yet her wisdom, her words, have helped me cope with each loss as it has come my way. For Sue and Jim, and all the others, I can only say: "Thank you, God. Thank you."