“Life’s about changin’
Nothin’ ever stays the same”
And she said, “How can I help you
To say goodbye, it’s okay to hurt and it’s okay to cry” Patty Loveless
On June 17, 2021, my sister Linda Huskey died in Hartselle, Alabama.
Statistical data states on average that same day; 7,708 people in the United States and 137 people in the State of Alabama died. I’m confident that each of those deaths had a significant impact on family and friends left behind. Each is significant in some way to somebody. It is, after all part and parcel to the reality of the concept known as the life cycle.
In Linda’s case, on a personal level, saying goodbye was perhaps the most difficult transition I have ever experienced. Even more so than when my parents passed. I’ve concluded because she was closer in age to me, my own mortality has been shaken by her passing. I saw her late in the afternoon the day before she was called home during the early morning hours of the next day. In the time shared with her on that visit, my emotions included the most helpless feelings in my life to date. I, like many who have experienced similar circumstances, was relegated to a mass of incoherent thought and frustrating emotion. Finding myself helpless to alter the course of events unfolding in my presence was difficult.
Linda was a rock to many members of the family. She maintained a steadfast devotion to the notion of doing the right thing even when life’s road encountered large pebbles and potholes. Her biological father was killed in World War II just two months before the War ended. A mere baby at the time, she grew up knowing him only through relative’s recollections. She was 6 years old when I arrived as a result of the union of her mother to my father. Society makes a distinction of this type of relationship as “half” siblings. Neither she nor I joined in such a notion of distinction. After I was born, she and I shared sibling interactions exclusively for the next nine years until our brother was born. She was fiercely protective of me during those childhood years, serving notice to anyone who dared think of mistreating her little brother such an action would result in having to deal with her wrath.
I distinctly recall a day when I was about 7 years old having openly asked who the person was in the portrait of a young soldier displayed on the most prominent wall of our home. I assumed it was one of our Uncles. The answer I received, “Oh, that’s Linda’s Dad,” came as quite a shock to me and brought an immediate “What do you mean?” retort. It was only then I became totally aware her last name, kept as an honor to that young soldier, was different than mine. It is a testament to my father and her interaction, love and devotion to him since most people during our childhood unfamiliar with the circumstances weren’t aware there was a “difference from the norm” in our family unit.
In fact, when I went to high school, I decided I should purposely let a number of teachers know she was my sister even though our last name differed. Most responded something along the line of disbelief not borne of the distinction of different last names. “Linda was a great student, was a pleasure to have as a pupil, and made straight ‘A’s.’ You on the other hand…there’s no way she’s your sister.” So much for trying to tread on her good name and good will since I exhibited none of those traits.
Above all Linda was an example of undying faith and devotion to her faith. When one of those potholes in life temporarily altered her course, she confided in me later she felt lost and her faith had abandoned her. She quickly added later on she was surprised and thankful to discover her faith was right where she left it. Her realization of it being her responsibility to keep the faith was up to her and would always be secure by knowing it never faltered and was ever present, unlike the imperfect humans who drifted from it. We often find not only did it never leave but is ever present exactly where we left it to be reclaimed when we find our way back. That’s the faith my sister taught me.
We held a memorial service for her a few days after she died. Intending to be a celebration of her passing from this life to her eternal home, I found myself unable to participate in the expressions of memories other family members rightfully shared with those in attendance. I’m not the most verbal and gifted orator in our family and marvel at those who are. I generally have to contemplate and organize my thought process for a period of time before finally committing it all to written expression rather than from behind a podium.
Even now, several weeks later, I find I’m speechless and am left to lean on the words of others. I hear a Patty Loveless song ask: “How do I say goodbye?” I’ve concluded, thank God, “it’s okay to hurt and it’s okay to cry” because I’m just not ready say goodbye out loud. Perhaps I never will. I do take solace in the final words of a great hymn sung so promising by friends and family at the service. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years; bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.” So, I’ll just substitute “goodbye” with “see ya later.” That’s what she would do.
So all I can do is dig deep and say “I love you, Linda and I miss you.” Your brave fight against a disease destined to prevail was still victorious. You became brave enough to say goodbye and be at peace with the assurance your final destination was known and your reward awaited your claim. Victory is yours. Your music, your earthly image and the fullness of your love remains in our memories. Your joy of life, your gleeful outlook, and your enduring faith remain for generations of a family who will never meet you, but will know of you by your deeds and the permanent impressions left during your time as this family’s beacon of faith.
With a deep and abiding respect for all you represented during your time with us;
The older of your “Full brothers”,
Gary Lawrence is a Mount Airy resident and retired publisher of The Mount Airy News.