My Sister’s Eulogy…..Because I want her to be known and remembered.

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There is so much I’d like to say about Charlotte, it’s impossible to confine it to a couple pieces of paper and a few minutes of speech. How can I sum up the beautiful life of my sister, my best friend, with mere words? I know I will fall short, but still, I have to try.

Charlotte was blessed with a generous nature, a giving spirit that drew others to her, like cold hands to a warm flame. The sparkle in her eyes and her brilliant smile put others instantly at ease, and once a good giggle-fest had been shared with her, one could rest assured that a lifelong friendship had been forged.

My sister was a hard worker, sometimes working more than one job just to stay afloat, but she never had much from a strictly materialistic standpoint. She may have had only five dollars left after paying her rent, but if her family or friends, or even friends of her kids’, needed that money, she would have given it without a second thought. But it wasn’t just help with money; she was always willing to give her time, as well. If you needed a ride to work, or help cleaning a new house, or somebody to babysit, she was there. If you accidentally dyed your hair green, or tried to cut it yourself and ended up with a disaster, she’d laugh and invite you over and fix it for you – even if she’d just worked a twelve hour shift and was exhausted.  Her couch was often a safe haven for a friend in a difficult situation, and there were few things that couldn’t be remedied with a long talk over some Velveeta mac-n-cheese and a cold Coke. If your situation was really dire, she may have loved you enough to even share some of her Sunkist.

My sister loved deeply, especially her family. Charlotte had five biological children, but countless other children grew up calling her “Mom.” At any given time, she could rattle off a host of reasons she was proud of all her kids. Devin was her oldest, and though he grew well past six feet tall, she never stopped seeing him as a little boy. She was often amazed by the pictures Devin could draw, and would show anyone willing to look at his latest artwork. Charlotte had a deep bond with her daughter Amanda, bragging about her many creative abilities and always wearing some bit of jewelry Amanda had made for her, and showing off pictures of her pretty little girl. Wally, “Little Boo Boo”, her middle boy. I can’t count how many times she secretly recorded Little Wally singing and then sent it to me. She knew he hated it, but she was just so proud of him she couldn’t seem to help herself. Of course, these would always be followed up with a text that I wasn’t supposed to tell she had done it. Sorry, Boo. Brandon was her fourth child, and she was constantly tickled by his big grin and his mechanical inclinations. Somebody would mention a problem with their car, and she would proudly say, “My son can fix that for you.” Brandon probably has no idea how many times his auto mechanic services have been offered up to total strangers. Of course, her baby, Little Dustbuster. Dustin. I can honestly say without a hint of exaggeration that there has never been a time in 22 years that talking about Dusty didn’t make Charlotte smile. I remember how she cried when he started kindergarten, and again when he moved out on his own. It was difficult for her to accept he was all grown up, but at the same time, she was incredibly proud of him. And it wasn’t just her own kids she was proud of….the friends of her children she had watched grow up, she followed their adult lives and was happy to tell her friends and family about Billy’s new baby or that Little Chrissy finished nursing school or what the Perez kids were up to lately. Charlotte always had a picture and a story to brag about her nieces and nephews as well, and I honestly can’t recall a time one of my kids or our nephew Dakota invited her to an event for a school ceremony or Boy Scouts or 4H and she couldn’t make it.  Her family has always been the sun around which her entire world spun. She would sacrifice literally anything of her own, to make sure her family had everything they needed.

My sister was a fantastic hair stylist. From their first baby hair-cuts right up until she became ill, Charlotte was the only person who ever cut my children’s hair. Everyone in our family has had an awful time adjusting to going to a hair salon or barber shop these last few months. We’re so spoiled, we aren’t even sure what kind of hair cuts to ask for – Charlotte always just knew exactly what to do. She was also a wonderful waitress, and built such a rapport with her customers, they would follow her from restaurant to restaurant just to be able to sit in her section and visit with her.

Anyone who has ever met my sister could tell she was a determined woman. Once her mind was made up on a subject, it was impossible to change it. She lived life on her own terms. Last Tuesday, the Hospice nurse predicted Charlotte would be gone within 72 hours. It actually turned out to be more like 82 hours, because even to the end of her life, wasn’t nobody going to tell my sister what to do.

Charlotte was graced with a Gypsy soul; despite the love of family and friends, she had a restlessness in her spirit that pushed her to always be searching for the next job, the next house, the next situation that would finally feel like just the right one. This wasn’t an unhappiness, it was simply who she was. Staying in one place, or feeling tied down in an unpleasant situation just wasn’t the kind of person my sister could ever have been. One of her favorite symbols has always been the peace sign. For years, her jewelry, purses and sundresses have sported this sign, and it seemed symbolic of that one elusive something she has always been looking for.

This last week, there has been a particular peacefulness about her that I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten to see before. The sparkle in her eyes has been bright, her smile sweet, and the lines of worry around her eyes erased. In my heart, I feel she has finally found her perfect rest, perfect peace. Her perfect home.

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Henry and Jaycee

Henry

Henry had noticed something was off. Little things: Jaycee had been getting home later from work without explanation, she often had this look in her eyes….like she wasn’t telling him something.  She seemed preoccupied. Unsure if he should start a conversation he didn’t really want to finish, he tried waiting it out.

The wait was making him crazy.

What if she….? No, no. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t. Not Jaycee. She was too good a woman to do….that.

These were the thoughts spinning around in his mind as he fell asleep at night, his arms tucked around the woman he loved, enjoying the smell of her hair and the fit of her body against his and the way her lips parted – just slightly – as she slept.

These were the thoughts that plagued him as she rose early each morning to leave for work, leaving him alone in their bed.

These were the thoughts that were driving him mad.

Rising, Henry stumbled to the kitchen, joints aching and screaming their usual complaints. He stretched his hands, attempting to relieve some of the stiffness. Poured a cup of coffee and shivered, shook his head a bit at the bitter taste. Took another sip. He turned to take in the backyard view: squirrels and birds zig-zagging across the lawn, flowers leaning toward the rising sun, the droopy willow tree that was older than his great-great grandfather. It was a sight that caught his breath each morning, hurt his heart a little bit with its beauty.

Henry surveyed his reflection in the sliding glass door. Not bad, he thought. He raised a hand and brushed it against his balding head, as if there were enough hair left to smooth. A few more lines around his face and eyes, a slight paunch to his belly. He straightened his shoulders. On the whole, not bad. He wasn’t 25 anymore, for sure, but not a bad looking guy.

A deep sigh escaped him. Jaycee had him worried. But….perhaps he had invited this worry upon himself. After all, what had he expected when he married a younger woman? A lovely, energetic, younger woman?

Henry took another sip of his bitter brew. Brace yourself, Henry. Something terrible is about to happen.

 

Jaycee

Jaycee despised her job. Despised it! As a child, she had imagined so many exciting adventures and exotic travels and this…..this just wasn’t cutting it. A mail carrier. How drab was that? Wearing this androgynous blue work uniform, day in, day out. Long hair tied up beneath a stupid blue cap. Hardly a feminine look. She wanted to feel….pretty. Desirable.

She trudged along, stuffing stacks of letters and bills and junk mail into the little boxes affixed to the fronts of houses that all appeared depressingly the same.  Mud caked her work boots and splattered her legs with tiny brown dots. A long curl escaped her hat and she blew it out of her face in frustration.

Raising her hand to block the harsh sunlight, she squinted down the road. Four more houses and….Oh! His car was in the driveway. He was home today! Maybe she could spare just a little time. Jaycee smiled as she stepped up to the next mailbox.

“Jaycee, hey!”  His smile was warm and genuine. “I wasn’t sure if I’d see you today…..do you have time to come in?”

“Well….I probably shouldn’t. I can’t stay long. Maybe just for a few minutes, okay?”  Jaycee looked down. She wouldn’t feel guilty. Absolutely  not. She wanted this, needed this. Henry would understand….wouldn’t he?

The door was open. The key to her happiness was waiting inside. Jaycee stepped into the house, and smiled. Joy filled her heart as she gave herself over to the moment.

“Have you talked to your husband yet?”

“Not yet.” Jaycee glanced away and bit her lip. “I just need….I was waiting for just the right time. I will, though.” She shrugged her slight shoulders. “It’s a big step, you know?”

“Yeah. I get it. But you know Jaycee….I can’t keep waiting. I need an answer soon.”

“I know. I know! I’m going to talk to him this weekend. I will. So…maybe I can stop back by next week?”

Jaycee knew she had to make a decision soon, before it was too late. She just wasn’t sure she could afford what this decision was going to cost.

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The Talk

“Henry? Henry, we need to talk. Come sit at the table with me.” Her heart was beating so fast. He had to understand, he just had to. Jaycee wanted this so badly. She leaned toward Henry, and placed a hand on his knee. He looked so serious. She took a deep breath, and looked him in the eye.

His insides felt like jelly. Cold, shivering jelly. Henry was grateful for the chair beneath him, otherwise he wasn’t sure how he would remain upright. He knew in his gut what was coming, and he wanted to memorize this moment: the feel of her hand on his knee, the way little curly wisps of lovely dark hair sprouted out from under her blue hat, the somber expression in her dark blue eyes as she prepared to tell him the only thing he never wanted to hear.

“Jaycee…you know I love you. I love you with everything I have, everything I am.” He hated himself for how pitiful he knew he must sound. His chest felt leaden, his breathing thick and heavy.

She looked surprised. “Of course I do, Henry. I know you love me. I love you, too. I just…..” Her voice trailed off. “Well, here’s the thing, Henry. You know…you know I’ve been, well, unhappy in recent months. I feel like….please just hear me out! I feel like something is missing. I need more.

The look on his face. Jaycee’s heart sank. He was already prepared to say no, she just knew it. Had he already found out? How?

Henry took a sip of coffee to steady his nerves. His hand shook as he placed the cup back on the table, and a bit of the brown liquid spilled out and spread across their old, wooden table. He watched as it settled into the nicks and cracks left by years of use.

This wasn’t going as well as she’d hoped. Jaycee rushed  ahead, attempting to justify her position.

“Listen. I wasn’t looking for this…..it just happened. I met this guy on my route….his name is Jared. We started talking and one thing led to another…..”

“Jaycee…please. Don’t do this. Don’t tell me this….I…..I can’t…..” Would he live through this? Could he even function once she was gone? Was there any way to stop this?

She plowed forth, intent on her mission.

“Henry. This is what is going to make me happy. I really, really want this. Can’t you understand?

“I don’t understand. Why aren’t you happy? What’s gone wrong?”  Dammit, he was going to cry. Henry shut his eyes tight. Clenched his teeth.

“I know money is tight. But I could pick up some extra shifts. We could make this work.”

What? Henry didn’t care about the money. She could have all the money, if only she would stay.

“I feel like we had a connection right away. And I’ve been stopping by once or twice a week….she loves me. She needs me as much as I need her. When I hold her in my arms…..”

Jaycee stared at Henry, imploring him to understand.

Oh God, oh God, he was dying right here in this chair. This pain in his chest was a heart attack, he knew it, he knew it, she was killing him right now as sure as if she had stabbed him in the heart with a knife. In fact, he thought, that would probably have been kinder.

WAIT. What? What did she mean, “she loves me.” Her? Jared was a woman? Pain and confusion roared in his brain. It was difficult to think straight. Had he heard that right?

“Jaycee, I don’t…..what? I’m not sure I’m following you…”

She looked at him then, really looked at him. Henry was pale and sweaty. His eyes appeared almost…panicked. His breathing was fast and labored. Dear Henry. Was he ill?

“Henry, are you sick, love? Should you lie down? I didn’t mean to upset you…..I just need to give Jared an answer soon. Before my chance at her is gone.

“NO! Hell, no, Jaycee, I’m not okay! I don’t want to lose you! I love you….I love you.” He raised a hand to her face, brushed a thumb against her cheek.  His voice broke, and he whispered, “Is there anything….anything I can do or say that will make you stay?”

“Stay? Henry, I’m not going anywhere! I love you, Hen.”

“But…what about Jared? I thought you wanted….”

“Jared? Jared has Joy. That’s all.”

“Joy? Is Joy the….the woman?”

“What? Henry! No, Joy is the puppy.”

“The puppy? What puppy?”

“The puppy I want to buy! That’s what I’ve been trying to explain to you, Henry! Jared’s dog had an accidental litter, and this one pup…..I’ve been playing with her, and I want her, Henry, I want her so much! He’s sold off all the other pups, and he’s been saving her for me…..her name is Joy. I know you aren’t an animal lover, Hen, and I know we don’t have a lot of extra money, so I was afraid you’d say no….but he said he couldn’t wait any longer, he needs to know if I want her, and I DO, I DO, Hen, I really, really want her. PLEASE.”

“A dog? This has all been about a dog?” Henry was baffled. She wasn’t leaving? She still loved him?

“Of course, a dog. What did you think? Wait…did you think that I would….HENRY!! I would never! I love YOU! I married YOU! I just….I get lonely at night when you’re gone to work. And I’ve never had a dog, but you know I have always wanted one. I think it would be good for us, you know? A new little life in the house? Someone to come home to after a long day? What do you think? Please.”

Henry was still trying to absorb the situation. He rubbed his eyes, felt a little release in the chest tightness he’d been experiencing. He blew out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“A dog?  I don’t care if you get a dog. Go ahead, Jaycee. Get the dog! Get ten dogs! Oh my God. I thought you were leaving me!”

“Henry…..” Jaycee slid from her chair and knelt on the floor , laying her head against his chest. “Listen to me. I’ve never been tempted to leave you. I love you, Babe.”

Jaycee jumped up with a squeal. “I’m so excited! I’m going to go call Jared right now!”

Henry sat alone at the table. I’m too old for this! He thought.

He didn’t think his heart would ever be the same again.