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  • Dad used to love to tell stories of the people he encountered in his days as an insurance adjuster. Stories of lives that had interesting twists, sometimes tragic, sometimes redemptive stories, but so many times, a person’s life story had surprises in store at the end. He would always say, “The story is not complete until the final chapter is written. You never see the whole picture about a person until the very end.”

    The story of his lovely wife, Rosemary, was one that continued to surprise and amaze, right to the end. Dad would have been so proud of how his beautiful wife lived her final chapter, those 16 ½ years she had after he wrote his last story. The stories that I’ve heard about her, as I’ve spent these last 6 days in her world, the world she created for herself here in South Carolina, have just filled my heart to overflowing with pride and joy.

    She came down here not knowing a single soul in this area, besides the real estate guys who helped her find her place to live her, Perry and Hamilton Peace. The Peace brothers – something so fitting about that.

    She’d always loved to play Bridge, so she joined a Bridge class at a local college. Brother Chris asked why she needed a class for a game she’d been playing for 50 years. It was a way to meet people, of course! Plus, there were new rules to Bridge that she wanted to learn. Bridge became her passion, her connection. She went out and played 3-4 times a week, occasionally hosted games in her home, and met so many people through it. Smart lady! In fact, 5 days before she died, she played, and was proud to tell Chris the next night, “I came in second!” Yes, Mom was quite competitive – she hated to lose. Sound familiar? Earlier in the year, when she had to travel with the oxygen, and the walker, and the transfer chair, the Bridge ladies were so helpful to her, they did whatever it took to help their dear friend Rosemary continue to play with them. When Mom felt like it had just gotten to be too much trouble to get out to play with them, they brought the game to her. There was a library/game room downstairs at the Lakes, and every Wednesday, Mom hosted the Bridge game there. She never missed a game, no matter how she was doing or feeling, right up to that last game.

    A number of her Bridge-playing friends came to the service, and shared their experience with Mom. One who had met Mom at that first class, 11 ½ years ago, and had been one of her best friends ever since. She was just as fiercely independent as Mom, and like Mom, was slowly losing her vision. She’d been a professional tennis player years before. I’d met her when Mom invited her over once while we were in town, to learn how to play Mah Jhong. Another Bridge playing friend spoke of Mom as her chosen mother, if she’d had such a choice, how Mom scared her at first, but how she’d found her to be the most gentle and loving person she’d ever met. Mom had helped her to truly come into her own, to be the person she was, not the person the world expected her to be. Mom helped her to develop the courage to come out. Her story was so moving.

    Brother Jim spoke about how Mom was with babies. She had a special relationship with babies. She would talk to them, and she would listen to them. “Who are you? What do you want? Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?” She developed a special connection to them, that would continue as they grew older, and each and everyone felt that connection. It was true for all thirteen of her grandchildren, and her eleven great grandchildren. And many others. She was a “baby whisperer”.

    I loved Jim’s story of how she heard him when he was 16, and bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t find a job in Pittsburgh and felt like he was a drag on the family. She’d heard that there were jobs in Atlantic City, which at that time (1963) was still a thriving, though fading, seaside resort, long before the casinos came along. How could he get there? Hitchhike (it was 365 miles from Pittsburgh). Do you send your 16 year old off to a strange city, all by himself? Send his 15 year old brother with him! And, that’s what they did. When a family friend said to Mom, “I would never send my Johnny on such a venture”, Mom’s immediate reply, without missing a beat, was, “I would never send your Johnny on such a venture, either!” Loved that! Brother Jim, certainly one of the most individualistic and independent-thinking people I know, concluded his remarks with “She was the free-est and happiest person I know.”

    When Hurricane Charley came through South Carolina in 2004, Mom was still on her own down here. There was a mandatory evacuation for anyone living on the other side of Route 17, and a recommended evacuation for those on Mom’s side. She rode it out. Asked later if she’d battened down the hatches and hunkered down in her place, she said, “Oh, no – I put on my rain poncho, and sat out on my back porch to watch it. I’d never seen a hurricane before. It was just like they say – sounded like a freight train going through.”

    The people who cared for her, her last few years – the ladies from Chris’ church who came to her townhouse when she had started slowing down and had trouble doing all of the household things for herself, and the home hospice nurses and aids – all talked about a woman who they’d come to love, who was very interested in them and their lives, and who told them how proud she was of her family, and even bragged on me to them! All of the people at the Lakes who’ve come up to us in the past week, as we’ve closed her place up, to tell us how they admired and appreciated Mom.

    Boy, Dad would have been so proud of her, of how she lived her final chapter.

    On the morning that she died, as I was making all of the phone calls – when you have 6 siblings all over the country, one in Hawaii at the time, two in California, it takes awhile – from her room at the Hospice House, at one point I had to step out to allow the nurses to do what they had to do with her. As I got back to her room, I noticed the plaque on the wall beside the door. The room had been dedicated by the Peace family, who had made significant donations making the Hospice House possible, in honor of Walker Peace.

    How fitting! The same family who had helped Mom find the home near the beach that had brought her so much joy in her twilight years, helped provide her final home, that room at the hospice house. She was only there for her last day, but it brought a new meaning to the term – rest in peace. She did die so peacefully, her final chapter complete, a beautiful end to a story, well-told. Good job, Mom.

    Photo of Service program - picture on right was of Mom at the beach 10 days before she died.
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