Today marks the passing of Maya Angelou. The news touched a tender place in my heart. I was first aware of Dr. Angelou in college when I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her courageous honesty about the world she knew growing up encouraged me greatly. We have lost a mighty woman of valor today.
Her words continue to inspire.
“I found that I knew not only that there was God but that I was a child of God. When I understood that, when I comprehended that, more than that, when I internalized that, ingested that, I became courageous. I dared to do anything that was a good thing. I dared to do things as distant from what seemed to be in my future. If God loves me, if God made everything from leaves to seals and oak trees, then what is it I can’t do?”
My sister, Maxeen, has left us to be with the Lord. She leaves behind a family that thinks of her often and misses her terribly. As part of my grief process, I sometimes go down to her old room in our basement and sit, mentally putting the room back the way it was when she was with us: The bookshelf here; the hope chest over there, and of course she sitting there on her bed, hands folded on her lap watching the Hallmark Channel.
Maxeen passed away at home on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 6:27 AM. For her last three weeks with us she lived on the love of friends and family who visited to say good-bye and share precious moments. Maxeen was preceded in death by her son, Jeff Tuggle, and leaves behind her son, Marc Tuggle; her daughter-in-law Dawn Adams; grandchildren, Lindsey Gill and Isaiah Adams; her brother and sister-in-law, Dan and Jody Mayhew with whom she lived; nieces Jenna Thompson and Corrie Albertson; nephew Caleb Mayhew; and many friends including her gang of 54 years, “the get-together girls,” and friends & family from her home town of Kewanee, Il.
Maxeen spent the first 17 years of her life in Kewanee. From those years came life-long friendships and memories of mid-west life; visits to the farms of aunts and uncles and summer days playing with cousins; and a group of childhood friends with whom she maintained life-long contact.
She came to Portland in 1957. After high school, she married and began a family, two sons, Jeff and Marc who she raised as a single mom from their early teens.
During those years she demonstrated remarkable courage and determination as she worked her way up from relatively menial work at a local fireplace equipment supplier to the position of buyer for the company. Later she took her skills to a restaurant supply company from which she retired. She did all of these things while maintaining a close relationship with her sons, their friends and eventual families .
Her passion was her children. Her greatest sorrow was the loss of her eldest son at age 33 to cancer. She bore the sorrow bravely, but continually. Even as she remained a compassionate and devoted mother to Marc, her youngest son and to Jeff’s family.
Her greatest joy was when she was with younger people, especially her grandchildren, to whom she was always available. Moreover, she sought out opportunities to care for babies and children at Crossroads Church in Portland where she was a member and at Montavilla Baptist Church where she provided patient and enthusiastic care during the congregation’s mid-week Bible study.
Maxeen’s creativity found many outlets. Painting, stained glass, sewing and decorating all came to life at the touch of her hands. For a time she even used her considerable sewing skill to assist Marc in his work as a marine outfitter and boat mechanic.
For nearly ten years, she shared the household of her brother and sister-in-law, Dan and Jody Mayhew, where she is sorely missed. Her compassion and love has touched us all deeply and continues to enrich our lives. We eagerly anticipate the future reunion that awaits us. In the mean time we grieve her loss and rejoice in her love.
In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be given in her name to the Crossroads Church Food Pantry where she volunteered for many years.
Here are some other photos of her life (I’ll add a few more in the next few days):
Remembering is when thoughts drift together into,Who?What?When?Where?And most important of all…How?How did it happen?
I’ve searched the net to find out where this little poem came from. I know it’s not original with me. It came, if I recall, from a long-play recording of poetry by Carl Sandburg, although I don’t believe it is his. I think, rather, it was attributed to his mother — still, I wouldn’t bet on it. I wouldn’t bet on the accuracy of my recollection of it, either. So, call it a paraphrase of a poem that I once heard and committed to imperfect memory.
I think of it now because my sister’s life is evaporating before our eyes like a puddle in the sun. Jody and I keep a sober vigil, waiting for Maxeen’s inevitable transport from this world to the next. And in the waiting, I sit with my sister and remember the ‘who,’ the ‘what,’ the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of her life and mine. We remember the all important ‘how’ it happened.
Passing the time with photographs of people and places that we both remember, I realize that it is not just one person that is dying, it is a community. Those people and places known to no one but she and I will soon be known only by me. They will be treasured in only one heart, and eventually, the remembering will cease. Who? What? When? Where? How? Will swirl away like fallen leaves.
In our home town, on the street where I spent my first seven years and Maxeen her first 17, autumn was a mystical time. I remember it as a kind of festival. The men would rake leaves that drifted from the brooding maples that lined McKinley Avenue. The children would push them into long ridges — imaginary walls of make-believe houses in which unfolded pretend lives — until a grown-up, with his rake, would pull the leaves over the curb into the street and set them afire. The smoke would rise silently and touch the branches where the leaves had grown and lived, and then, like a fragrant memory, drift skyward and be gone.
It has happened twice that I can remember, this pure and pervasive grief. Once, a few years ago at the passing of Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, and now, at the passing of my friend, Tony.
The only thing that unites them is this sensation of grief. Aside from that, they have little in common. I chuckle a little at myself for thinking of them together. Why would I link them?
I think it is because these two men were engaged in life. One, Irwin, romped through the natural world, inviting a television audience into the giggling, wide-eyed wonder of it all. The other, Tony, quietly navigated the world of nature and friendships pursuing a vision of community and shaping his world with the touch of a craftsman. These two were fully invested in that unusual practice of embracing the moment and living as though it were playing—at least that’s how it seems.
In truth, I can’t know what their living was like in those concealed, looking-glass moments when they stood honestly before their own reflection. I only know that from where I stand they appeared to have found that rare place in life where they fit, where fun and fantasy, passion and play mingled comfortably like old friends.
That they should leave us in the midst of living seems unfair, like a child, full of laughter, thoroughly enjoying the game, being hurried from the playground. Children cry when they leave their playing. They grieve the loss of fun. I grieve over the loss of a friend, a brother who had remembered how to play.
The grief of this loss has layers. Certainly, the loss of friendship, and the knowledge that a phone call will no longer mend the distance between friends, is part of the sadness. I think another is the realization that someone who walked the same era as I has slipped away. Tony would have remembered the wave. He could have told the story of the tide that swept so many of us into the arms of Jesus back in the late 60s and early 70s. He was one of the “Jesus people” that caused so much hand-wringing in the religious establishment. We shared a time when faith was new and the promise of the Kingdom was as close as the next breath. We both look back on the remarkable tales of courage and “coincidence” that brought people together and wedded them irrevocably to the cross. The lives of we who grew from those years have been lived with the same soundtrack playing in the background.
And now another of these friends has passed from life into eternity. There is great comfort in knowing that the faith that has driven and sustained us over these decades also promises sweet reunion. But until then, the memories have awakened. The challenge is refreshed—tempered with grief, but still renewed and refreshed. As I mourn the loss, I recall the newness of faith and find myself yearning for another generation to be swept along with the wave. Perhaps that is the purity of grief. Maybe we are to remember the life that has been lived and be inspired to deposit what fragments of it we can in the hearts of another generation. No, not fragments—fragments are of something shattered—seeds. In every loss there can be planting. There may be a new generation who learns passion and play; fantasy and fun; faith and new life.