My dad told me that I would be fortunate if in the course of lifetime I had one or two really good friends. Friendship to me is sometimes a stronger bond than family, because it involves choice. I have been lucky to know, work with, or teach many wonderful people, but Betty was that once-in-a-lifetime friend. Her passing has left a void that can’t be filled; however, the memories of our fifty-year relationship and her example will always be with me. She is the perfect model of a caregiver – the kind we each probably know and can look to as a guide to loving others.
She was six days short of her 91st birthday when she died, and twenty years my senior. We met when I was just twenty and beginning my first year of teaching, on a temporary certificate pending completion of my degrees. Betty became and remained my mentor and teaching partner for thirty years. Everyone loved her for her kindness, thoughtfulness, understanding, and wisdom. She was a dedicated and exceptional teacher who tirelessly worked to meet the needs of her students, academic and personal. She always championed the kids who had special learning issues or faced difficult situations at home. Always first to arrive at school, she prepared coffee for the staff every morning, brought treats on Fridays, and greeted everyone with cheerful words and smiles. Betty habitually had “projects”, someone she tried to take care of, including me: she encouraged, visited, volunteered at her church, supported, listened, and consoled. It was her leadership that often involved us in community service: collecting food, tutoring, helping with Head Start, student mentoring of first graders, visiting someone who was hospitalized and the elderly.
Betty was widowed suddenly at age 39, leaving her to raise four children (3 to 10 years old) by herself. She also took in her mother, caring for her until she died. She was always there for me, when my husband left me, when my parents passed, when I had my surgeries, through all of life’s changes, challenges, and little crises. She helped without being asked. She herself fought and won two battles with cancer, had major heart surgery, and endured a painful broken hip and subsequent replacement. She rarely complained and kept a positive, grateful attitude. She did all of this quietly and unassumingly. For thirteen years after her retirement she volunteered at Hamilton County MRDD as a teacher’s aide. She took care of her daughter who has MS, keeping her spirits up and being her care advocate. Betty tried to help her longtime neighbor whose own children didn’t check on her. At ninety she was still helping others, reading to residents at Triple Creek where she lived, running errands, and ministering to two women from her church, both younger than she. There are countless other ways she was a caregiver, doing God’s work; probably some even I don’t know about.
Betty was a member of the Greatest Generation, tempered and strengthened by the Great Depression and World War II who lived her faith and served others and God. She embodies the ideals we write about in this series of devotionals: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, tenderhearted…” (Eph. 4: 32). I am so very grateful she was my special friend. I hope everyone has someone like this in their lives, and that each of us finds ways to emulate her implementation of God’s expectation of our loving and caring for one another.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for caring friends as well as good “ordinary” people around us who demonstrate God’s love without fanfare every day. Teach us to be loving friends, caregivers, and servants of those in need. Amen.