Not gone. Just gone before. An open letter to a friend and colleague upon the death of his beloved grandmother. Swing low, sweet chariot.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
James, you have done me the honor to interrupt your family’s grief to share your thoughts and reflections on a matter of the utmost significance. I want you to know, first of all, how honored I am that you gave me this time, even more precious than usual at such a moment.
You have done me the signal honor to tell me my responses have provided balm during a time of profound reflection and sadness…. and I am humbled, grateful to take a friend’s part and help you bear the unbearable.
For what you are doing now is the most difficult thing we humans confront… the death of a dear one who is now gone, gone forever… and we can not grasp how one so vibrant but short hours ago is now in a different place, a place beyond our ken, beyond our knowledge and our touch whilst we remain here to carry on as best we can… as best we must, bitterly remembering that in life we are but in the midst of death.
And this is bitter indeed for now you know, as all will come to know, just how bitter our portion is… and how we must drink of this dread cup to the very dregs. As you are doing this very moment. Let us then mourn together you and I and find the succor and strength that comes when we share this high moment of humanity together… and thus pave the way for the peace of God, the greatest gift of all.
Oneida Thomas, December 17, 1923 — May 8, 2012, your grandmother.
These are the facts about your grandmother Oneida Thomas, and they are but briefly told. How she was born December 17, 1923 in Grayson, Louisiana to the union of Albert Simmons and Parlee Leggins Simmons. How on December 4, 1944 she married Clinton Thomas. How to this union five children were born: Jeri, Carolin, Clayton, Leonard and Marian. How in 1948 they moved to Denver, Colorado. There they celebrated 55 years of marriage… and there she worked hard, strenuously, long and carefully for the betterment of her much cherished family, her fortunate employer, her community and her God. This was her abiding credo: “What I do, I do to the best of my abilities… or I do not do at all”. She meant every one of these words… and as she lived them so she quietly showed the world what was important to her and that she meant to do her part to make that world a better place. No excuses given, none tolerated. On these elements she built her life… a life well worth living and working for.
Her prodigious labor.
Stop for a moment and call to mind any image of your grandmother; chances are you’ll see her in movement, at work, doing something beneficial for her work was incessant, unending, tiring, essential, purposeful, done early, done late, done right. And done for you… for, after God, you and all your relations were always her first concern.
These were the fortunate people who always benefited… but who sometimes took her titanic strength and unending application for granted, as we all too often do. But there was nothing for granted about what she did beyond one hard fact: her work was unending drudgery,demanding, draining. However, she was and remained a woman of energy and determination. Both were needed, and over the course of a long lifetime she had constant reason to call upon them. Work was necessary… so she worked, none harder even if this work was unpleasant. It was work to be done; she could do it; so she did.
She started her work as a housekeeper, until she was hired by Swedish Hospital as a surgical setup and equipment preparer. Whilst working as a part-time housekeeper she retired from Swedish Hospital in 1988 after 20 years. She continued to work as a part-time housekeeper for 58 years.
These are the facts. Now let us review them for meaning.
Louisiana, segregation, poverty, fortitude.
Your grandmother was born and grew up in an atmosphere seething with troubles, malice, threats, painful realities, gnawing poverty, an environment fraught with menace and disturbance. She knew from her earliest memories what it meant to be Southern, female and black… and while she may never have discussed this acid situation with you, this situation shaped her. She endured this as she ensured so much… with dignity… with everyday courage… with sweet temper… with a kind, loving and giving disposition. She took each day as it came, however inequitable, inadequate, unforgiving… and kept her dreams alive, in a treasured place, working for them… never dismayed because they came so slowly. She personified fortitude… and never let the drawbacks obscure and embitter. That was not her way.
The world was harsh, her circumstances harsher… but her thoughts were free, uplifting, pure, and always giving. I know. You see, she has bequeathed this strength, this endurance and her warm, magnetic smile to… you. Thus, the first thing we see in you is the first thing we saw in her. You are her chiefest legacy. Thus she abides in you forever. Hallelujah!
Close your eyes, dear James, and remember the solace and comfort of her hands. Many times they have cherished and soothed you… I want you to feel them now, in your mind’s eye… for they are there now to sustain you for life… as they sustained so many before.
These were the hands of a woman who gave… and so demonstrated her love. She never had to say she loved, although she did so say… you had but to see her at her work… up early before the dawn to be on her way… returning long hours after sunset… no time squandered…. all put at the service of others. She was a woman who found comfort for her soul by comforting others… and she did so gladly, happily… a woman fulfilled, hence able to help fulfill a myriad of others. Where did such unceasing strength, always at the service of others, come from? She knew… she always knew…
Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour.
Your grandmother’s great healing gifts, her soothing skills, her hands that comforted, the smile that warmed… all these came from a single source of unequalled power and strength, the Saviour to whom she gave herself long years before when the landscape was grim and oppressive. Once committed she never wavered… for wavering was not her way. She had selected wisely and lived happily through every vicissitude. She knew the strength that comes from serenity… and she knew whence this strength had come. He freed her from doubt…. she repaid with a heart of joy… and what He gave her, she willingly gave to others. For her source of strength was the Lord… and thus she drew from strength everlasting, inexhaustible, without beginning, without end.
Thus, your grandmother fashioned a life worth living and because it was grounded in certainty and anchored in her warm heart she lived it with unceasing joy. And so the years passed in happiness, in fulfillment, … with family and friends who flourished with her love and care … always cared for herself by the Lord whom she trusted with everything… because He gave everything.
Then things changed radically, as things can do, overnight , with bewildering speed. After 88 years of health and stability a sea-change bringing fear and anxiety. Your grandmother’s health, so serviceable for so long, began to fail. Doctors told her she must do this and that… but she took advice from the source of all health… and the Lord said, “As you have trusted in Me in good times, so trust in Me in the bad.” And she did, graciously thanking the doctors for what they did… but trusting in her Lord, for in Him she had always trusted…. and hers was no fair-weather devotion but one to abide the numberless ages to come.
And so Oneida Thomas died, surrounded by love, secure in the love of the Lord.
Now she waits for you.
You are grieving now, James, for her loss, but she knew a secret still to be revealed to you. For she is not gone. Just gone before. Thus this woman who gave so much, gives you one last gift: the gift of eternity… for she has pointed the way for you and yours and resides there now her caressing hands ready to embrace you again. Let her certainty about this meeting cheer you, for it most assuredly cheered her.
Now go to any search engine, there to locate the words and music to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” for they are apt and soothing:
“Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home.”
As it has already carried her. World without end! Amen! Amen!
Written for James A. Holmes and his grieving family and for a restive world whose need for peace and serenity has never been greater.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://www.worldprofit.com
Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.