Triptych.1

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“We are better for having known you.” So ended the first memorial to the three men (and Queen Elizabeth II) last September. The same message holds true for the three women in this dedication, but  this time the result will be much more personal. I knew all three well, had been in their homes, knew their trials, considered them sisters.

Belinda Evans Romney

On a Wednesday afternoon in January, I texted Belinda to ask about her trip to the Holy Land some years before. She had spoken of it often, and another friend and I were looking into some travel. Belinda replied immediately but didn’t at all to my next question. The next evening, the person offering the opening prayer in a zoom meeting included her name. Immediately I wondered why. That morning her husband had taken her to the ER where she was sent immediately to ICU. By Saturday evening she was gone. The speed was shocking, saddening. Some of her children had made it to her bedside. The diagnosis was C-diff (Clostridioides difficile), an infection that can be “inconvenient or deadly.” Belinda’s infection had likely come from recent dental work that required antibiotics, which in turn killed healthy gut bacteria and allowed C-diff to overwhelm her system. Later we learned that she had extreme abdominal pain the week before she went to the ER, which explained her simple text response.

Vernita Meecheko Goodwin Mitchell

As happens with many friends, Vernita’s recent friendship was via Facebook. We’d had an exchange the week before her passing. When I saw her, it was at the Dallas Temple on Fridays, so just in passing and with brief greetings. She, too, left quickly. On a Tuesday in May, she began to feel unwell, then quite ill, and finally collapsed with heart failure. It was all astonishingly fast, and I don’t have more details than these.

Elizabeth R. Collington*

There is no link because there was no obituary. No services, which was her express desire. Of the three, Betsy was the oldest by over 20 years. She came from England in the 1960s during a nurse shortage. Her husband, also a nurse, died in 1984. Betsy had been in a nursing home for many months. Her son-in-law cared for her and his wife, who had a serious stroke that left her with limited mobility. He cared for both for years, cooking, cleaning, providing complete personal care—and all without complaining. When Betsy began falling, he could no longer meet her physical needs and arranged for her to be in a care facility. He visited her almost daily, which I know not from his report but from Betsy’s and the staff. When I visited on Saturdays, he was usually there as well. Although Betsy preferred to stay in bed, she did get up every few days, unwillingly, because the residence required it. How she continued to live like that, I’m not sure. When her son-in-law called late one Friday in May, she had a serious kidney infection that had overwhelmed her. Her organs were shutting down, and she had only a few days left. Her family was always with her from that evening through the next Monday when she passed away.

What comes next is the unusual things these three women had in common, or for 2 of the 3 sometimes, with a few stories from them through the years.

Cats

They were all cat people. People put up funny pictures for Belinda having to do with crazy cat lady starter kits like this one. Her husband continues to joke about having to share the bed with a cat, who is apparently a bed hog.

Vernita’s friend Annie spoke at the funeral about a Russian blue that came to college with her. Apparently, the roommates were not fans and tormented the cat when Vernita was away. When I knew her first, she had an Abyssinian. Now, a Russian blue is not just a gray cat, nor is an Abyssinian just a brown one. I’d always admired the latter for their elegance and beautiful ticked coat. When someone in the family developed a serious allergy, Vernita offered him to me. These are not cheap cats, but she didn’t want to be paid. I was thrilled to get Basil (pronounced Bay-sil), but the affection was not returned. He expressed his disdain in some unmistakable ways and moved across the street. Vernita took it in stride, but I remained mortified.

Betsy had the most beautiful cat I’ve ever seen, a Siamese mix. She was one of 28 other cats that were the most wonderful Betsy had ever seen. How she took care of them all I never knew. There were cat boxes here and there, bowls of catfood spread around, and plenty of places for them all in and around her very proper English garden. Betsy knew that I and one of my daughters-in-laws had cats as well, and she often asked after them. Once sending home a casserole, Betsy said, “Mind the cat fur.”

Music

For many years, Betsy lived around the corner from me. She once set the goal of learning to read music. We worked on the task for several weeks. She made progress, a bit, but always seem a bit less than satisfied. Finally, she asked, “When am I going to start hearing the music?” She had believed that to read music was similar to learning to read words, that at some point one could hear the note that was on the page. She was disappointed to learn that it didn’t work that way. Betsy continued to sing in the church choir, again I’m not sure how.

Vernita played the oboe. It’s not an easy instrument, and usually the people who play it are smarter than average. She fit the bill because she was, first and foremost, a scientist (microbiology). When she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, I took her a CD with perhaps the most beautiful oboe solo I’d ever heard: “Psalm 23” by John Rutter. This version has the sheet music, so you can see what Vernita would have heard. This one is with the Cambridge Singers.

Belinda didn’t play or sing particularly, but she would always find me after I’d played my flute and tell me how much she loved to hear me. She had the gift of a smile that let me believe I really had brought her a bit of joy. It was, perhaps, her voice as well that was her music. The Sunday before her passing, she apologized for not being a better ministering sister and told me she loved me. I don’t think she knew I’d asked for her specifically, in 2020, because my husband had just died, as had the husband of my best friend, himself a dear friend. I needed Belinda’s strength.

Trials

Belinda battled late-stage breast cancer with bravery and a light heart. She reported with some humor the intimate shared moment with her husband when her hair was falling out and they shaved it. The ordeal was long and winding, but asked how she managed, she told me, “The sisters took care of me.” She’d had a serious staph infection in her knee, all sorts of general maladies, usually a step up from most. One grandchild has profound special needs. Her husband hadn’t sat with her in a church for decades because of his church callings. They had six children in six years and often said that meant they had six teenagers at one time, too. Families bring joy, of course, but also challenges.

Vernita’s cancer, one of the deadliest, was conquered. She later had breast cancer as well. Once I asked if she could visit with a friend, a stranger to her with no connection at all, because he had cancer. She agreed; he too recovered.

Betsy had two daughters. One, Katherine, she called “Kasha,” had lost a child. Then Kasha died suddenly, quietly, in the backseat of a car with her sister at Sonic. It was to her that I’d dedicated the Christmas poem “Given” because she didn’t like all the pretends of the holiday. Betsy liked to hide the crèche baby Jesus from the children and let them search for it, the only delight sometimes especially when she couldn’t remember its hiding place. When Hannah had her stroke, Betsy was devastated but determined to live through her recovery, which she did and more.

Connections

Vernita’s middle name was Meecheko, although Goodwin, her maiden name, appeared on Facebook. I don’t know its history ( other than her father was once stationed in Japan) although it is phonetically the same as Michiko, the empress of Japan. Its meaning in Japanese is “beautiful, wise child.” Perhaps that’s enough to know.

Betsy’s middle name, that I knew anyway, was Rose. Another beautiful, fitting name. But it wasn’t real. During her final blessing, the bishop asked for her full name, which I gave him as Elizabeth Rose Collington. But her son-in-law corrected me. “No,” he said. “Her middle name on her birth certificate is Ruth.” There we had it. All these decades she’d chosen the name she wanted.

Vernita served her church mission in London. Once, when I was trying to explain that my lack of natural affection came from being so British, she promptly disagreed. Maybe in some quarters, that was true, but the Brits she knew were warm and happy to hug.

If there is one thing that connected them, it was service. Belinda, who could have done anything she wanted after she retired, worked a shift at the temple on Saturdays but also went often on Fridays to mend clothes. Vernita loved pandas, and when she lived in Chengdu for three years volunteered at the wildlife center there. She once invited my husband and me to dinner, remarkable in that people never did because he wasn’t a member of the church. Betsy volunteered at the temple, as did the others. Years before, she drove to DFW Airport weekly, in her battered brown El Camino, to welcome foreign travelers.

Conclusions

For the last Triptych, the men were, well, men. I’d been in the home of one many times, of another just twice, and barely knew the third. These women, as sisters, I held closer. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely appropriate, but I told one husband I’d have gladly gone myself if his wife could have stayed. To another I commented that I will never be able to hold a candle to his. And really, that is true of all of these three. If I were to say that to them, I can imagine smiles and eye rolling and a bit of chiding. Yes, I am better for having known them. If only a feather’s stroke of their goodness reaches you from me through them, I’ll be glad.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Triptych.1”

  1. Thank you Mary Ann. A wonderful remembrance of three very special daughters of our Heavenly Father.

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