As we knew it would be, the parking lot of the funeral home was full last night when we pulled in. We were dreading the fresh grief inside although the accident that cost the life of Jerry Stapleton had happened over a week before. He had been taken to a Saint Louis hospital by helicopter and lain there for over a week on a breathing machine with broken neck and paralysis and then a massive stroke. Some thought that perhaps a light stroke or some such event had caused the accident with its catastrophic results in the first place. As far as anyone knew, he never had to suffer the anxiety of knowing about his injuries as he never became conscious.
From a large and highly regarded family, Jerry had been in the community’s prayers ever since an accident. His sister’s sister-in-law kept us all abreast with Jerry’s condition on Facebook, so we were prepared for the bad news.
During the thirty-six years we lived at Pondside Farm just a half mile from here, there was only one house between ours and the Stapleton house just down the road. Russ and Mildred Stapleton had three boys, all tall like their World War II veteran father, and one little girl named Debby, who was the right age to play with our youngest two—Jeannie and Mary Ellen. Steve, Jerry, and Mike were all several years older than our son Gerry, and they also had cousins Gordon and Paul on down the road apiece. Our brother-less son found the Stapleton homes a bonanza of boys with fishing, ball playing, horse, and hunting interests. As soon as he was allowed to ride his bycycle on our rural gravel road, he would head there with promises to me that he would be home before dark. Poor little guy got in trouble a lot when he would break those promises. Because of the age differences, I worried about his being a pest, but the boys made him welcome.
When I wrote our kids about Jerry’s accident, our son emailed back: “That is so sad! Paul, Steve, Jerry, Gordon and Mike were my closest neighbors. Good families. Never, ever did one thing mean to me! That is really a testament to how good of boys they all were!” Down in Georgia, he was torn that it was not possible for him to be in that huge crowd at the funeral home. But he was so accurate about “Good families.”
Russ farmed and worked in the mines. In addition to all her homemaking duties and cooking for her own family, Mildred worked in our village school lunch program for many years. When she retired, she used her expertise and for many more years volunteered to head up her church’s participation in Marion’s lunch program for anyone who shows up to eat five days a week. Participating churches take a week’s turn to prepare meals. Mildred would be there all five days. Only long after health problems plagued her did she finally retire from this unpaid job.
Russ and Mildred are perfect examples of bad things happening to good people. Their son Steve served in the Marines in Viet Nam and was exposed to Agent Orange. He came home and worked in the mines, but he had to fight cancer for many years. Like so many of our veterans, he died early at age 61 in 2008. Parents never get over losing children. As one of my high school classmates said to me about his son’s death: they are supposed to live longer than their parents.
Mildred and Russ celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at the party their kids threw for them July 4th weekend at their church fellowship hall. We had a family reunion and could not attend, but I thoroughly enjoyed the invitation with an adorable poem telling the story of their romance and marriage. I found out from Mike last night that Debby had written it. Somehow I take comfort from knowing that they had that special time together with all their children, grandchildren, and friends before they had to go through this second sorrow of losing another son.
Jerry’s wife Pam and his two sons and daughter are all living productive lives that speak well of Jerry’s heritage from his time on earth. The community will continue to share their grief and pray for comfort for all of them as they face life without him.
The death toll is rising from the terrible destruction of Hurricane Irene, so many Americans families are facing great grief right now. We know that grief is to be expected in this life, but somehow it often surprises us when it happens.
Tammy Morris, a writer in our community, gave us this scripture paraphrase on Facebook a couple of days ago: ""weeping endures for the night but joy comes in the morning...' -- life brings hills and valleys and each has something that add character, so if you are in a valley and weeping during the night, just remember that there is a hill and a morning full of joy up ahead." Thank you, Tammy.
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