I awoke to a voicemail this morning informing us that my husband, Walter’s 106 year old cousin passed away in her sleep overnight. What a blessing it was to peacefully let go of her body in the comfort of her own home. No unfamiliar facility or beeping machine with doctors and nurses hovering around or even a long list of medications. “Cousin Louise” as we referred to her lived a long and fabulous life. In many ways I am not sad. In fact I want to stand up and give her a standing ovation for the kind of living she modeled. I want to applaud her for the peace and joy I am certain she felt and expressed with her heart.
I often wonder about the ways in which people “transition.” I purposely choose the word “transition” because I am not certain if our spirits, that essence or energy that gives life to bodies ever “dies.” Yet I understand that the human body like all other kinds of bodies—birds, dogs, horses, fish, insects die. I suspect death occurs because bodies serve as the vehicles that allow our spirits to move around in the physical world. But why do some people leave this place as a result of an automobile accident, drowning, sustained illness, or shot by a family member or in a war? Why aren’t more people able to die peacefully in their sleep like Cousin Louise?
I also believe Cousin Louise passed away with a happy, peaceful heart. In the few years that I knew her, I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone. She was full of stories many of them from the Civil Rights Movement in which she and her husband played active roles. Although I am certain she encountered some frightening situations and in some cases, downright hostility, she seemed to hold a positive attitude about it all. Cousin Louise felt bad for hateful people instead of being outraged by them. She understood the relationship between ignorance and fear that quite often leads to bigotry and discrimination.
In addition, Cousin Louise taught English Literature to college students. She loved poetry—Shakespeare, Tennyson and Chaucer and tried to ignite that love of literature in her students at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, GA. She also loved playing the piano and continued to do so until she was 105. When Walter videotaped her on that special birthday, he asked her how it felt to be 105. She replied, “ Splendid. It is just splendid!”
Her favorite scripture was Psalm 139, which she repeated often. She was certain that she was held by some Presence no matter where she ventured. Active in civic and social groups and her church as well, Cousin Louise rarely missed a Sunday at Big Bethel AME Church in downtown Atlanta until she became too fragile to attend. Grateful for visits from her pastor that connected her to a church family, she also continued her monetary support until the end. Her legacy includes her love of helping people especially encouraging young people. She realized early that life was about service to others and living became even sweeter when her passions were combined with her desire to give.
Cousin Louise drove until she was much beyond age 95, in part because she fudged her age a bit. It’s not clear if her husband, a few years her junior ever knew that she was older. Yet because she was raised with Walter’s grandmother, the two being born just 2 weeks apart, we always knew her true age. So when Cousin Louise turned 100, Walter and I took her dinner on her birthday and she admitted that it might be time for her to reveal her true age.
I’m not sure if I will live to 106 or if I want to. But I know that in whatever time I have remaining on earth, I want to maintain the poise, elegance, and attitude of this great woman with a heart brimming over with love for others, a desire to help, and the radiant joy she emanated in living with a peaceful and grateful heart.
How might you describe your heart right now? What is it full of? How do you think you would feel at 106?