Yesterday, a dear friend said, "This Christmas seemed to come and go so quickly. It was so filled with hurt." She is a very talented musician and our school's choir director. She is also in charge of the music for our church. Over our Christmas break, as we were relaxing by the fire and planning how to entertain our kids, she sang for seven funerals....<<<SEVEN>>>..
I can't even imagine what the families are going through who are suffering with the loss of a loved one over a holiday like Christmas. It makes you really count your blessings and wonder, "How did I get so lucky?" I have three healthy, normally developing, well socialized kids. ((You have no idea, as an educator, how much I know this to be a blessing)). I have a husband who I know loves me immensely
I'm not trying to be depressing. I'm only trying to be truthful. It has been heavy on my heart.
Today, I attended a viewing. It was not a funeral, nor was it a wake. It was the first one of its kind I have ever attended. It was also one of the most touching...and eye-opening.
Our school has a cleaning "crew". My school is large enough for almost 700 kids to attend comfortably and stretch their legs. It's big. Our cleaning "crew" consists of Claudette and Frank. 2 people. They are husband and wife. They are probably in their late fifties. They are hard workers and as kind as they come. Those of us who often stay late greet them each afternoon as they dump our trash and try to stay "out of our way".
When I started working there, there was a faculty meeting where it was stated that we pay tens of thousands of dollars per year for janitorial service. Let's say it's over $50,000. I thought, "Whoa. Frank and Claudette do well with this one account." But, as I looked closer, I realized that they have very little. They dress in rags. When I offered the left over class pizza, they did not hesitate.
Two weeks before Christmas, during morning prayer, our principal asked to keep Claudette in our prayers because she wasn't feeling well and felt like she may have a heart attack. She went on to say thay have no insurance and can't afford the medical care she needs and they couldn't afford to miss the hours away from work. They don't work for themselves. They work for a janitorial service, likely making minimum wage or a little over. (((Oh. Well, that makes more sense.))) We decided we would take a collection for them around school to try to help. Many teachers gave generously.
Two days later, Claudette had the heart attack she feared she would have. She was found by her 22-year-old son in her chair early on a Friday morning. She was unresponsive and remained that way for 14 days. Over the Christmas holiday. Frank and her son sat faithfully by her side, even telling us that they thought she could come back because they think she is responding, even though the doctors don't. Her son finally had to make the decision to terminate life support. Claudette held on for 6 more days. She died yesterday, probably mid morning.
Frank could not afford her death anymore than he could afford the hospital bill. His only option was to cremate her, plain and simple. When I asked about a service, he said we would have to say we were family because they would only allow family to see her. He said, in a very humble way, "Mrs. Zembower, don't dress all fancy to go see her. I'm just gonna put her in her sweatsuit, you know." When I told him we didn't have to go, he insisted. "No, please, just tell them you're family. Tell the teachers to say they're family."
My principal made a phone call to allow for our staff to "visit" Claudette from 1:30-4:30 today. There was no casket. Not one flower arrangement. No pictures. Just Frank. Claudette was in her sweatsuit on a gurney, covered in a sheet. Someone (maybe Frank) had placed wilted white roses and a small religious item on her chest. Frank wore jeans and his nicest T-shirt. His hair that once reached halfway down his back is shaven. In his culture, you shave your head when you lose someone you love. "My hair was so long, because I haven't lost anyone in so long, " he said. Just after we arrived to the small room and paid our respects, teachers began arriving since school was out. One after one...until the small room was FULL. We gathered in a circle and prayed together. Our music director sang for one more funeral as she led us in "Amazing Grace". We told Frank to make a list of what he needs and he would get it.... He needs so much.... We all have so much. We told him he was part of the FAMILY, even though he didn't know it before now.
Hours after I got home, I realized....I guess GOD gave Frank the funeral he wanted for Claudette, but couldn't afford. I hope he felt some peace and closure from the "visit". I think he did.
This week, as this weighs on my mind, I have one verse that keeps running through my head like a broken record.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. ~ Matthew 25:35
Lesson~ See Matthew Chapter 25.