The Uncommon Decency of Miss Betty

Beloved Miss Betty was laid to rest this weekend. Her friends and family traveled from far and wide to send her off to her glorious reward. A beautiful Catholic Requiem service in the downtown cathedral, informed by her wishes and organized by her daughter, my friend Anne.

She gave us more than eight decades of upright living, community support and faithful service to our country. As I listened to her lovely Latin mass, I reflected on the now uncommon decency she lived by every day. She passed on the 100th anniversary of the last angelic sighting of the Virgin Mary / our Lady of Fatima. A perfect ending on earth for this lovely soul.

The town of Fatima is a small Portuguese hamlet of seven square miles where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to three shepherd children 100 years ago. Miss Betty had a deep reverence for life and was a faithful, practicing catholic woman. She had a devoted trust in God and his plans for her life that today is also uncommon. The fabric of her life, and her death on this anniversary, spoke to her values, her belief in God, and her living understanding that we are all part of a grander plan.

I think as I express myself here I may sound like a crank, just shy of yelling at children to “Get off my lawn!” But I can’t help feeling that as we say goodbye to Miss Betty, like my own Father just a year before her, we are saying goodbye to a generation that served others as a matter of course. Faith. Family. Country. A life of service that was a foregone conclusion as to how a good life was well lived.

Miss Betty served as a nurse in the Korean conflict. She continued her work as a nurse upon her return to the States. In that capacity she met the man who became her husband. He was a widower at the time with 5 children. Miss Betty stepped in and became Mom #2 for those lucky kids, then proceeded to give her new husband another 5 children for good measure.

The morning of the funeral I awoke hearing Miss Betty in my head. “How are Youuuuuuu?” This was how she’d great me when I came to visit her daughter, and join them for an evening meal together. I would visit with Miss Betty, seated in her recliner in her room, knitting hats for needy children, her desk area covered with requests for donations to worthy causes. Charming. Delightful. Funny. Miss Betty.

We’d share news of the day, comment on the weather, review news of family and friends. She always asked about my mother in Spokane, and about my son too. She enjoyed talk radio programs and usually had a funny nugget to share from a recent program. “Oh — this woman from Phoenix called in — you won’t believe what she had to say!”

I could also hear in my head, on her funeral day, what she always said at the end of our little chats. “It’ll be alllllright” she’d say, patting my hand as she got up to move out to the dining room for dinner.

She sorted and washed her trash, decades before recycling was a matter of course. She loved sweets above all else. Never touched a drop of liquor or coffee, but happily served both to guests. She favored simple food, lightly seasoned. Vegetables came from a can and cookies out of a package.

Her upbeat spirit as her health declined was sometimes confounding to others. One time, firefighters were summoned from the alert device around her neck, and they found her on the kitchen floor, telling herself jokes and laughing to pass the time until they could lift her back up. That’s the time she broke her arm in a fall.

Months passed as she mended, then a new fall. Mending, then something else. Finally, Anne began to work at home, as Miss Betty could not be left alone during the day any longer. Friends and family would visit and allow Anne to do the shopping or other errands. Soon we all knew she would never fully heal again. But our Miss Betty would manage each new physical decline in her health with a cheerful attitude and a kind spirit. She asked to sign a DNR form. She missed her husband, gone 15 years earlier, and longed to join him in heaven.

Yet somehow, though it seems silly now, we were all caught off-guard when the end finally arrived. She had survived so much — and then one day her doctor said the next step was not home from the hospital but to a hospice facility, as she was days away from death. We couldn’t take it in. It was her time.

I hope I never stop hearing Miss Betty in my head. Though she is gone from my sight, she will forever be in my heart. And it’ll be alllllright.