Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Matriarch

 



The dictionary defines matriarch as the female head of a family or tribal line. My definition isn’t that simple. To me, a matriarch is a woman who lived 84 years, watched her parents, a brother, a sister, her husband, and three of her children die, and still kept enough faith so that on her death bed she could tell Jesus to “hurry up.”
For me, a matriarch is my Memaw Evelyn.
I’ve been saying it for the last four years. “Memaw, I’m going to come over with a tape recorder one day and not leave until I get your stories on tape for a book.” I never did do that, and regrets are becoming a cliche, so I’ve tried to not dwell on it. Oh, what a marvelous book it would make though. Stories that would make you cry, laugh a little, and then cry a bit more. Stories that would have caused you to garner unwelcome sympathy, as she didn’t want to dwell in the past, opting instead to live for this moment, the here and now, where it counted.
She was a firecracker even in her eighties, and I loved to give her a hard time when I saw her, more than once eliciting an outburst of air then a stern “Travis Gene!” as she voiced her disapproval of my ideas or actions. Every time I left her house, I’d ask her if my aunts were taking care of her, and she’d tell me stories of her supposed “mistreatment” and I’d tell her she could come live with me anytime she wanted.
I’ll never forget the time I got a phone call telling me she’d been hospitalized mere hours after I had talked to her on the phone. You see, I called her up to tell her I was going to be preaching in church on that particular Sunday, and asked her if she’d like to come. Apparently, in her excitement to get back in her house to tell others about this event, she tripped and fell and wound up breaking something or other. It was a completely new way for me to feel guilt, even though I’m absolutely positive she felt just as guilty about making me feel that way.
She was empathetic, nurturing, and strong-willed, as I’m sure my aunts and cousins who lived closest to her would tell you. She did not have an easy life. She survived the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the tragic loss of many people closest to her.
Bruce Sloat was only nine years old when he was struck in the head with a baseball and killed.
Donald Sloat was a war hero in Vietnam, only twenty years old when he died. He is still the subject of much research in my family, most of which was headed up by my Memaw, who desperately wanted him to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor, which is an ongoing process even now.
Brian Sloat was thirty nine years old when cancer took him from his mother, his wife, and his four sons, of which I am the eldest.
Through all of this loss (and so much more) my Memaw Evelyn persevered. She stood strong in the knowledge of her faith, trusting God in his absolute omniscience to provide a way through the personal tragedies. She was as resolute in her trust as perhaps Job was, as the pastor mentioned at her funeral. I thought it a not too unlikely comparison, having read or heard of the things Job went through, and then the way they both seemed to just give it up, hand it over to God, and ask him for strength.
She died on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family, and with a clear mind she demanded that the doctors remove her from the machines keeping her alive. She yelled at God, telling him to “hurry up,” which brought chills to the surface of my skin, because those are almost the exact same words my dad spoke as he lay dying. I can only imagine her entrance into heaven, possibly pushing past others, a sudden understanding coursing through her, knowing why all those things happened to her, and in my mind I like to see her meeting her sons, who are in heaven simply because of a belief she instilled in them as children.
As I sat through the funeral service last Wednesday, I couldn’t help but think about playing at her house when I was younger, about the foods she used to make, remembering her yelling in the stands of my high school basketball games.
It was the first funeral in which I’d ever been a pallbearer.
Six of us Sloat boys wheeled her out of the church, into and out of the hearse, and placed her on the machine that would lower her into her final resting place. She was laid to rest next to Donald, who fought valiantly for our freedom and who she fought valiantly for towards the end of her life.
But take heart, dear reader. There were no tears shed during this post. Sure they came with the news of her death, as often our selfish minds confuse this earth for being a better residence than Heaven. But they quickly dried, and I took two things away from the experience that I hope to make me…and maybe you…a better person.
The first is that bad things are going to happen in our lives. Some more so than others. There are really two ways you can deal with them. You can either curl up in a tight little ball and let life box you around the ears until your spirit is broken; or you can take those problems to God, lay them on his lap, and give him the opportunity to minister to you.
The second is that I hope – for me, for you, for everyone – that I can lay on my death bed and demand that Jesus hurry up, that I can barge into heaven in much the same way a small child barges into their parents bedroom after a bad dream. Rushing into the arms of God, and hearing him tell me all the things I never knew. My goal in life is to acquire that faith, that strength, and that honor.
Here’s to you, Memaw Evelyn. I miss you, your family misses you, but I couldn’t be happier, and Heaven couldn’t be more deserving. You were, are, and always will be…our Matriarch.