Life, death, joy, sorrow

Candle and rocks

Six years ago this month I lost my husband, Earl, to lung cancer. It was tough for him, and — as his sole caregiver — it was tough for me.

There’d been so many “moments” during our 25-year marriage, so many wonderful memories, and his end came slowly and with some pain.

I fumbled, trying to explain to others how the loss of Earl affected me. Then someone — I’ve forgotten who — said it perfectly: “Your joy is your sorrow.”

Yes. That was it. That was exactly how I felt. Those five words covered it all. And they brought to mind other like comments I’d heard through the years.

During the early 1970s, I attended a University of Minnesota history class taught by the beloved and eccentric professor David Noble. (He often lectured costumed as a historical figure, and even adopted corresponding accents: Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind.)

In teaching Intellectual History of the 20th Century, Noble covered the women’s liberation movement, which was well under way, delving into its roots, its reasons, the advent of Ms. Magazine, the strides women were making throughout the world and the great changes they wrought.

His final summation: “Women have moved from place to space!”

Mercury 7 astronaut Gus Grissom disliked public speaking. When he was asked to address the employees of General Dynamics, who built the Atlas rockets used for the mission, Grissom stood before the assemblage and simply said, “Do good work!”

My ears always tune in to succinct statements like these. Why? I’m allowed only 500 words for this column! I’ve trained myself to say a lot in just a few words. Indeed, for my purposes, less is more.

It’s been easy. I come from a family of storytellers. To properly tell a tale, it’s important to use as few words as possible; to wander off and include unnecessary detail is to lose your audience.

My dad was particularly good at this. He often kept our family entranced with his WWI experiences — although leaving out the carnage.

He knew the words to war songs — It’s A Long Way to Tipperary, Over There, Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, Mademoiselle from Armentieres — and even sang them. Listening to him was a history lesson, complete with gestures and emotion.

My eldest sister inherited his gift. It was passed along to her son and daughter, each who lovingly insist that, “Mom never let the facts stand in the way of a good story!”

Even their offspring have acquired this shred of DNA. Our family gatherings are never boring!

I’ve lived long enough to have witnessed — up close and personal — a number of loved ones’ births and deaths. In some cases the birthing was difficult, and the death lingering and tragic, the worst being a close family member who lay in a coma for a month before her children made the agonizing decision to remove life support.

Amazingly, someone penned the perfect words even for this: “It’s a struggle to be born, and it’s a struggle to die.”

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].