My parents were less than a year away from celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary when the Good Lord called my father home. That was in August of 1998. Like most surviving spouses who remain married for many, many years, my mother felt like a part of her too had gone up with him. No wonder, they were truly one – perhaps soulmates, if there is such a thing. And in spite of our hope that he might have lived forever -- for the truth is if we really had any say so in the matter that’s exactly what we’d all want for our parents -- my Dad nevertheless was called away a couple of days after his 70th birthday.
Unless a surviving spouse is lacking a conscience, a heart, and a soul, it would defy universal laws for a woman finding herself in this situation to elude the certain grief that washes over her like a great wave. For many it is unrelenting. It was for Mom. But you wouldn’t have known it to talk to her unless of course you caught her in a private moment. But while her support system was as good as anyone could have, for she had 7 children living in the
area, a sister, and extended family, she was nevertheless emotionally challenged.
It was only a few weeks later that Mrs. Melba Caillavet walked into my mother’s life. They had known each other from many years past but never had the opportunity nor inclination to associate. I suppose both had their own obligations and were walking different paths. But like an angel on a mission, Melba called my mother one day, and invited her to lunch. A week or so later it was to another place, then the casino, gatherings, and so on. My mother at first was reluctant not feeling up to it, but Melba kept up the repeat calls and invites, and from then on she and my mother began going on outings once or twice a week. It was obvious by my mother’s demeanor and the content of her speech that her grief, all the while very real, was at least slowly lifting; she was beginning to look and feel better. It was no secret what Melba was up to. When she approached my mother she frankly told her she needed to continue living her life, to live it in a full way; that her husband would want that too -- which was true. And so they developed a special friendship that really was born out of simply one widow reaching out to another.
Melba passed away last week at the age of 89 and at the funeral Mass homily Father Joe Dilettuso pointed out that Melba was a person akin to those in the Scriptures who had neither had a claim to fame nor were heroes, but were remarkable and special because they went about their day focused on God, never bothered by the swirling distractions, void of frets, frustrations or pretentiousness, just doing their daily chores and being a good neighbor. He shared stories about Melba’s quiet and unassuming ways that revealed she had multiplied many times over with others the out-of-her-way kindness and good will of companionship and help that she demonstrated with my mother. That she was a woman who, while never flaunting or flashing her faith, nevertheless was never embarrassed if you learned she went to Mass every day or questioned or asked her about any aspect of her faith, her life, or her friendships.
Father Dilettuso asked those in attendance, rhetorically yet somewhat pointedly, as to who will take Melba’s place; that she is no longer with us and can no longer serve others in this way. But we know in fact there are other Melbas out there, but it just seems like we could never have enough Melbas among us – especially now during these challenging social and economic times. The
constant daily din of confrontational opinions, intellectual dishonesty and such is not unlike the great wave of grief that overwhelms the forlorn surviving spouse who’s lost her longtime mate and friend.
I’ll be forever grateful to Melba for her charitable ways, her friendship and the emotional salve she lent in helping to uplift my mother from her grief and to have been her friend for the last 7 years of her life. I pray that perpetual light will shine upon her, my mother, and others like them and that one day we’ll all look around and be able to take for granted the overwhelming number of Melbas we see walking among us.