It is common for people to skip the book of Numbers when they read through the Bible. After all, it seems that, chapter after chapter, the book gives a dry and droll account of the families, clans, and tribes of Israel.
What seems like a boring list to us, however, was very meaningful to the ancients. Even the lists of ancestral names in the New Testament–like those found in the gospels recording Jesus’ ancestry–carried great meaning.
The truth is that the ancients believed that a person’s life was enshrined and honored by the memories that a family held so dear. Families were obligated to bear witness to the lives of their relatives in order to bring honor to the deceased.
Still today, some of us, especially clergy, bear witness to the lives of folks who pass away. We advocate on behalf of the deceased by speaking truth about a person’s life, and we encourage people to “never forget” even one precious child of God.
And, so, in this column, dear reader, I am obligated to bear witness to the life of a person not many people knew, a person who simply loved her dog, worked hard, and finished the race of her life peacefully in Room 100 of Westberry rehab here in Conyers.
I met Ms. Mary Lumus through one of our parishioners, Denise Criswell. Denise, who helped care for Ms. Mary over the years, encouraged us to reach out to Ms. Mary when the permanent move to Westberry was inevitable.
Ms. Mary was a very solitary person. She had no living children (her son, a police officer in Atlanta, died years ago, only to be followed by the death of her grandson a year later). Her siblings are deceased. She was thrice married, but all her husbands are deceased as well. She didn’t have a church family.
Ms. Mary described herself as a “wild child” so she neither built lasting bridges over the years nor had many bridges to burn. Instead, she quietly worked as a secretary for the state of Georgia until her retirement, and she cared for her best friend: a German Shepherd named Joey Boy.
I met Ms. Mary a little over a month ago. Upon realizing the magnitude of Ms. Mary’s solitude, my church and I immediately set up a web of support around her. Matt Cook, youth pastor at Milstead Baptist Church (only a mile from Westberry), committed to meet with Ms. Mary at least once a week. Other folks stepped in to visit and pray with her.
Our church’s children made Ms. Mary cards and colorful posters that Matt delivered to her–complete with flowers and balloons–during Holy Week.
She was only one month away from turning 95 when I received news that she had passed on Friday, April 5, 2013. Before she passed, she told Denise that she didn’t want any visitation or funeral. She didn’t give any specific instructions for a burial.
She did, however, have a savings account for Joey Boy so that someone would have the resources to take care of him. She had specific instructions for his care and safety. We are thankful that Joey Boy moved into another loving home right before Ms. Mary passed.
Matt and I still find it hard to comprehend not having a funeral for one of God’s children. So, this article seems quite appropriate. No one, not even Ms. Mary who kept to herself the second half of her life, should die without at least some acknowledgment of her memory and dignity.
Denise and I plan to light a candle for her at Trinity Baptist sometime in mid-May. We will have flowers on the communion table for her too. But when all is said and done, we few who ministered to Ms. Mary–including many wonderful nurses at Westberry–were all the more blessed for knowing her. We will miss her, and we hope that this record–like those long lists in the Bible–will be a lasting testament to a life well-lived by a very unique and precious child of God.