It has been a tough couple of weeks off the road. After arriving in Muncie, we rode with Kait’s aunt Ellen and uncle Mike up to Buffalo, New York to reunite with the Whistler family. Betty Whistler, mother of 13 children, passed away last week at the age of 90. She is leaving behind over 100 direct descendants, and we were lucky enough to be able to be there to support the family during Betty’s transition. Kait’s mom wrote a touching email and sent it to everyone the morning that Betty passed. With her permission, I wanted to share some of what she wrote:
“As I take my own emotional walk-about in the wake of Betty’s passing, I’ve been thinking of a brief exchange I had with her on Labor Day 2009 at the beach… It had been a typical Labor Day weekend with lots of beach activity; a barbecue on the lawn and the usual family bantering on the front porch. As we were about to close the car door, Betty called to me. “Cayce, where are you”? When I stepped forward, she looked at me and said, “Cayce, take care of my house.” As you might expect, I had to choke back a few tears as I assured her that I would.
I understand now that her simple request had little to do with plumbing and paint and much more to do with what that house has come to represent to her family over the past 56 years. The big white house on Abino Bay was important to her because it provided a central gathering place where her loved ones would joyfully converge, bringing with them all the chaos and messiness that is family life…
The house that Betty built rests firmly on a foundation of love. Its walls are supported by the devotion of family and close friends… but it stands, protected from bad weather by a roof of wonderfully irreverent humor and laughter. It’s the laughter that keeps us grounded and brings us all home. Betty understood better than anyone that home is where the heart is. Her heart was always with her family wherever we gathered. The big white house on Abino Bay won’t stand forever, but the house that Betty and Larry spent a lifetime building will always stand, as long as we remember and pass their love and laughter along.”
When we arrived in her hospice room, Betty was surrounded by family. There were soft smiles and sad eyes, and a quiet procession of sons and daughters coming and going, and gathering together around Betty as they had done for years and years on the front porch of the beach house. They told stories, and softly sang her old family sailing songs about lusty, busty maids and hungry girls from Buffalo.
Sitting there in her room, I was struck by the legacy that this woman is leaving behind. Anybody can make a big family – the mechanics are pretty simple. But Betty raised a big family of loving, wonderful, hardworking people. She instilled in them the importance of sticking together and being there for one another. She taught them to not take themselves too seriously, and to laugh at life’s little jokes. She taught them how to live fully and lovingly – and she did a wonderful job.
There are no guarantees after this life. Faith and religion tell some nice stories, but at the end of the day there is no certainty that any part of us will live on after our bodies rot in the earth. I see so many people coasting through life, waiting for something to happen. I used to be one of them. What we often fail to realize is that every single day of our silly little lives is a gift. Today is the only guarantee that we have to know that we are alive, right now. Every day, I am becoming more and more convinced that the only way we will live on after death is in the mark we leave while we are alive. Every moment of every day, we are reborn. Karma comes quickly, and without delay. We live on in the relationships that we build, and the memories of others. We live on in the brushstrokes that we contribute to the canvas of this world.
Perhaps it is because of my youthful arrogance or naivety, but I think the world would be a lot nicer to live in if we all tried to leave it a little better than we have found it. Reach out to your brothers and sisters. Pick up after yourself. Try to leave in your wake a trail of love and empathy as you pass through this world. We are all on this journey together. How will you live on in the hearts and minds of your fellow man?
I have been lucky enough to see a woman at the end of her life, going peacefully and naturally, surrounded by 13 loving children and the families that they have raised in love. I am honored to be a small part of the legacy that she is leaving behind. Betty Whistler has been blessed beyond belief. She found her Heaven on this earth. May we all seek deeply to find the same.