The following was written by Julie Reece-DeMarco for her ongoing series, “Finding Kind.” Reece-DeMarco’s series will be published in the third edition of every month.
Over the last few months of loss, uncertainty, disappointments and soul-searching self reflection, I have found myself asking “What would Evelyn do?”
Evelyn Heyer was a vibrant, warm contemporary and friend of my grandparents. Even as a young child, I remember her large entrance into every room. “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Dear heart,” rolled off her tongue and encircled every person in the room almost as effectively as her arms did. Evelyn would have qualified for automatic entrance in the University of Hard Times, but apparently didn’t know or didn’t care.
To any disinterested viewer, Evelyn Heyer drew the short end of many of life’s sticks. She was brilliant and hard-working, but was born in an era where the top of her glass ceiling was an administrative secretary. To hear her speak, she had won the job lottery. She had an overabundance of motherly love, but struggled for years with infertility issues. Her much-desired baby never arrived. About the time she and her husband, George, applied for adoption, she received the dreaded health news she had Multiple Sclerosis. Application after application for adoption was denied. It was an era where having a life-long disease and adoption were not considered compatible. Evelyn never expressed bitterness, only gratitude.
“Look,” she’d laugh, “I’ve gotten to adopt the grandkids of all my friends. I have more grandchildren than any of them.” Those were not just words to her. As infrequently as my brother, sister, and I saw her, she always knew what activities we were doing and made keeping up on our lives a priority. My sister and I laugh that it was the only time in our lives where anyone would call us “gowagous”.
Evelyn’s husband was a bit of a crusty introvert. I often found myself wondering how his exuberant wife put up with his grumpy demeanor. One day, after I watched him help her out of a car in a way I thought could have been kinder and gentler, Evelyn rolled over in her wheelchair and took my hand.
“Do you see how lucky I am?” she queried.
I smiled, hoping she wouldn’t notice I hadn’t answered.
She explained. “I have the most wonderful husband on the face of the planet. Caring for me is sometimes very tedious and difficult. George has always been willing to help. I couldn’t do this without him. He is not a young man. What he does for me is not easy.”
Through Evelyn’s eyes, I saw not an unpleasant old man, but one struggling against his own aging body while attempting to serve his wife. Looking at my relationships through her eyes has made potential obstacles less onerous. She was a queen of ‘benefit of the doubt’ and seeing the good in others.
Confined to a wheelchair, Evelyn was often the recipient of insensitive, unkind or rude comments and behavior. On several occasions, when those around her—especially my grandfather who did not get the “hold your tongue” gene—attempted to intervene on her behalf, she would gently stay his hand.
“Franklin, I appreciate your good heart. It is all right. Please let it be.”
They were not the pleadings born of weakness or a victim mentality. They were the petitions of one who had learned that living with the other cheek turned, brought peace. I have thought of her gently lined face, and chuckle, when I have found my ire rising. I have heard her wise pleading in my head, “Let it be.”
After Evelyn’s husband died, she was forced to move into an assisted living facility. Disabled, battling pain, she could easily have spent the remainder of her days as the recipient of service. Not Evelyn. Day by day, the sound of her motorized wheelchair and large friendly voice reverberated down the halls. At her approach, heavily shut doors opened. Grizzled heads poked out for a few minutes of warm, caring conversation with the woman who cared enough to ask how they were. I watched as over the years, she welcomed many of her friends to the facility, eased the transition from personal to group home, and then loved them into the waiting arms of the beyond. She was at my grandfather’s funeral, with her healing hugs and gentle counsel. “Boy we will miss him, but didn’t he have a great life?”
It was not the first, or last funeral we attended together. Evelyn never questioned why she was still here. She never railed at the passing of all her friends. She met what life dished out with a beautiful balance of compassion and optimism. Perhaps earlier in life she had to look and struggle to find kind. Perhaps her unflappable grace and ability to see the good in every person and situation was developed over time. By the time I knew her, she embodied kind.
Evelyn has long-since been released from the limitations of her mortal body, but her formula for dealing with adversity and unfairness has made an indelible imprint on my heart. Kindness, gratitude, patience, long-suffering, charity, forgiveness, optimism, a wink, an unfailing smile, and a smattering of “Dearies”, “sweeties”, and “honeys,” can make even the most challenging path more pleasant. Her legacy inspires me to truly see others, listen to their experiences, rise above obstacles and most importantly, to seek always to find kind.
I would love to hear about the “Evelyn” in your life. Perhaps someone who changed your perspective for the better, helped you be more patient or challenged you to Find Kind. Responses can be sent to the Courier Herald at email@example.com. The Courier Herald may choose to share an excerpt or two, so if you do not wish to be considered for publication, please clearly indicate in your submittal.
Julie Reece-DeMarco is an award-winning, multi-published author, speaker and attorney. She enjoys spending time outside in the beautiful Northwest with her husband and four daughters.