Susan Shinn column: Going with your strengths

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 21, 2006

By Susan Shinn

Salisbury Post

I’ve learned to go with my strengths.

Last Friday at lunchtime, I went over to Partners in Learning, a daycare center on the Catawba campus. I’m on the center’s board, and was asked to go and stay with the children while the teachers attended a holiday party.

Easy enough. It was naptime when I arrived, so all I had to do was be there while the 4-year-olds napped.

Two of the moms had come to help, so we spent a couple of hours mingling around, patting the children on their backs.

Some of them were already asleep; a couple never went to sleep.

One precious child was wide awake and couldn’t seem to settle down. Finally, I changed places with the mom who was working with him and started telling him this long, drawn-out story about a boy named Fred who visits Santa at the North Pole (a la Polar Express, but don’t tell).

I talked so long, he finally got settled.

Patting children on the back and talking to them and telling them stories — I can handle that.

That night, I went over to Lisa’s dad’s house. My best friend lost her mom Ruth that morning following a long illness. I sat and talked to Lisa for awhile, but I quickly realized that the place in which I’d be most helpful was the kitchen.

Food was coming in faster than the family could eat it. The sender had to be noted, the leftovers had to be put away and the dishes had to be washed. It was a posse just waiting to be organized.

So I got to work. You know, you try all your life not to be your mother, and then one day, you wake up and you have become her.

Sigh.

I went over the next morning and helped Jack, Lisa’s dad, fold laundry, then received more food. We ate again Saturday night before going to the funeral home.

Ruth looked beautiful. Her daughters dressed her in a black turtleneck, black pants and bright red, Christmasy blazer. I helped Kathy, the older daughter, with her mom’s jewelry. For a moment, I didn’t think I could do it, but sometimes you have to dig deep to find your strength.

At the funeral the next day, Lisa’s pastor, the Rev. Ken Reed, talked about Christmas, the season of light, and how Ruth was a light to her family.

Even in the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease, the members of her family were her points of light.

Pastor Ken’s words wove an amazing tribute to this wonderful wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

Light and darkness. Darkness and light.

At the cemetery, I noticed that Lisa’s husband kept his hand on her back, patting it several times.

Back at the house, I resumed my spot in the kitchen with Wanda, Kathy’s best friend.

The ladies from church had brought in food that morning, so it was time to warm dishes in the microwave, serve and clean up.

Three hours later, our work was finished. Lisa’s brother Jacky said they didn’t know what they’d have done without us. But this family has stood by me and loved me when I needed them the most. It sure was a privilege to be there when they needed me.

When I finished up, I went and laid my head on Jack’s shoulder and put his arms around me for a long while and he patted me on the back.

Looking at Ruth’s pristine kitchen after wiping down the last bit of crumbs on the counter, I figured she was pleased.

You have to go with your strengths.

Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or sshinn@salisburypost.com.

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