The federal government reached out to her multiple times to study how she lived to be 105 years old. I’ve only known her the last quarter of her life, but valued her friendship over those years. I bring this up, now, because she just transitioned into eternity this past week.
She lived between Yelm and Lacey all the years I’ve known her, but she grew up in Arkansas. Her love for Southern things never went away. We shared many similarities, relating to the deep South, including savoring the flavor of purple hull peas — a wonderful food of which most in the Pacific Northwest remain deprived. The past few years we haven’t been able to find them in any local stores, after Yelm Walmart quit carrying them. Both of us shopped there, specifically, because they carried purple hull peas.
Gladys was the one who purchased the plane ticket for me to fly out here for my first visit to Washington State. The struggling church nearly closed its doors, and had never realized a need to have a credit card. In their desire to try to revive their congregation, they reached out to my first undergraduate seminary and asked the president who he would recommend as his top candidate. Once given my name, they began recruiting me. Gladys stepped up and fronted the money on a credit card for the plane ticket for me. I didn’t know this until years after I was serving alongside her in the church.
When the kids were all still at home, Gladys began a tradition of giving us a turkey for Christmas. What a thoughtful and kind soul she was to think of such a thing. I wasn’t the only one who was on the receiving end of her generosity, but I sure felt special, nonetheless. My family felt very loved by her.
A friend of hers who was younger went on ahead of her into eternity last year, but twenty-plus years ago they chipped in to help me dress nicer. Both decided I should have nice sportcoats and ties, so for a stretch of a few years they treated me to fancy outfits. Little did I know this would benefit me far into the future. It started me dressing up far more than I ever would have without them, and to this day I tend to keep on dressing up. Much of the time I think of it as an honor to them – two ladies who mothered me well.
In her 80’s Gladys volunteered as one of my secretaries, and was so loyal to me. She loved helping the church and me, and never expected anything in return. She was a true servant of Jesus.
The funny thing is she didn’t want anyone to know how old she was when she was in her 80’s and 90’s. She certainly didn’t seem that old, during those years, and she liked it that way. But when she turned 100, it became something of which she was proud.
One day when she was in her 90’s she was supposed to assist in a wedding at the church, like she had so many times before. However, she woke up with a sore back, and called to say she was considering staying home. She asked me what I did for my back when it gave me trouble, and I cautioned her she should just stay home. She insisted to know what I did, so I said she should call her doctor and verify with him if she should try the yoga exercises I would describe to her over the phone. About an hour later, there she was at the church to help out. She did not call her doctor, but simply did the yoga stretches I described to her, and said she felt much better. She was such a go-getter, who helped me with countless weddings and funerals over almost 20 years. If I were to guess, I’d say she assisted me in at least 100 ceremonies.
I had the honor to hear her say many times I was her favorite preacher. However, I suspect she said that to all the preachers who served alongside her. She was a constant encourager to everyone.
For a couple years I had a 4-hour commute one way twice a week. Many times I would call and talk with her while on that commute. It was these last few years that her mind didn’t allow her to remember what we talked about in previous calls or even in the same conversations. Still, I loved that she wanted to know all that was going on with my family and me. So, repeating the same things never got old.
She loved people, humbly and sacrificially. In her last days others were able to stop by and share their love for her with her. I’m grateful I had the opportunity, as well.
This Christmas will be so different for her daughter with whom she lived. They’ve shared the same home for 20+ years. Christmas will never be the same, there.
Life won’t be the same for me and many others who were close to her, either. She shared with me that so many of her family and friends had already passed away. Yet, many of us remain. There will be no more phone calls, no more emails, no more visits, and no more Christmas cards, shared with Gladys. It’s painful to lose her, but I know for all Christians, our future in heaven is far better than our temporary lives on earth. Yet, those of us who stay behind are left with huge voids.
I’ll take the pain. I’d rather have the pain. If there wasn’t much love shared between us, it wouldn’t hurt so badly. So, I’ll gladly accept the pain because it comes with so many great memories and blessings.
This Christmas if you are struggling with voids like this, cherish the memories. Rejoice in the goodness which came from your interactions with the people who are no longer around this holiday season. It is far better to dwell on the blessings, rather than on the difficulties of life. Sometimes when we coddle our sadness, struggles, problems, or complications, we miss the opportunities of creating good, new memories for those around us right now.
If we can learn from people like Gladys, we can be sacrificial servants of Jesus, who put others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3). We can choose to overlook our limitations and dwell on helping others, however we can. We can determine to help others have quality lives, no matter how physical things (like our aging bodies) limit us.
Let’s help others – however we can. Let’s honor those who’ve done this in our lives by emulating their good examples!
In honor of Gladys Fellows, 10/09/1918-12/15/2023.