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NEWS FROM THE HILLS: DEATH IS A DOOR

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ALYCE FAYE BRAGGThey came to the hills of West Virginia with enthusiasm and high hopes. He was coming back to his roots, as the old farm had been in his family since 1903. She was born in Kentucky, but had spent most of her life in Florida. She was as eager as he was to settle down to country life. He built a home on the very spot that his grandfather and grandmother had lived and raised their family.

It was August, and the fullness of summer had settled down upon the hills. She thrilled at the black-eyed Susans dotting the fields and meadows, day lilies bordering the creek in brilliant orange display, and the darker orange of the pleurisy weed. Monarch butterflies hovered over the cloying, sweet fragrance of the milkweed, and white blossoms of the elderberry had given way to small, black berries.

This was all new to her, with blackberries hanging on their vines, ripe and sweet. A neighbor taught her to can, and she was justly proud of her canning of ripe, red tomatoes. He was busy repairing the old barn, and getting ready to invest in cattle. She was right by his side, helping build fence, clear brush from the hillside and building an addition to their house.

Snow was new to her, and she reveled in the first snowfall that winter. She would squeal with delight as he pulled her on an inner tube with his four-wheeler. She was like a child in her excitement, and never tired of cold weather.

They were both animal lovers, and she was anxious to add them to their farm. Their first farm animal was a big black cow, and soon they added a bull. As time went on, they acquired more cattle, and each one was loved and named. She wanted some goats, and soon white and black goats were grazing on their hill. He built a chicken house and bought some laying hens. She also had some rabbits, and of course her beloved dogs.

She was thrilled with these animals and farm life in general. He named his place "Mountain Man Farms" and called himself "the Farmer" and her "the Farmer's Wife." A few years passed, and they adapted to country living and were happy. Their dream was to live on the farm and grow old together.

Almost two years ago their dream was abruptly shattered. She was diagnosed with a tumor on the brain, and it was malignant. She fought a valiant battle, with many treatments, but the tumors kept re-appearing. Through it all, she remained cheerful and sweet. He was right beside her, taking care of her needs and tenderly caring for her.

Hospice was called in to help during the last weeks, but he was there as well. The last night, he got up and gave her medicine, and sat by her bedside. She was sinking fast, and he knew it. He told her, "Baby, it's time to let go." She opened her eyes and looked at him. He continued, "Do you see that light?—go toward it." She began smiling. He said, "Run for the light, Baby—you can run!" Her smile got bigger as she left this world, running toward the light.

On the steep hillside facing their home, he built a mausoleum between two huge rocks. It faces the morning sun, and is a beautiful tribute to the one he loved. Of course her ashes are there, contained in an exquisite wooden box. There is a prayer bench, and on the walls are some of the things she treasured. There are roses planted all around the mausoleum.

There were many friends and neighbors, along with their families at the memorial service. Wild flowers hung over the steep rock above us, and spangled the ground at our feet. She was much beloved by her neighbors, who had ministered to her in the preceding weeks. He told us through his tears, "She was not only a wife, but she was my best friend and buddy. Everything I did, she was right beside me, helping me."

We won't forget her either. Every time we go down the road, her mausoleum stands out between the two rocks. It's Memorial Day, and we remember Sandra Gay Brown---and so does her husband, Chester Lakin Brown.

Memorial Day has traditionally been a day of remembering our loved ones who are gone, and also honoring the American veterans who gave their lives on battlefields all over the world. It is tradition also, for extended family members to gather at the family "graveyards" to remember and pay homage to their departed loved ones. It was sometimes a day-long ritual; cleaning off and decorating the graves. The womenfolk would bring food, and everyone would enjoy a picnic on the ground.

Now it seems to have evolved into a day of merry-making, with cookouts in the back yard and relaxing beside the pool. Death seems to be a subject that we put in the back of our minds, with the attitude "it won't happen to me" but it is a reality. Young people die the same as old ones. The important thing is to be ready. How can we be ready? "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1John 1:9)

Death is not a tragedy when a person is ready to go. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." (Psa. 116-15) Of course we grieve and mourn when someone we love is taken in death. King David, speaking of the death of his child said, "But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." (11 Samuel 12-23)

That is our hope of seeing our loved ones again—to live to please God that we may one day be with them through eternity. Here is a poem that I love:

DEATH IS A DOOR
By Nancy Byrd Turner

Death is only an old door
Set in a garden wall;
On gentle hinges it gives, at dusk
When the thrushes call.

Along the lintel are green leaves,
Beyond the light lies still;
Very willing and weary feet
Go over that sill.

There is nothing to trouble any heart;
Nothing to hurt at all.
Death is only a quiet door
In an old wall.

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Alyce Faye Bragg
About This Author
She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published.
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