Doing A Carole-Herbert

Smiling, her eyes almost merry, Carole said–it was more than three years ago but it seems the day before yesterday–“It’s not that I’m afraid of dying. I’m really not. I just don’t want to die because I don’t want to miss anything in this life…” she trailed off, thinking about her marvelous world thick with kids and friends and her church and most of all, Joe.

Joe had just told Bill and me that this beautiful–I’m bound to say young but I just learned she was in her seventies–woman was diagnosed with cancer in her brain.

Lordy. Of all people. I didn’t get it. Carole Herbert was probably the most faithful Catholic I’ve ever known. She and Joe–Dr. Joseph Herbert is a pediatrician, a man of sweetness, warmth, and devotion to match his wife’s–were always at church when we were there. And when of a morning mid-week when Bill wanted to go and I didn’t, he’d say, “If you’ll just drop me, darling, I’m sure the Herberts will bring me home.” And they always did.

I had a difficult time thinking about God handing Carole Herbert such a blow.

Of course by now you know wicked portions are dealt the undeserving…while many who wreak havoc lurch and ramble about unscathed.

Carole and Joe sought and received the finest medical treatment available. We’d see her with her head wrapped in a pretty scarf and I’d smile, smothering a wince. As Carole could do less and less, Joe did more and more for her, finally he was her second self.

Those of us who were privileged to see Carole were humbled by the unfailing light in her eyes. Her warmth, her reassurance, her good cheer.

Wednesday morning the cancer overtook her.

Saturday morning’s funeral mass the big church was full as we listened to the–you know me, the word “rabbi” springs to mind–priest as he spoke of Carole in Heaven.

If anyone–anyone–got to go to heaven, it’s Carole Herbert.

But I’m really here to tell you something more.

In his homily, the rabbi/priest mentioned chatting with a friend of Carole’s who’d said to him, “You know, in the many years I’ve been with Carole, not once–not one single time–did I hear her speak ill of another person.” The rabbi/priest spoke about that rare quality for a bit.

I confess it hit me hard.

And that is because at this point in my amazingly blessed life a couple of people have been set in my path I find irritating. I’ve given up trying to like them. I casually call them nasty names behind their backs. Why do I do that? Does it make me feel better? (It’s supposed to). It does not. It makes me feel worse. I just wish they’d leave town…

Carole’s valiant life and death, her friend’s admiring remark, has changed all that. I’m not going to be bitchy anymore. I’m going to do a Carole-Herbert when they come through the door. Warm, cheerful, welcoming. Accepting. (Or go down trying…)

I think of dear Joe now, his bed, the breakfast table, the seat in the car beside him, the space in the pew beside him, empty after fifty-seven loving years.

At the funeral mass, I looked for Joe in his usual place, two rows of his and Carole’s progeny were there but no Joe. Dr. Joseph Herbert is tall and fit but I worried…

The music was glorious–Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Mozart’s Ave Very Corpus, Handel’s Thine Be the Glory. The choir was so comforting but wasn’t in its customary place. Then I saw them in a side alcove. I realized the singer on the far right, his bass-baritone warm and resonant, was Carole’s Joe. Her pine coffin in the center aisle, her husband was as close to her side as he could be, singing to his beloved.

Going to mend my ways. Think about brave Carole. Try not to think–much less say–something mean-spirited about anyone.

Hey, Carole up there! We love…we celebrate, we salute…and miss you.

Wonder what it’s like in Heaven.

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