Lighting Lives

By Joe Rector

With a snowfall that this area hadn’t seen in a long while and the pouring rains that followed gone, I was feeling good about the warm spell that allowed me to be outside. Then over the weekend, a call came to my wife that darkened even the brightest of skies. Her cousin Melinda was in intensive care, and the prospects of her leaving the hospital were dim at best.

Melinda and Amy are a year apart. Neither had a brother or sister and because they lived so close to each other in Algood, Tennessee, they were constant play buddies. I’ve seen all sorts of pictures of the two of them playing in the yard. The cutest one featured both in their cowgirl suits and guns.

Over the years, the two women have remained close. Melinda moved back to the area after the death of her father. At the time, Amy and I had just begun dating. From the first time I met her, I knew that Melinda was a special person. To be honest, she was the one person in the entire extended family who seemed to be glad that I was with Amy. In her, I had an ally, and I never forgot it.

Melinda’s life has been one dedicated to helping others. She spent so many years as a social worker for a nursing home in Algood. Over that time, she wore many hats: social worker, patient confidante, janitor, chaplain, and friend. Melinda was a blessing to every life she touched, and no one had a bad word to say about her. She devoted her time to those residents and their families. When times were bad for an individual, she was always present to help ease the pain. If a patient passed, she willingly spent as much time as was necessary in comforting families.

Best of all, Melinda had the opportunity to work with her daughter Sarah, who worked with patients as a physical therapist. Like her mother, Sarah always had a smile on her face, although she could be stern when circumstances arose with those who didn’t cooperate during sessions. That mother-daughter duo helped the facility to provide the best care available.

Melinda had a strong faith in God, and she and her husband Howard spent hours working on projects in their church. They led groups, volunteered for workdays, and strove to be shining examples of what God desires from those who have dedicated their lives to His service. She fought the disease that returned after a remission, and she told folks that she wasn’t ready to die because she had the Lord’s work to complete.

Unfortunately, that disease ravaged her body, and on Saturday, Melinda’s time on this earth ended. Hearts are broken, and family and friends are still trying to process what has happened and how much their lives have changed. I struggle with the absence of Melinda’s laugh which was a mixture of pure joy and just a bit of mischief. She had an uncanny ability to say the right thing that would lighten any situation.

I write this column to honor a person who made a difference in my life. She didn’t have to be kind or friendly or funny or accepting, yet she was all of these things to not only me but also to every person she met. Our world will be a bit emptier without Melinda, but all of her family and friends know that she is in the place where she worked so hard to be. Good people like Melinda are few and far between. I hope you have someone like her in your life.