How does one write about the end of a life well lived?
How do I write about a person who burned more brightly than words can describe, who loved deeply and honestly, who had a zest for life that translated to anyone that was lucky enough to share a moment with her?
How do I put into words a woman who was strong and brave? For those of us who watched her journey with cancer over the past three years, we came to understand the true depth of Roberta’s strength and determination as she fought for more time with the family she loved so much.
I can tell you she was always the life of the party, with all of the dance moves. She was a woman who could make you laugh when you wanted to cry and who would be there for you all the way, a woman who loved her friends and family fiercely, deeply and honestly. Roberta was soft, gentle and kind. She wouldn’t take less than she deserved, and wouldn’t allow those around her to do so either.
How do I write about Roberta…how do I capture my friend in a way that honors such an incredible life? How do I tell you about the way Roberta loved? I can share about the way she gave the best hugs. That kind of hug is the one that my heart yearns for today. I can tell you that she had a way of pulling you in so snuggly, wrapping you in her love, leaving you with a kiss every single time, and the simple, comforting knowledge that someone in the world loves you for just the person that you are.
How do I tell you about the laughter, so much laughter and light? Roberta lit up the room with her beautiful smile and a presence that made life so much more fun. What are the words that will tell of the moments of love, kindness, humor, and understanding that are countless? Where are the words that tell of the kind of life Roberta lived, and the kind of person she was?
I can start by recounting the many blessed and loving relationships. For my mother-in-law, Roberta, there were many.
Perhaps the relationship I admire most in Roberta’s life is the 40-year marriage full of love, respect, kindness and care with her husband, Tim. I saw in my in-law’s marriage a patience for one another, the knowledge that neither individual was perfect, but together they created a perfect balance. Him reserved where she was open, her soft in the places he was tougher and vice versa. They shared a certain playfulness with one another, facing this life with a humor that made the good times even greater, and that made the difficult times a little easier to bear. Their lifetime together that began with a little tennis match would grow to include a shared passion for supporting their children and then grandchildren, and giving them a foundation of love, hard work, joy and acceptance. Over the last few years and then even more so in the past few weeks, I had the privilege of witnessing the strength of Tim and Roberta’s bond. I heard Tim say he knew Roberta was the one from that first date. I saw how blessed they were to share this life, and that they were the best thing to ever happen to each other. Their love, their deep commitment to one another, is something that continues on beyond this world, beyond this life.
Then there was the relationship with her children, the patient, tender way she loved her daughter and son, always understanding and appreciating them for the people that they are. She just “got” them in the way only a mother does. What I learned from Roberta, what I saw that made her so incredibly special as a mother, was the way she truly wanted her children to be happy in this life. Not in the easy way of happiness, not in the material things, but in the difficult way. She wanted happiness for them in the way that only comes from following your heart, sometimes away from the things others may expect from them, but towards the people God designed them to be. Roberta only asked of her children to be authentically themselves, knowing that is the only path that would lead them to a happy and fulfilled life. She accepted them, she loved them, and she celebrated them as God made them, and I only hope I can be the same kind of mom for my own children, Roberta’s grandchildren.
Roberta’s relationship with her grandkids was also a special one to watch. She came so far from the day over eleven years ago when she thought maybe she was “too young to be a grandma.” Well, she was right. Roberta was never a “grandma”. She was our one and only Mamaw Birdie and she cherished every moment with her grandchildren. She was there for all the moments, for births, birthday parties, preschool graduations, ball games and school programs, for holiday traditions, and for big celebrations. Most importantly, Mamaw Birdie was there for the small everyday moments. She was there to give love, attention and just to hold her grand babies. This is one of my last memories of Roberta. In her last days, when her legs were too weak to carry her, when her speech had failed her, when her energy was so limited, she held out her hands to hold her tiny grand baby, and she held her granddaughter tightly to her chest. I will take that moment with me forever.
There was the bond with her siblings, the laughs, the stories, a special connection that develops only after sharing a lifetime together. Every family gathering is filled with stories of childhood memories, of teenage shenanigans, of the joint learning of raising young families together. A few new stories have been laid on me this week, like the way Roberta would make her younger siblings lick the bottom of her foot as a punishment when they were little (and I can only imagine what her baby brother did to deserve that!). When life got tough for Roberta or when she had a joy to share, her brothers and sister were the first she’d want to share with. I loved watching them together, giving one another a hard time about…well about everything, and loving one another hard. My mind takes me to a place where I can only imagine what Curt and Betty witnessed as parents with this crew of rambunctious, fun and loving children. Roberta, being the oldest, was often a source of strength for her siblings. She understood what each of them needed and was there for them without hesitation. Roberta knew how to stand next to someone, to kindly hold their hand or to nudge them in the right direction when needed (gently or more directly in the “Bert” sort of way). She gave guidance throughout life’s many ups and downs. Roberta understood exactly how to be a friend.
There is nothing I could write that would capture the character of Roberta Lee Hafele. The are no words that can explain what she meant to her family and friends, to those of us that were lucky enough to love her in this life. I began this by asking how one writes about the end of a life well- lived. The answer is that I don’t. I don’t write about the end, because for a life like Roberta’s, there is no end. Roberta lives on in our hearts. She shares a part of our souls. She continues on in the stories and memories that we share. We have no doubt that Roberta is saving a seat for each of us in heaven, her favorite music playing, the dance floor cleared, ready to meet us again when it’s time. Until that day, we hold on to the abundance of love she gave during her life here on earth, and we all carry a piece of Roberta…of “Bert”…of “Otis”…or to me, of Mamaw Birdie…we carry her with us, changed for the better because she is there tucked away within our hearts.