It tolls for thee

Robert Maharry

For once in my life, I don’t come into this column with snark, political opinions or disproving takes on the latest cultural trend. It’s been a tough couple of weeks.
Three of the five largest communities in Grundy County—Grundy Center, Reinbeck and Conrad—have endured the untimely death of one of their own recently, and in at least one of them, the best we can do is pray that the victim’s family will someday receive closure. Paired with the loss of 25-year-old Wellsburg native Cole Rabbitt and eight-year-old Micah Jones outside of Dike a few months ago, that makes five of five this year.
For me, obviously, the most difficult to swallow was the loss of Darla Ubben, one of my oldest friends from this area, and I got the chance to visit her one last time Thursday evening in hopes that she’d get a chance to read the story I’d written about her. Of course, that will never happen.
I could lie and pretend that I kept my composure throughout our 45-minute visit, but I broke down like a baby and sobbed profusely as I hugged her and thanked her family for their graciousness, openness and candidness. They didn’t have to let me in three days before their wife and mother passed, and they didn’t owe me anything. But they did, because that’s the kind of people they are.
Death, in all of its forms, is difficult for the living to understand. Whether you’re a convicted murderer or a saint of the highest order, someone will be sad to see you go, and someone will be affected by your departure.
So how do we live lives that honor those who have left us? I, for one, am the first to admit I’ve struggled with my faith over the years. I grew up going to church every Sunday, prayed that God would make it all make sense, came to resent religion when I didn’t believe my prayers were being answered and have been inconsistent at best at it ever since. But I prayed on the morning I heard Darla had passed, even if I wasn’t sure what for, and put on the Carter Family version of the traditional hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
I felt something, though I’ll never quite be able to explain it. If nothing else, I felt peace. As Conner and Sam told me Thursday, they still believe that everything happens for a reason and that their mother’s ordeal has inspired hundreds and maybe even thousands of others to become better versions of themselves.
Unlike most people I know, I never experienced the traumatic, untimely loss of a loved one when I was old enough to remember it. The two worst—my uncle Dan Harris in 1995 and my grandfather Robert Heller in 1993—happened before I could recall any of it, and my grandmother Lucille was well into her 80’s, though her death was still incredibly difficult for me as a 13-year-old.
Still, I can’t imagine what I’d do without my girlfriend, her daughter, my parents, my sister or anyone else in my close circle, but someday, either they’ll bury me or I’ll bury them. It’s the way it works.
Darla’s husband Eugene described a “ripple effect” that really resonated with me: when one of us suffers, a small community feels it everywhere. We visit the spouse and children, we cook meals, and we do whatever we can to make a horrible situation a little more bearable.
As the end of the year rolls around, the loss of a loved one becomes particularly difficult to deal with—reminders of family are ubiquitous, and memories of Christmases past are inescapable.
Every circumstance is different, and there are right and wrong approaches to everything. But the only request that I have for readers this holiday season is to reach out to someone who’s deeply missing a departed family member or friend and comfort them. Lend them a hand, or buy them lunch. Karma will repay you in the long run.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”- John Donne, “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII”

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