Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saying Good-bye to my dear friend, Martha!

A week ago last Thursday, I was able to spend several hours at my friend Martha's house. Joe, Pam, her sister, and their three children were there as they knew the end was close. Martha would sleep for awhile and then would wake up and talk. She was amazing!

I left for a few hours and came back with dinner for the family. I stayed for about an hour and then was able to say good-bye to her. I knew it was going to be the last time I saw her as I was leaving for Douglas in the morning and knew she probably wouldn't last through the weekend. She hugged me for quite some time and I was able to tell her how much I loved her. It was very hard for me.

Early Friday morning, I got word that she had passed on. I drove to Douglas with a heavy heart. As I was driving into Douglas, there was rain and clouds all around, but the sun was shining above me. As I looked off to the left by the beautiful mountains, there was an incredible rainbow. For some reason, it made me think that this was a sign from Martha. It was beautiful.

Yesterday her memorial service was conducted at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale. Martha didn't want it to be a sad occasion, but truly a celebration of her life. And it was. I was so touched and honored earlier in the week that Joe asked me to speak at the celebration of this wonderful woman's life.

Here is what I said:

Sometimes a person needs to hear the life story of another more than they need food, water, or shelter to sustain their being. In our moment of acute grief Martha's story is one of those stories that bring us hope, courage, and wisdom that will sustain us in our future lives.

I was privileged to know Martha for the past 10 years as her principal at Gilbert Elementary School. Martha was passionate about education. She was constantly striving to learn new and better techniques to meet the diverse needs of her students, and she embraced the whole child.

When Martha was first diagnosed with breast cancer, her focus was to get well for her family and her teaching. She fought this awful disease for the remainder of that school year.

She came back to Gilbert El at the start of the 2009/2010 school year. This horrible disease continued to rampage through Martha's body and everything she did to try to stop it did not work. She went through treatments that take a toll on people both emotionally and physically. However, Martha came to school each day to teach her students. She said that she drew strength from them and they were what kept her going. When they walked through the door in the morning, her kids brought a smile to her face and a strength to her body and soul that allowed her to be an incredible teacher each and every day. Cancer NEVER got in the way of Martha's teaching.

Martha loved all subjects, but reading and writing were her true love and this showed. Her students wrote letters nominating her for Gilbert Teacher of the Year and they were profound and so insightful coming from fourth graders. What Martha taught her children was not just about academics, it was about strength and courage and love. She taught all of us who had the privilege of knowing her about strength and courage and love.

I love children's literature, too, and my favorite author is Carmen Agra Deedy and her book "The Last Dance." In the story, the grandfather tells his grandchildren that every human being has the right to three things in life:

To Dance. The great thing in life is not so much to dance well,
but whether one is willing to dance at all.

To Sing, even if you sign off-key. The crow has as much right to a voice
as the nightingale.

To Tell Stories. Those we love are never really gone as
long as their
stories are told.

Martha's stories will live on in the countless number of children who were blessed to have her as a teacher. They will live on in her colleagues at Gilbert Elementary. But most importantly, they will live on in her three wonderful children: Janaya, Joey, and Michael; her incredibly loyal sister, Pam, and her most devoted husband, Joe and their families.

I have learned so much from Martha in the last 18 months that I will take with me forever.

And so my dear friend, Martha:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

The world is a better place because of Martha Hitzel. I will miss her dearly and always keep her in my heart. She has left three incredible children that she nurtured and raised to young adulthood. Her sister Pam was by her side for so much of this journey and I can only say that she has a wonderful husband and children who knew how important it was for her to be here with Martha. And Joe--what a shining example of the ultimate love between a man and a woman. I so admire him. I hope that in the days and years ahead, they find comfort in knowing what a wonderful person Martha was. I know that I will!

4 remarks:

Charlie Brown~ said...

It was a beautiful service. What a wonderful family and unusually special woman.
Charlie Brown
Franciscan Renewal Center

Meags said...

Thank you for sharing Sheila. I could hear your voice saying these beautiful words. I was away with my sister and husband but my spirit was with you all. I have been very blessed that many have shared this day with me. You are a loyal friend and thank you for for sharing your dances, songs, and stories. I hear Alonzo was a hoot. I love that man!!!!!! Meags, SFO

NP said...

That was beautiful Sheila! I was so sad that I was unable to attend butwe had all three grandkids up here and decided it would be too difficult to leave them alone with Papa for that long. Your words, as usual, were beautiful!
Love & hugs,

Anonymous said...

Just know your beautiful words and remeberances of your dear friend brought such comfort to Joe and the children. Martha was the epitomy of what a teacher is. She left quite a legacy for so many children and for her family. Know their grief is unbearable right now, but they also realize how loved Martha was by so many children and friends. This will bring them comfort and strength.