On a cold February day in 1957, Margaret Bennett drove Mollie Rudeseal to the maternity center in Rome, so Mollie could give birth to her only daughter -- me. Two years later, Mollie repaid the favor to her dear friend Margaret, who has married Winton Cooper in 1957, and drove her to hospital for the birth of their only son.
These are just some of the roots of friendship between my parents and Margaret and Winston Cooper of Valdosta, Georgia. It was a friendship of more that 50 years that stretched through Georgia Power Company triumphs and transfers, travels in retirement, children, marriages, grandchildren, and life. When my mother died in 1998, Margaret and Winston were at my Daddy's side. They graciously and lovingly embraced my Dad's wonderful life partner, Mary, when she joined the picture a year later.
They were family.
On Sunday, Margaret Cooper died at age 92 following a series of strokes. Our family was deep;y saddened, and my Daddy and Mary made plans to attend Margaret's visitation and funeral on Tuesday and Wednesday.
But somehow, the Lord, who works in mysterious ways, intervened and changed everything for everyone who knew and loved Margaret and Winston Cooper.
You see, Winston woke up Tuesday, read the paper, ate a breakfast cooked by his dear daughter-in-law -- and then he died of a heart attack. In an instant, he joined the love of his life in eternity.
I literally screamed when I found out on the funeral home's web page Tuesday, and I called Daddy and Mary, who were in Macon on the road south. I made the immediate decision to join them at the funeral, a decision I am glad I made. A few hours later, David called to ask me to let my Dad know -- he didn't want Daddy to find out when he arrived at the funeral home that night. In his time of pain, he was reaching out to others. Just like his parents, he was giving.
I had been blessed to talk to Winston only the night before, and I'm glad I got a chance to tell him I loved him and Margaret. He even scolded me me for not stopping by to see them as I flew down I-75 on my way to Tampa to see Randy. I truly have thought about it every single time, and now, oh how I wish I had stopped. He sounded tired and sad. I told him I loved him and that I'd be there in spirit Wednesday.
What we experienced at the visitation last night and at the funeral today was unusual, and I will never forget it for as long as I live. I've heard news stories before about spouses who die within hours or days of each other after long marriages. I just never knew anyone. Just imagine the shock so many felt last night when they arrived to pay respects to Margaret and found Winston there beside her.
But all this was a part of a greater plan. What a blissful way for a couple so in love to go. A tragedy for us, to be sure, who are here mourning their passage, but they are together in heaven in a garden so beautiful we can only imagine. I'd like to think my Mama and Margaret are riding around for old time's sake.
As my Daddy said, "once the dominos started falling, well, I can't think of a better way to go."
David, their strong and wonderful son, put it this way. "Daddy's job was to take care of Mother. When he'd made all the arrangements for her service, his work here was done, so he went to join her." A friend nearby added, "I can almost see your Mother, standing at the Pearly Gates, telling St. Peter 'I'm not going in until he gets here."
Their pastor said in the eulogy that Margaret and Winston were a testimony to Christian marriage, a marriage built on God, love and respect. There was always caring -- he was always taking care of her -- he always held the door for her, and he always opened the car door for her. Mary told me that Winston had become Margaret's "social secretary," sending emails, buying groceries, etc., as her health failed in the past years. Daddy and Mary told several folks there about how they'd had New Year's Day lunch with Margaret and Winston on their way to see us in Tampa this year. It was a joyful visit for them that included a fresh lemon pie, baked that morning by Margaret.
The pastor ended the service with a references to the Sermon on the Mount and its mention to the light of the world and salt of the earth. That summed them up perfectly, in all they did for their friends, their church, their community, and their family.
Light and salt. Margaret and Winston.