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Wednesday, 29 March 2006 00:00

A public grace worth emulating

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By Stephanie Wampler

I didn’t know her. I never met her. I haven’t even read that much about her. I saw lots of pictures of her husband, but not so many of her. The pictures of her were always with her husband. She apparently had a career of her own and was both a singer and an actress.

But that’s not why I know about her.

She was apparently one of those truly good people. Those people who, when confronted by the terrible things that life sometimes brings, prove themselves worthy of the challenge. At the beginning, she had a successful career, and she was married to a handsome, wealthy, famous husband. They had a perfect little child. What more can a woman ask? I can only imagine that for her, for a while, life was truly beautiful.

Crash. A single second. A fall from a horse. Even as her husband’s body crashed to the ground, her fairy tale castle was crashing around her. The strong man was suddenly weak, unable even to breathe on his own. His inability to put on his own clothes, brush his own hair, or clean himself was a minor point. He was utterly dependent on her. But that at least gave her something to do. She could feel good knowing that she had provided food, medical care, and companionship.

How terrible it must have been to watch his soul, so alive, trapped in his useless body. She could do nothing to help him there. And then to explain to her little son what had happened to his father.

She never, as far as I know, complained. She did what there was to do, and she did it gladly. In the few interviews that I heard or heard of, there were none of the bitter laments that I would have expected. No hints of wailing, weeping, or despair ever reached the public.

Finally, after 10 long years, her husband died, and she was left to begin life again. She had the chance to scrape together the remnants and maybe decide how to put them together. The beautiful old vase was forever broken, but something else must and could be fashioned in its stead.

Perhaps the pieces had just come together when she got the news. Lung cancer. Probably the sad prognosis came with it. I saw an interview of her several months afterwards, and she seemed happy. She was fighting, she was living, she was not complaining. Whatever might be the thoughts and feelings in her most secret places, she didn’t impose them on anyone else. Things happen, she said. If she knew, and she probably did, she didn’t mention how short a time she had left.

I certainly didn’t expect it. Yes, she had cancer. But she’d been through so much. She had fought such impossible battles already. Of course she would be cured. She was wealthy and young, and she had access to the best doctors in the world. She had a teenage son who had just buried his father. Surely life could not be so cruel.

But, apparently, it is and it was. She died, cheerful and uncomplaining to the end.

She left quite a legacy. I don’t know any of the movies or plays or whatever it was she acted in, and I don’t know any songs that she sang. But I do know that for a little while, I was privileged to watch someone who was able to get beyond herself. Someone who, when life called upon her to do more than could possibly expected, pulled herself together and did it — with a smile.

I will probably never have to perform in such a public crisis. The world will not watch whenever the drama of my life is performed. I may never have a moment that truly requires greatness of soul. But if I ever do, I hope I remember her example. I probably will not equal it, but I can try.

(Stephanie Wampler is a wife, mother and writer who lives in Waynesville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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