Goodbye, Roger Ebert

roger ebert

I am mourning the death of Roger Ebert, a man who taught me about so much more than movies.

Ebert’s TV shows played an important role in my childhood, from Siskel and Ebert, to Sneak Previews, to Ebert & Roeper, to Ebert’s last television effort, co-produced with his wife Chaz, Ebert Presents: At the Movies. I somehow never felt like I had the final word on a movie until I had looked up Ebert’s review. I found that I agreed with Ebert’s reviews fairly consistently, perhaps more often than any other single reviewer.

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To my Gramma H.

My gramma was Mrs. Yoda.  Small, old, and immensely powerful in a way that you would never expect and that took you by surprise.  My brother sent me an amazing email today, reflecting on the life and times of our Gramma Hibdon, my mom’s mom.  We lost gramma in 1992 and to this day I don’t think there’s been a single time I’ve thought about her without getting emotional.  I didn’t realize at the time how powerful she was, but as I grow older I see it more and more clearly, and my sense of loss over her passing grows not smaller but larger.  I didn’t know her very well.  I knew there was something special about her, but didn’t realize what it was at the time.  I realize it now, and I’d give anything for just 15 minutes to ask her questions – or just to sit with her and experience again the grace that just poured out of her.

Gramma was never wealthy.  In fact, she spent all her life quite poor.  She never dressed in fancy clothes, never had fancy gifts for my brother and I when she and grampa would come up from Texas to visit.  But she whistled a lot.  She smiled and sang and laughed a lot.  She oozed happiness and love.  When my brother and I were rebelling against God in our various ways, she loved us and prayed for us, but never said a single word in judgment of us.  There wasn’t a harsh or judgmental bone in her body.  (My mother is that way now.)  When you were around this woman, you knew what it felt like to be loved, valued, and accepted, exactly the way you were.  She showed us how to live.  And then, when the time came, she showed us how to die.  Today, having received this note from my brother, I miss her so much.

When I was diagnosed with MS in 1990 (I was 22), gramma told my mom that God told her I was going to be fine, and she was completely confident and worry-free.  Sure enough, 20 years later I’m fine.  A year later as she lay dying in the hospital, our pastor came to visit her.  He entered the room and gently said, “God bless you, Laura.”  Her response was two words, spoken sweetly, though straining for breath: “He does.”  Then a quiet and joyful laugh.

A few days later I got the call at work to tell me gramma was gone.  I left and ran up to the hospital where they had agreed to leave her body in the room for me, so I could spend some time there with her alone.  I don’t remember anything I said, or anything I prayed, but in those moments it began to sink in to me that we had really lost someone special.  It sinks in more every time I think of her.

Here’s to you, gramma.  Thanks for the legacy you left for us.  I can’t wait to see you again.  While you were here, you did a lot of listening while I talked.  Next time I see you, you’ll do the talking, and I’ll do the listening.  I want to know what you knew.  And if you have any tips that you can somehow pass on to me, I could sure use them now.  There were a lot of things you got right that I sometimes think I’m getting wrong, even though I haven’t known anywhere near the suffering that you did.

By the way, you’re going to be so proud of my girls.

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Here’s the note from my brother:

I’m seeking that Grandma Hibdon brand of peace and joy, and selflessness. Forged in the fires of poverty, tears for her children, the tragic and violent death of her mother, a child’s criminal trespass and jury trials for which she mortgaged her farm to pay the legal bills, the death of her husband, the loss of a baby, the death of a grandson from cancer, risking the judgment of others and giving everything she owned to take care of a mentally impaired grandson, even to her end struggle with cancer and death – she was faithful to the end. She jumped in the pool at every camp ground and floated feet up. Road every ride at Cedar Point – well into her 50’s and 60’s. Grandma never missed a moment. Never administered a teaspoon of guilt or shame (at least not to me). And her pain pushed her to greater heights of love and sweetness. That’s what love can do. That’s what keeping your eyes on God can do.  That’s choosing faith and life over fear and death.

Put Grandma Hibdon on the top of every list of things that kicked ass. She did it right. That’s how life is to be lived.