Sunday, September 20, 2009

A life, a death and daisies

The woman was walking across the lawn pushing a cart. Sam and I had just parked outside a St. Paul church to attend the funeral our son-in-law Tedd’s father, Chuck Cheney. At first glance, I assumed she was the janitor. The funeral director asked that Sam re-position the vehicle and as I stood on the sidewalk and waited, I took a closer look at my surroundings--the houses, cars and people on the street--and began to feel a bit uneasy.

I watched as the funeral director walked up to the woman with the cart and started a conversation. My attention was distracted for a moment as I turned away to watch Sam back onto the lawn. When I looked back, I saw the woman hug the man in the suit and continue across the lawn pushing her cart—and taking a closer look at the contents of her cart, realized that her cart did not contain cleaning supplies. It was filled with plastic bags containing probably everything she owned.

I was just beginning to tell Sam what I saw when the funeral director came over to thank Sam for moving his vehicle. He motioned towards the woman with the cart and said, “She is homeless and has been sleeping on the steps of the church for the past month. I gave her some money to get something to eat—she didn’t want to take it. She said she was fine.”

He continued to tell us about a recent conversation with a priest serving a parish nearby. The number of homeless women has risen exponentially—and even more heartbreaking is the number of them who are pregnant. He must have read my thoughts when he said, “It’s a beautiful day today. What will happen to these women in the winter?”

We continued into the church and joined a large group of people to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a remarkable man. Sons Tedd, Paul and Jed all spoke lovingly and eloquently of their father. In her message Pastor Joy mentioned the woman living on the steps of the church saying, “She feels that Jesus lives here.”

I must admit that several times during the service, I wondered if the contents of our vehicle would be intact when we emerged from the service.

As we stood in the cemetery after the committal service, I related incident with the homeless woman to Tedd and Addie. Tedd remarked that his dad would have done the same thing as the funeral director but as a CPA would probably have asked for a receipt. We all laughed and I felt some of the heaviness of grief lift for a few moments.

Family and friends then gathered at Kozlak’s Royal Oaks Restaurant for lunch and a time of sharing stories about Chuck. Coincidentally this was the place where Sam and I were first introduced to Chuck and his wife Arta.

Arta picked up a microphone and explained that the room was filled with daisies, Chuck's favorite flower. They reminded him of the outdoors and the splendor of nature. He was a man saw common beauty in an extraordinary way. She then encouraged anyone to take the take the mic during the meal and share stories and memories of Chuck

There was much laughter and many stories of adventures with Chuck—with the common theme of a man who lived his life to the fullest and cared deeply and passionately for his family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. We all left with a small bouquet of daises.

A sense of humor and a love of adventure combined with compassion—Chuck’s legacy. And for me, an unforgettable encounter with a woman whose life briefly intersected with mine.

To read his obituary written by Tedd, go to

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