Friday, July 23, 2010

Because of Others Who Showed Me the Way

Guest post by Meredith Cummings

Yesterday when I woke, I didn’t realize that before day’s end, I’d be writing an obituary. Writing obits isn’t difficult. I wrote many when I worked as a journalist. Just follow the style guide: First graph – name, age, place of death, date of death; second graph – summarize primary career in one sentence. Follow with a paragraph of chronological events – marriage, survivors, those preceding in death and funeral arrangements. Simple. It takes 10 minutes.

But I was writing about someone I knew – my dear friend Gina’s mother, Olga. How does one sum up 84 years of living in 10 minutes? Even my son thought the obit was bland. “It’s boring, mom. Mrs. Fuller wasn’t boring.”

An obit is a place marker in time, as is a birth announcement. It provides just enough information for an historian or a family member three or four generations out to outline a person in history. But it doesn’t do justice to the person who lived, the person who did something, the person who made a difference in the lives of many.

For me, one such person was Magdolen Olga Svarczkopf Fuller

Olga, or Maggie as many knew her, was born into this world a do-er. Perhaps she had no choice. With eleven siblings, there was plenty to do. Because of her strong Catholic upbringing and her Hungarian heritage, she always knew she could do what needed to be done as long as she kept God by her side.

After high school, Olga joined the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Indiana. There, her devotion to Christ grew. But something wasn’t right. In her heart, she longed to be a mother, a mother to many, and so, she left the convent and spent another 15 years working and searching for the life to which she felt called.

In 1965, she married sweet Joe Fuller, a young Richmond boy several years her junior. Finally, she could be a mother. But there was one problem. Olga was getting older. Would she be able to bear a child?

Not to worry. God blessed her with little Regina on June 15, 1968. However, there was reason to worry because Gina was born with medical issues. At that time, doctors didn’t have all the medical miracles they do today. There wasn’t much hope.

I can imagine what Olga had to say back then, “Well, I’m just going to have to do something about this.” So she did, living months at a time in Indianapolis while her sick baby endured surgery after surgery. Olga prayed and probably drove doctors crazy. She even spent weeks and months refinishing her brother’s ugly dining room set, turning it into a work of beauty while she waited for her infant to get better. Mostly, though she just thanked God for the blessings of a husband and child, and she kept doing whatever was necessary to help her baby heal. When Gina was well enough, Olga traveled with her young daughter on two spiritual pilgrimages to Lourdes and Fatima.

All of Olga’s doing paid off. Her once sickly daughter has become a beautiful wife and mother who has inherited her own mother’s compassion and willingness to do for others.

Now remember Olga wanted to be a mother to many, but because of her age, Gina was her only child. That didn’t stop Olga. Gina’s friends, cousins, neighbors and classmates all became Olga’s “children,” as did Olga’s two grandchildren, Andy and Andrea. Olga welcomed everyone into her home, serving up her famous Hungarian soup and cabbage rolls. She offered advice, humor and friendship. She helped everyone in any way she could.

She never did for Olga, rather she always did for others, just as Christ asked her to do. Christ was the focus, and that focus never blurred. Over the years, Olga traveled to numerous Eucharistic Congresses, saw four popes and even took a private tour of the Vatican, thanks to a crabby Hungarian priest.

How did she do it all for 84 years? How did she keep going? Why didn’t she give up when the going got tough, which it did many times in her life? She did it all because of her faith in Jesus.

Olga began and ended every day with prayers of thanks. In her “spare time” she sat at her kitchen table and lovingly assembled rosaries out of blue and white plastic beads. Her husband Joe estimates she made several thousand rosaries over the years, all of which she sent to overseas missions or handed out to whomever she felt needed one.

Now, Olga was no saint. She was opinionated and cantankerous, and she could put up a good fight or start one when she wanted to. The last time I saw Olga was at her granddaughter’s (my Goddaughter’s) First Communion in April. Over lunch, the conversation turned to politics. Olga knew I was on “her side of the fence,” while most everyone else in the room was arguing for “the other side.” Olga kicked me under the table and whispered, “Well, aren’t you going to do something?” She was deliberately trying to throw me into the fray, hoping I’d start a good political fight so that she could jump in.”

“No way, Olga, I whispered back. “I’m not getting into this. Are you crazy? Two against everyone else in this house? Forget it. I’m not getting involved in family politics.” "Well, you're part of the family, aren’t you?” she countered. “I suppose I am,” I said, grateful that she considered me family. “But if I am, I’d like to keep it that way.” She grinned and continued slurping her Hungarian soup.

Even on the last day of her life, Olga did for others. She visited a sick friend in the morning and worked at the church in the afternoon. The woman never stopped doing. However, on Monday, God apparently decided Olga had done enough. In thinking about this, I’m reminded of a line from the movie “Babe.” Four simple words repeated twice. In the movie, the words are directed at a pig, an amazing pig who has accomplished wonderful things. I have a feeling God may have said similar words to Olga as he called her home.

“That’ll do Olga. That’ll do.”

And that’s what we need to remember. We all know an Olga, someone whose faith shows us how to live.At one point or another, Olga did something for most everyone with whom she came in contact. We can’t list every one of those instances in an obituary. We can’t even mention them all in a eulogy. But we can keep them in our hearts and then take Olga’s doings and pass them on to others, who will then pass them on to others still.

In that way, the doings of the Olga Fullers of the world will never be forgotten.