The problem with making friends with older people is that they don’t stay around very long, leaving the broken-hearts behind of those who deeply miss them. The blessing, however, of knowing someone like Ruth Sowards is that her quick wit, profound wisdom, and genuine love has left such a deep impression that it will live on in my life (and the thousands of others who she has touched for the better) continuing to inspire us to be better people regardless of what side of the veil she is on.
I met Ruth Sowards through Colonel Butler, and instantly fell in love with her sense of humor and her eyes that sparkled. In some of the darkest days for me over the last four years, she offered me invaluable wisdom, hope, strength, and laughter which lifted my spirits. She made the dark days brighter, and the sweet moments sweeter. I remember as we were eating diner together one day, she leaned over to me to ask what my goals in life were. I thought for a moment, and told her that my main goal was to have integrity. At first I thought she was going to say something like, “Oh, come on – you have integrity” – but her wisdom and wit was sharp as always. She just wryly smiled, nudged me and said, “Why do you have to be so different from the rest of us?”
Especially as Colonel and her aged in years, he would visit her almost every day until his passing. When I was in the country I was lucky enough to be able to go with him on many of those visits, easily coming to understand why there were so many people that loved Ruth. One woman confidently told me that if I just kept listening to people like Ruth, I would turn out OK. After Colonel’s death, Jeremy and I tried to fill in for him and visit her every day possible, but last week she took a turn for the worse. The instant I found out about her condition and new location I dropped everything on a Friday night and went to go see her.
Tucked in the bed of the nursing home room, she looked like she was in a deep sleep. Her daughter asked if I wanted to hold her hand, and when I touched her gently her eyes weakly opened. At first she looked blankly at me, and I wondered if she would recognize me at all. In a few short moments, however, a bright smile came over her face, and looking at me (with a familiar sparkle in her eyes) she asked her daughter what she was doing hanging around with people like this! With strength she grasped my hand and pulled me close so she could give me a kiss and tell me she loved me. She propped herself up to tell me she loved me more than she ever had and share with me a few more words before she drifted off again into a deep sleep. I came to find out that the local Bishop had also come to visit her a little before I did. As he was getting ready to leave, he held her hand and told her that he was going to be leaving now. As she lay there dying, she stirred long enough to tell him to make sure and call her if he needed anything. So characteristic of Ruth!
Over the next 7 days, her grasp got weaker and her words more unrecognizable… As she would sleep, her children would share with me stories about her life that would make me laugh and leave me feeling inspired. Although her physical strength was weaker each day, my recognition of how truly amazing she is got stronger. Her father died when she was young leaving her mom to raise 4 children through the depression years. Her only two brothers also died when she was fairly young, one in a car accident and the other died in World War II. She ended up marrying a great man, and raised her family while running a golf club, boy scout meetings, an investment club for women, and many church relief society activities, just to name a few of causes she was devoted to. As a woman of compassion, anyone was welcome and felt welcome in Ruth’s house – but as a woman of strength (and without pretense) no one was too high and mighty to avoid her firmly correcting them if she felt they were doing something wrong. The investment group she started with other women invested early in a company despite her husband telling her that he was sure it would fail (he called it “the greasy spoon” but we all know it now as McDonalds). She knew and was respected by the most well-known in the area (many of whom she had held when they were babies – maybe making it OK for her to tell them off if they needed it) and she was equally friendly with least well-known in the area. It didn’t matter if you were a leader of a corporation or a little child from next door – she somehow saw the best in you and helped you see it too. And especially important, she absolutely loved her husband and raised wonderful children. How on earth she did what she did in her life is amazing to me – and how lucky I felt to be counted as one of her friends.
That is part of what made it so difficult today at about 8:00pm when she quietly passed away into the next life. Her only sister, who was in a similar condition, joined her only a couple of hours later.
- Ruth’s funeral will be at 3050 Mojave Lane, Provo UT 84604 this Monday, April 21st, at 11:00am (click here for a map). The viewing will be at Berg Mortuary the night before from 6:00pm-8:30pm.
Ruth – you will be deeply missed. This world is a better place because of the laughter and love that you filled our lives with. God be with you ’till we meet again.
For those of you who knew Ruth, do you have any favorite memories, stories, quotes of her that you could share?
Here are some pictures from the funeral.