SOMETIMES GRIEF LITERALLY OVERTAKES you. People prepare for the passing of a loved one in many different ways. For some, the process of letting go is a long and painful one; while others seem to move on rather quickly.
Dwight McKenzie passed away last Friday afternoon; and it is a pain and sense of loss that I am still struggling with.
Dwight was a Switzerland County boy — I learned that about him very quickly after I met him. He loved Switzerland County and he loved Vevay, and he didn’t care who knew it.
Dwight was one of the first people whom I ever met once I moved here in 1984. He and a small group of people from Switzerland Baptist Church stopped by the apartment to talk with my wife and me. Although he didn’t say much that evening, preferring to leave the verbiage to the pastor, his warm smile and his laughter led me to know that he was a caring and gentle person.
Dwight McKenzie really came into my life through his wife, Christine.
As I reflect on the times that I have shared with Dwight, it is impossible to separate those memories from her. Having been married for 71 years, talking about them apart is nearly impossible. At some point they fused into a single entity.
I guess all married couples should be that lucky.
Christine and Dwight cared for our oldest daughter, Abigail, when she was a baby. Although she became one of a long list, Abby believed that she was the most important thing in the lives of the McKenzies, sometimes preferring staying with “Mamaw” and “Papaw” to going home with mom and dad.
Second daughter Emily — whose middle name is Christine — came along four years later, and she got that same special treatment from Dwight and Christine as all of the others. When third daughter Hilary arrived two years after that, the Lanman girls became fixtures at the McKenzie homestead on Tell Street.
But they weren’t alone.
I believe the count last stood at close to 100 children that had been loved and cared for by the McKenzies. Each one holds a special place, and each one has always felt that they were the favorite among all of the others.
That’s when I truly began to see the giving nature of Dwight McKenzie. Whether it was working at the water plant for the town or just working around the house, I’m sure that many evenings he would have liked to have simply come home and taken his shoes off and relaxed without having to weave through a floor filled with toys and chairs filled with children.
I’m sure he ate more meals of hot dogs and Spaghetti O’s than he ever cared for; and I can’t count the times he’s taken someone else’s child to the Dairy Queen.
But that was Dwight. He was unique.
Even in retirement you were very likely to see him pedaling up Pike Street on his bicycle, heading to the post office or the bank or the hardware store.
He was faithful to his church at an age when he probably deserved to step away and let others deal with the headaches of running things on a day to day basis.
As a fellow deacon with him, I saw him lead us through several emotional and uncomfortable situations through the years — and most of the time he did it with very few words.
He was one of those people who reserved his opinion until he believed that it was the right time to express it; so when he did speak, those of us around him knew that what he had to say was important and timely.
Dwight was also a good Democrat.
My other strong memory of him is working the polls on election day. Just inside the door, he took pride in serving as a part of the election process, and greeted everyone — Democrat or Republican — with a smile and a handshake and a “hello” as they entered and exited the polls.
He believed in the power of the people to elect their own leadership, and I remember one conversation that we had where he tried to comprehend why someone wouldn’t vote. He saw it as an honor and a privilege, and never understood why nearly half of the population chose to stay at home.
These last couple of years Dwight and Christine have lived in an assisted living facility in Indianapolis. Alzheimer’s Disease took it’s toll on Dwight’s memory; and a stroke and some heart problems attacked him physically.
I last visited Dwight in late December in the nursing home portion of the community in which he lived. He had moved over there so that the medical staff could provide better care for him; and he spent time sitting in a blue recliner near the aviary, watching some television or looking out at the world.
You never quite knew if Dwight knew who you were or not, because he was very good and disguising his confusion; but on that last visit with me and my family, there were glimpses that the “Old Dwighter” was still in there.
“What’dya bring that thing for?” he smiled as he pointed his finger at Hilary. It was his everyday greeting for her, somehow knowing that it fit perfectly into her personality.
Most of the conversation was one sided for the remainder of the visit; but somehow I left with a feeling that it was somehow fitting that it should be that way.
We talked. He listened. Somehow everything was okay.