Jim Bishop | Lesa’s legacy of unconditional love

I’ve long believed strongly that life is good – but it sure isn’t fair sometimes.
I contemplated that again while sitting in a lengthy funeral service that shouldn’t have been happening. But, it was, and I wanted to be there to lend support to the family of the deceased.
My brother Bob sent word early in the week that Lesa Dayton, spouse of cousin Phillip (Buck) Dayton of Mineral County, W.Va., near Keyser, was not doing well and wasn’t expected to live much longer. She had adenocarcinoma that affected her bones, and the dreadful disease that she had fought heroically for less than a year was about to deal a lethal blow.

A second message followed: Lesa died peacefully, surrounded by family, at 7:27 a.m. May 27 at home. Plans for a memorial service would follow.

Sitting in the pew, surrounded by relatives and daughter Jenny who accompanied me, I wrestled with the unavoidable question – “why.” Why was she taken at this stage of life, leaving a family of eight children from grade school through college age, including two sets of twins. How will my cousin manage to run his own business while meeting the many needs of their large blended family, despite a strong support system in place?

Lesa was 44 at the time of her death. She and Buck were only married seven years – but what good years they were, he told the assembly in a tribute during the service. “Lesa showed me unconditional love and helped mold me into a man of God,” Buck said.

The service, held in a large Assembly of God church in Cumberland, Md., was literally upbeat, with the focus not so much on Lesa but on the values she displayed in her active life.

The message came through repeatedly: Lesa didn’t want to leave this world and her loved ones behind, but she was ready to meet her Creator. Beyond this, various participants in the service cited her special qualities. Lesa was an incredibly ordered, caring and loving spouse and mother, who, despite the demands of managing a large household, constantly put others’ needs ahead of her own – at church and in the community.

“The thing I want Lesa to be remembered for the most was her unfailing love for her husband and family and for Jesus Christ,” Buck told those attending the service and later reiterated to me. “She had radiance when she entered a room and an uncanny ability to make persons feel like they were the only ones that mattered. She had the gift of hospitality. People always felt welcome in our home.”

What Buck will miss the most are the times that Lesa would rise early, sit in a chair on their porch and pray for him. She was a partner in the family business, First Fruits Excavating. While Buck was the “face” of the business, he relied on Lesa for counsel as they prayed about major decisions they faced.

The outpouring of love and support through the entire ordeal “has been incredible,” according to Buck. Members of Central Assembly of God have brought meals to their home four nights a week, and there are no plans to forgo this practice in the near future.

“The love and financial support that our family is receiving has allowed us to walk out of this with all medical bills paid,” Buck said. “The greatest encouragement is the many people who don’t just say, ‘call me if I can do anything,’ they just come and do it, which is just how Lesa was. When others would say, ‘hey, that’s a good idea,’ many times she would already have it done.”

Buck expects the summer months will pass “with few problems” because the two oldest college-age daughters are home and will “pretty much run the place.” Come August, he will rely heavily on assistance from extended family to help juggle household responsibilities with those of being a dad and small business owner.

“Most of all, I will rely on Jesus Christ, who has promised to be there in times of trouble,” Buck said.

The irony of a funeral is that it becomes a festive family reunion in the midst of sorrow. This one was no exception. After visiting with extended family members that we seldom see, Jenny and I jumped in the Miata and motored down busy Rt. 40 on a warm, sunny late afternoon, surrounded by scores of other drivers who were oblivious to the events that had just transpired. The pace of life does not slow down to allow adequate time to grieve, adjust to the loss and to fully celebrate those lives taken from us too soon.

Each of us dies daily, but not every person really lives. But in her 44 years, Lesa Dayton certainly did.

 

– Column by Jim Bishop


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