When I was a senior in high school, I met Murl Anderson, who was the principal of my high school in Honolulu. At that time (1972), he had a beautiful wife (Roselea) and two sons, Randy and Jim who were about my age. Murl had a distinguished career as an educator with stops in Honolulu, HI; Maple Valley, WA; Silverton, OR; and Roseburg, OR. We’ve kept in touch along the way and over the years, he’s become a good friend and great mentor. He gave me some crucial advice a few years ago that helped to bring light and hope at a very dark time in my life.
When Murl finally retired in the mid-90’s, he took Roselea back to her hometown of John Day, Oregon. Murl kept himself busy with community activities and woodworking. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there in 1998. My wife Holly (also a high school classmate) and I made the four hour drive from Portland to visit them in 1999 and found a very happy and contented couple. But shortly after that, Roselea began to have a series of health problems. By 2002, they were so serious that Murl moved Roselea to Tacoma, WA where they could have access to better medical facilities and be closer to their son, Jim.
Roselea’s condition worsened and in February of 2003 she finally passed away with Murl at her bedside. Two months later, Holly and I went to visit him in Tacoma. I never saw a more broken man. His voice cracked with emotion as he struggled to maintain his composure. He brought several cards that Roselea had written him over the years. They were special notes that were not motivated by an occasion, but the daily loving thoughts of a devoted and dedicated wife. One note was signed, “Just because I love you. Your Roselea”. He cried openly when he showed us the cards and talked about how fast their 55 years together had gone. He said he could barely sleep or eat and I wondered how he could right a ship that was teetering so badly.
It was about to get worse. A year later, his eldest son Randy, passed away after a long fight with cancer. He was just 53 years old. Murl had been attending a grief group and starting to see the light again when Randy passed away. He struggled again, but fought his way back and was determined not to live the rest of his life in sadness and depression. Later that summer, he decided to attend Roselea’s 60th class reunion back in John Day. Murl knew everyone in Roselea’s class (1944) and looked forward to a return trip to John Day.
At the reunion, he ran into one of Roselea’s best friends, Fay, who had been widowed several years earlier. Murl knew her husband well and together they helped to comfort each other through the greatest loss of their lives. They kept in constant contact after the reunion and a romance emerged. They were married a year later and now live in Silverton, Oregon. I went to visit Murl and Fay in 2006 and I was surprised to see a very different Murl Anderson. He was the exact opposite of the man I saw three years earlier in Tacoma. He seemed happy and contented and thriving. I guess there really is “life after death.”
The piece of crucial advice he gave me?
In October of 2004, I was at Holly’s beside when she died of pancreatic cancer and watched her take her last breath. For months, every time I thought of her, the only vision that would come to me was her eyes flickering out for the last time. It was haunting. I called Murl to seek some advice since he had the same experience with Roselea. He said, “When you think of Holly, think about how much fun and happiness you had together. Don’t dwell on her death, celebrate her life.”
Those words opened the clouds of despair and his example showed me that it was possible to love again no matter how great your loss. Holly had been the “love of my life” and we had been in other’s lives for 40 years. Her death will always be the greatest loss of my life. But the memories of Holly that I recall now are full of the happy times we had together and great life we had as a couple. And the example that Murl Anderson showed me, gave me the belief that I can still have a happy and rewarding life and that my heart can still love again.