Faith, comfort through death

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2005

I’ll lend you for a little time a child of mine, for you to love the while she lives and mourn for when she’s dead. But will you till I call her back, take care of her for me…But shall the angels call for her much sooner than we’ve planned, we’ll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.

Edgar Guest

By Luefras Robinson

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The words of this poem are a constant source of inspiration for Lois Slaughter. Coupled with their faith in God, the Slaughters have remained staunch over the past several years as they’ve dealt with the deaths of three of their four children.

Lois and Charles were married on Aug. 31, 1962. Charles moved from Ahoskie to Suffolk when he was about 11, and the two lived across from each other. With a broad smile on her face, Lois refers to them as elementary and high school sweethearts.

She graduated from the former East Suffolk High School and Charles, the former Booker T. Washington High School. She worked for 22 years at General Electric, while Charles worked 38 years for Planters.

Lois eventually attended college and went on to work for the Suffolk Health Department with the WIC program.

During the course of the marriage, Lois and Charles became the proud parents of four children, Joyce, Karen, Charles Jr. and Tracey, who grew up in the Hollywood community where the Slaughters continue to reside.

Lois recalled many happy memories in a recent interview in her home where the walls are filled with pictures representing many of life’s milestones from graduation and prom to marriage.

Holidays were very special for them as they all pampered each other, said Lois, who lost her father when she was three. Beginning in September, she said the family would start preparing for Christmas, even after two of the girls became of adults and moved out on their own.

&uot;We were a very close knit family,&uot; said Lois.

But happy times would not always be in store for the family. The first test of their faith came in 1985, a day she still remembers like yesterday.

Tracey, the youngest child, was 15 attending the former John Yeates High School and was a clarinet player in the marching band. She said she always told Tracey, &uot;I love you and be good,&uot; before dropping her off at school. Later that day she would get a call that Tracey had fell and bumped her head. She immediately went back to the school where she saw Tracey laying on the floor with emergency workers tending to her. She went to the pay phone to call her husband. At work at Planters, her husband had a funny feeling as the phone rang in the office.

&uot;He knew something was wrong,&uot; said Lois.

She followed the rescue squad to Maryview Hospital in Portsmouth and was met by a chaplain who informed her they were doing all they could for her youngest daughter. Next, she was told her daughter had died.

&uot;They said, `I’m sorry Tracey is gone,’ I didn’t want to believe this,&uot; said Lois. &uot;I went in to see her and looked at her finger nails and I rubbed her face.&uot;

As Lois drove home and tried to process what had happened, suddenly rain poured down.

&uot;When the rain came, the tears came and then the sun came out,&uot; said Lois.

Tracey had been the closest to her son, Charles Jr., next to the youngest, who had suffered from diabetes since the age of 6. Gradually, the disease took away his sight in his senior year of high school. Wherever Charles went, Tracey accompanied. She was his eyes.

Charles, an accomplished musician and choir director, was well known throughout Hampton Roads, playing for numerous churches and choirs. When Lois talks about Charles, another glow comes across her face.

&uot;Charles was my heart,&uot; she said. &uot;I never wanted for anything.&uot;

Approximately a year before Charles’ death, she remembers wanting to be closer to him as each day passed, even sleeping in his room to monitor his health. Charles drew closer to his parents as well.

But after years of decline stemming from diabetes and kidney failure-one day after his 27th birthday-Lois and Charles Slaughter lost their second child, Charles Jr. As she approached his body in the hospital bed, she said he had the biggest smile.

&uot;He was my buddy,&uot; she said with fondness.

Charles died in the hospital, and Lois distinctly remembers a red moon the night before his death, the same sign she had seen the night before his birth 27 years ago.

When Charles died in April 1995, both of her daughters, Karen and Joyce, were pregnant. One was expecting a boy and the other a girl. Charles was so excited about his forthcoming neice and nephew, said Lois.

By this time Karen, in her late 20s, was living in Richmond with her husband. On July 4th weekend, Lois and Charles suddenly had an urge to visit their daughter, who was a new mother with a four-week-old son. They had a pleasant visit and the Slaughters returned home in time for church Sunday.

But the news would not be good by Tuesday.

The oldest daughter Joyce had called her Dad to inform him that Karen was sick. By the time they made it back to Richmond, they met her husband, Daniel, holding the baby, pacing in the parking lot.

&uot;`She’s gone,’&uot; she vividly remembers him telling her.

Just 56 days after losing Charles Jr., the Slaughters would have to attend a third funeral for one of their children. Now they had to bury Karen.

Karen had developed toxemia during the pregnancy, and the stress of losing her brother is also believed to have physically weighed on her.

Through all of her losses, Lois said friends and family have been amazed that she hasn’t lost her sanity. She said she cherishes the time she had with her children, and views them as a gift that God trusted her with for a season.

&uot;They (the children) were not mine. They belonged to God,&uot; said Lois. &uot;I realize that God just loaned them to me. I’ll always have the memories. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of them.

&uot;It’s no need to ask why. I’m no better than the next person. If it’s ok for them to go through it, then why not me?&uot;

She references the Biblical character Job who also suffered great loss, yet still held on to his faith in God.

&uot;Had I not known God, I would have lost my mind,&uot; said Lois. &uot;But he’s a good God…Parents expect to outlive their children. I’ve lost all of my children but one, but I’m so glad no one else took their life. But yes, I still miss them.&uot;

The Slaughters talk to their daughter, Joyce everyday, and they maintain a close relationship with their grandchildren.

This Memorial Day will mark another year they pay special homage to Tracey, Charles Jr. and Karen as their children continue to live in their hearts.