Death is the inevitable end for all living things, the final stop on the long, strange, wonderful journey we call life.
We know it is coming, we know none can escape its grasp, no matter how hard we wish we could.
But when death comes to take someone we love, it is sudden, and shocking, and oh, so painful.
Jimmy Shields, former Pleasant Vale Elementary School principal, passed away Tuesday afternoon, leaving behind a wife, two daughters, many other family members, numerous friends and a legion of former students and teaching colleagues.
He also leaves behind a group of friends who became much more than friends, but rather morphed into a kind of family, of sorts.
Many years ago, so long ago none of us can quite remember how long it’s actually been, the preacher at Trinity United Methodist Church, which exists now only in memory and as part of New Hope UMC, decided he wanted to form some small groups so members of his congregation could become better acquainted.
Thus were formed two “gourmet” groups, basically collections of couples that would meet monthly to share a meal and to get better acquainted. The idea was for the host couple to provide the main dish, some sort of exotic cuisine, while the others would bring salad, veggies, bread and dessert.
My bride and I were not members at first, but joined one of the groups after one of the original couples moved. That had to have been nearly 30 years ago. One of the groups disbanded after a matter of months, but the other kept going, and going, and going. Virtually every month since, the members have met.
During that span, children were born, grew, graduated, married and had children of their own. The gourmet designation stuck, but the group quickly ran out of ideas for exotic fare, and largely resorted to fixing good old ordinary food — roasts, chicken dishes, turkey, prime rib, and the like.
Along the way, the group has lost two, now three, members to death.
Jimmy Shields always had a smile on his face, always had a quip or a pithy comment on his tongue. And he could insert a verbal needle with the best of them.
After being the target of Jimmy’s gentle ribbing, my bride would always say, “You know, Jimmy, I used to think you were a nice guy,” and he would throw back his head and laugh.
But he was a nice guy, especially to his students, his kids. He was tough but fair, and he cared about each and every one of them — oh how he cared.
And his face always took on a special glow when he talked about his former students and what they were doing now.
He had a world of health problems, most stemming from the juvenile diabetes he battled his entire life. A few years ago, he fell on some ice in front of his home, breaking his femur up by the hip bone. His wife, Billie Ruth, was in the house, and they were hurrying to go somewhere. He used his cellphone to try to call her to let her know he was in trouble, but she didn’t want to answer the phone because they were in a hurry. They laughed about that later. They laughed a lot, about a lot of things. That’s one reason their marriage was so successful for so many years.
That and they loved each other deeply and without reservation. They knew each other virtually their entire lives, though she didn’t like him much in grade school, when he was the class pest.
And they both loved antiques. They were inveterate pickers, attending auctions and seeking out antique stores and flea markets wherever they want, collecting treasures they then either re-sold at their own antique booths or used to decorate their homes.
But they loved nothing more than their girls, daughters Jamie and Amy. Through school days and extracurricular involvement with twirling and 4-H and all the rest, Jimmy and Billie Ruth were right there, encouraging their girls.
And Jimmy Shields loved the Lord, which gives us the assurance that he is spending today with his Heavenly Father.
But his passing leaves those he left behind with a sense of emptiness and abiding sadness.
He would have hated that, of course. He wouldn’t have wanted those he loved to be sad because of him. If he was here, he would crack a joke, tell a story and try to make us feel better.
Jimmy Shields touched many lives. He left a better world than the one he found. He will be sorely missed.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.