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Lights shine on difference-making Murfins

Some weeks ago, I came across an imaginative conversation between an anonymous writer and God. “I ask God: ‘How much time do I have left?’ and God replies: ‘Enough to make a difference.’ “

The Lights in the Maze feature this column offers on occasion is my way of introducing elders who have made – and still make – a difference in the lives of people around them.

Today’s Lights are Martha and Dick Murfin, of Ilwaco, Wash., a community on the Washington coast. I’ve not personally met them, but one of their daughters, Ann, was a college classmate of mine. Recently, she began to update me on her parents’ struggles and triumphs.

Martha, 89 in June, and Dick, 90, have been married 67 years. They published the Ilwaco Tribune, a weekly newspaper, from 1942 to 1975 and also gave significant leadership in their community.

In 2005, Martha was one of five Washington State volunteers nominated for the nationally prestigious Jefferson Award. This award is sponsored by the American Institute of Public Service. Martha’s recognition is based on decades of volunteer service on the Long Beach Peninsula.

For more years than she cares to count, people have turned to Martha for very personal help – like last-minute baby-sitting so a young mother can attend her nursing class. She still volunteers her time and love at the local elementary school, where generations of children lovingly know her as “Mrs. Muffin.”

The list of community agencies she has helped start on the peninsula is too long to share in this space.

But she was quick to tell me, via email, that she had Dick were and are partners through everything. While working side-by-side at the newspaper, they also raised their three children and became deeply involved in making a difference in the small communities that make up the Long Beach Peninsula.

Her husband, children, and now grandchildren, are at the center of Martha’s deep gratitude for life. Dick has had Parkinson’s disease for 35 years, but it has become more debilitating for him only in recent years. Martha has been his caregiver for many years.

She told me “I found a great husband, smart, reliable, honest – you know, all of those good things … Some of it is a bit masked now because speech is hard, even feelings are hard. Parkinson’s isn’t for wimps. I understand all of this and know it has nothing to do with whether he loves me or not.”

Martha’s gratitude for life was severely tested in recent years. In addition to caring for Dick, she also shared caregiver responsibilities with her daughter-in-law during the long terminal illness of Dick and Martha’s son Rick.

“How could we haven endured Rick’s leaving us when he seemed so young? … We couldn’t have endured it without God’s help.” A strong spiritual faith has been central in all that describes the lives of Dick and Martha.

In our email correspondence, Martha spoke so lovingly of Dick and how they shared a “great joy” in everything they have accomplished “in all kinds of connections – home, church, school, community.” She spoke further of how Dick conducted himself in his active years and now in his struggle with Parkinson’s.

“Do you know?” she affirmed. “The more I think about it, the more I love Dick.”

I asked her how a sense of humor fit into their lives. “How else could one live? We must be able to laugh at ourselves, and with each other. It also must be tinged with respect. A lopsided sense of humor at someone’s expense is to be abhorred.”

Vital, giving lives make significant differences in the lives of others. Martha and Dick Murfin continue to be lights in the maze for many people, younger and elder.

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