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A promise to Beth

"A promise to Beth" Continued...

Their marriage was “easy,” Keith says. “It was nothing but me trying to do nice things for her, and her trying to do nice things for me. She knew I loved watching college football. Well, she decided the 42-inch television wasn’t big enough. I’m like, ‘Beth, it’s great.’ No, she wouldn’t stop until I had a 55-inch screen. But that’s what gave both of us joy, doing things for the other one.”

From the start, Keith saw the depth of Beth’s faith.

“There were no openings with Entergy in Mississippi,” Keith says. “I told her, ‘Beth, I don’t know what we’re going to do.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, God’s got this.’ That was her favorite saying. That’s how she looked at every situation in her life. Not even a month later, I got a supervisor’s job in Brookhaven, and drove back and forth from Natchez.

“She taught me so much,” he says, his voice quivering. “She taught me how to pray. I mean, I knew how to pray formally. But she would tell me, ‘Just talk to God like he’s sitting in the car beside you. Tell him how beautiful the sunshine is. Tell him if you’re having a bad day.’

“She also helped me get past a lot of stuff I was feeling guilty about. She didn’t judge me. She just prayed for me and supported me. She told me, ‘You have a kind heart, and God knows that, no matter what choices you’ve made in the past.’ “

For nearly a year, they lived a fairytale together. But real life rang their doorbell around 3 a.m. on Dec. 3, 2011.

“As soon as she heard it,” Keith recalls, “Beth jumped straight up in the bed and said, ‘Something has happened to Preston.’”

He had fallen asleep while driving and crashed into the back of an 18-wheeler. He died instantly.

“Beth collapsed on the front porch when the officers delivered the news,” he says. “Everybody loved Preston. He and Beth were so much alike. Both had that ‘no worries’ attitude. But in an instant December was bad again. Jack Daylon was about to go through more pain and sorrow.”

A former elementary school teacher, Beth met the loss of her eldest son head-on.

“She spoke at his funeral,” Keith says. “She was rock solid. Her message was aimed at Preston’s friends, telling them to rely on God at all times, and especially in times like these. I can’t remember how many times she said, ‘God knows best.’ And that’s what she believed. After losing a husband and a child, it’s the only thing that kept her standing.”

Friends made steady visits to Beth’s home when she was battling cancer.

“They didn’t even lock the front door,” says Kim Gammill, one of Beth’s longtime friends. “People would just walk in and yell out Beth’s name. The outpouring of support was amazing.”

Keith says Beth’s illness remains hard to believe. “She went to the doctor with a headache and backache, and they gave her a pregnancy test. We were sitting there sweating bullets,” he says, managing a short laugh. “We never dreamed it was cancer.

“But once again, she amazed me and everybody else. Her faith never wavered. It only got stronger. She never yelled out in anger. She never asked, ‘Why me?’ She just kept saying, ‘God knows best. God’s got this.’ “

Near the end, Keith phoned Beth’s parents in Rockville, Ind., where she grew up, and told them they needed to get to Natchez.

As her breathing grew shallow, Keith eased aside and let Beth’s 85-year-old father hold his daughter’s head as she died.

“Beth was a daddy’s girl with salt-of-the-earth parents,” Keith says. “I would hope somebody would do the same for me if that was my child.”

The day after Beth’s funeral, Keith and Jack Daylon were driving home from Baton Rouge, where Keith’s daughter Julie caught a flight back to San Francisco.

“We’d been driving for 15 or 20 minutes—just long enough to let your thoughts start churning,” Keith says. “All of a sudden, I feel Jack Daylon’s finger on my cheek. He said, ‘Turn that frown upside down.’ I just looked at him and thought ‘what an amazing kid this is.’ “

It all makes sense to him now. His life experiences, meeting Beth “at the right time for both of us.”

“I know God has been grooming me to raise Jack Daylon,” he says.

Keith lost an older brother when he was 9 years old. “I know what the death of a sibling does to a youngster,” he says. “And because Beth lived 10 months longer than doctors said she would, she had time to teach me the things I needed to know.

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