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We have journeyed together through Lenten’s unique suffering to engage in the wonder of Easter resurrection. The joys and sorrows intermixed. We entered a renewed transformation. The danger is to relax, call it another year’s venture and go back to life as usual.
But that is not our call. Nor is it our mission. I learned that in a powerful way because this was my mom’s last Lent and her first Easter spent face-to-face with her Maker.
While I labored to keep a variety of infections at bay in my rapidly deteriorating body, my mother was engaged in a similar battle. She spent weeks waiting for death and fearing it at the same time. Her body language told viewers of her struggle though she did not have the words to voice it. She was sent to a nursing home after she was found on the floor of her kitchen having apparently endured a stroke. As I felt, so did she. We had no choice left. Control was gone, totally gone.
Scripture speaks glowingly of meals held in common. It records community life in graphic detail. None of this was on my mother’s agenda. Community was limited to her immediate family whom she had served with gusto for years.
She’d fight like a lioness to protect her cubs. She’d also continue to raise the bar for a family she would not allow to settle for mediocrity. She taught us to seek justice and speak out in its behalf. It was embarrassing at times.
I recall climbing the three flights of stairs to my dorm room for the first time. My father noted there was no fire escape. Rosie noticed that each floor had designated nationality groups. An immigrant herself, it was clear that the Italians had been relegated to the third, and final floor...an insult in her book. She loudly proclaimed it.
It was an experiment never to be repeated at that school. Was it that she spoke and they heard? We’ll never know. What we do know is that she could not keep silent in the face of the injustice she witnessed.
Like Thomas, she questioned why was she alive when her daughter was so ill? Why at 97 years of age was she still ambulatory when one of her granddaughters was wheelchair-bound with multiple sclerosis? They were twists on the typical “why me” questions. As with Thomas, Rosie (our term of endearment) would not settle for someone else’s experience or understanding. She needed to know for herself and in her own way.
I remember asking her if she really wanted to die. She was not one to mince words. I could use the word die and know that it would neither disturb nor offend her. She understood deeply that death was the part of life. So, I repeated my question. Her response was, “Yes. I don’t know why I am still here. I don’t know what good I am to myself or anyone else. I want to die.”
I suggested that she pray to God to take her. Her swift reply was that she had done so. She had prayed for death the preceding evening, and awakened to a new day! We both started with tentative smiles and ended with outright laughter at the authenticity of her request and of the response.
God heard her and reminded her that those who had not seen and yet believe are indeed blessed. She was blessed. Her unseen God was not absent. Her blessings came by way of a dementia that opened doors to other unseen realities. Delight infused her being when a family member visited. Despite her inability to understand where she was and why she was there, she was childlike in her wonderment that she had been found.
It was as if the God she thought had abandoned her was arriving in the form and shape of her visitor. One of my daughters told me that Rosie was sitting in the sunshine of the foyer when she spied her and cried out, “You found me. How did you find me?”
She, the lost sheep, had been found and she hadn’t anticipated it, expected it. It was pure gift. Rosie was “found” in her own sense of being lost. She spoke of travels she had never taken in “real” life, travels that became real in her present wheelchair life. In her own way, she was rejoicing in her present sufferings, suffering through various trials so that the genuineness of her faith, tested by the fire of dementia and a failing body might prove to be for the praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Would Rosie have spoken those words in that manner? Surely not! She was a woman of profound spirituality but not one who felt that obedience to rules and regulations equaled salvation. Her understanding of communal living was a family bound to each by and in love. Forgiveness was the name of her game. Compassion was her command and demand. But all must be done in, with and through authentic charity.
This wondrous lady has lived her life with God as she could. She gave herself to God, accepting the divine invitation to come and see. My mom, my Rosie, died April 16. She is now uniquely present to me and all her family and friends.
As stated in the gospel according to John, my Rosie did many other signs in the presence of her disciples that are not written. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
Rest in peace, Rosie, and we’ll rest with you.