Monday, October 10, 2011

Memory Eternal, Anna

I got an email from my mom a few days back about a long time family friend, who has been battling with cancer, on and off, for years, was nearing her end in this life. My mom asked if I would go represent the family in making our peace and saying goodbye. In all honesty, I ought to have made my appearance sooner, when we could have had a one on one conversation, instead of a one-sided one, due to her coma. Somehow, it escaped my mind completely, for a couple days, until I was abruptly reminded, then realized I may be too late, when her niece posted that they did not expect her to live past yesterday morning. The nurse was amazed that she was still around in the afternoon, resting in her bed, overlooking the beautiful yard full of color.

I went to church in the morning, fully anticipating that I would not have a chance to see her, and resigned myself to God's will, that if I was meant to be there, it would be, and if not, I might find acceptance. After church, I met with a couple of ladies from knitting to get some much needed needles to finish my dad's sweater and to knit for a few, then I came home to get Katherine ready for a birthday party. I got the message, in between all of the hubbub, that Anna was still with us and that I may come by whenever I can and that they'd contact me if she reposed before I arrived.

I didn't see any sense in dragging everyone over there, as I was capable on my own, and I wasn't sure what to expect, but that Katherine had the party planned for quite some time, which things turned out just fine in the end. After bringing them by the party, I gathered my things and my courage and set out to the unknown. It had been ages since seeing Anna, and most of the family, so I wasn't sure what to expect. On the way, I called my mom (don't worry, I have a cordless earpiece, it was as safe as having a passenger in the car talking). I told her I was on my way over and what the prognosis was. She said she was glad to know I was going and to please give hugs and kisses to everyone, in her stead. Anna and my parents are from the same generation and it is Anna's brother, Fr. Ambrose (then, Fr. Alexei), who baptised my whole family. We chatted for a few and I expressed how I felt like I was going there without anything to offer, to which my mom said they would just be glad I came. She asked if I had a little icon in the car to maybe lay there with her, so I took the one of the Theotokos.

Faith was there to greet me and show me in. Fr. John, from St. Herman's was sitting there next to Anna, with Peter, her husband nearby and I think there was one more, too, perhaps her sister, Justina. Fr. John got up to leave and I asked a blessing before he left, then I sat there next to Anna's right side. Most people began moving about, with things to attend and Faith stayed there with me for a few minutes. She said she was going to go out for a few minutes and then come back. I expected people would be in and out of there, perhaps staying for some time, but I realized they had all been there regularly, up to that point. I noticed that I was left with Anna in quiet, without so much as a sound, besides her breathing.

I sat there quietly for a few minutes with a hand on her arm, trying to gather some thoughts to articulate, because they say she could hear us. I began by telling her that I was sorry I hadn't come sooner, but I was grateful to make it when I did. I was back and forth between crying and talking. She lay there so peacefully and I found that felt helpless. I had nothing to give, so I told her I would do my best in praying for her, though it could not ever be enough. As I calmed to a quiet solemnity, I realized I hadn't seen anyone in awhile, but that I wasn't about to leave her alone. I decided to tell her stories of our family, both my own little family, as well as, my parents, brothers and sisters. She seemed to respond to a few things I said, as much as a person in a coma could do. When I related that our anniversary is the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anna, she opened her eyes most of the way. I wasn't sure of how much she was aware of, so I imagined that it was reactionary, but perhaps not completely intentional, but it seemed she was communicating with me. Soon Ian, her nephew, and Justina came back in to check before going, or resting. We were all talking and said they were so happy to see me, asking how the rest of the family is doing. We chatted a few more minutes before they went back out again.

A couple more people popped in momentarily, but I was mostly left to sit and talk, or keep the silence. After getting through the current family events that seemed pertinent, I looked over and saw a Psalter sitting on the table next to the bed. I leaned over to retrieve it, aiming to read her something to fill the quiet for a bit. I told her how it came to be my favorite psalm, then proceeded to read it aloud. As I read psalm 27(26 septuagint), it seemed to bring new meaning to it. It nearly made me cry, but it also offered strength and purpose to the moment. When I was finished, I set it back on the table, to linger in quiet just a little more. Her son came in with a friend of hers, so I gave her my seat, as I recognised this was quite obviously my cue. I gave Anna a hug, kissed her head and told her how we love her.

I recall there were moments, when we sat peacefully, that my heart spoke to hers, assuring that we'd carry on and that I could see her in her boys. At that moment in a person's journey, laid in wait for repose to consume, the people around you seem to reflect all that you have given them. There were pieces of laughter, a smile of recognition, but mostly, there was a quiet blanket of love that seemed to encompass everyone and everything. She has brought God's love to her family and friends, which was more evident in that glimpse, than ever before. What a blessing to witness.

As I left the house, I thought a bit about everything. It occurred to me that I was able to be there with Anna, while everyone else took an hour to relax, because someone else was on watch with her. They ate, slept, made phone calls to other family, all the while, Anna and I kept one another's company. I am grateful to have been a part of their relief and to have had something to offer. Glory to God! Maybe they imagined they were giving us time together, which was true, but I think it was useful for them as well.

This morning at 1:10 a.m., she passed from this world to the next and is without the bodily struggles anymore. May she find rest in a place of coolness, a place of green pasture, where there is no sickness, sorrows, or sighing, but life everlasting.


Marfa said...

Thanks for relating your visit with her...yesterday I found that there is a 42 year old woman in our parish who has days or months left...and her 14 year old son came to church alone. Her husband is not Orthodox, but supportive. Our priest took Holy Communion to her right after Divine Liturgy. It's may end sooner than we anticipate. I want to be ready, but am not.

elizabeth said...

Memory Eternal!

So sorry for your loss. Glad you had that time.


Anastasia said...

Memory Eternal! May the Lord comfort her family and friends. Cherish the beautiful last moments you had together after so many years as a wonderful gift from God!

Xen Xen said...

Thank you, all of you! I will help read some psalms at a 4 a.m. shift tomorrow, before the funeral at 10. May her memory be eternal!

Martha- I am sorry to hear of someone so young with this battle, I do hope that the family pulls through such an enormous struggle. You have had your own share of being a kid with a parent whose health is troublesome, maybe you can be of some comfort to her son. I am glad to hear he still comes, that must be really hard. What are their names (Orthodox and non, for the dad, right?) so we can pray for them?