Monday, November 16, 2015

light no candles

My dear friend Phenomena passed from this life to the next this morning. I have mentioned her before on this blog but only occasionally so it would be unreasonable of me to expect you to recall her. So let me tell you a little about her.

Phil, as she was known, was 82 years old a few days back. When she was about six months old she had a stroke. The doctors said she wouldn't live. They were wrong, clearly. She spent all her life in a wheel-chair, dependent on others for her care; the last 32 years of her life were spent in the local district hospital. That was where I met her not long after I came to this parish.

I'm not sure how to explain this, but within moments of first speaking with her I was convinced I was in the presence of a woman of great sanctity - as close to a living saint as I've met. So much so that when I was leaving I didn't say what I usually say to people I meet in hospitals and nursing homes, that I'd keep her in my prayers. Instead, I asked her to keep me in hers. She smiled and said she would - and then said 'and Father, keep me in yours.'

That was about three and a half years ago. Every meeting I had convinced me of her holiness. I never once heard her complain of her lot in life - that she had never been able to walk, to have what others might call an ordinary life. This was the cross she had been given (and she saw it in those terms) and bear it she would. The staff who looked after her assured me this morning she had never complained in all the years she had been there; her family told me she never had all her life.

And as bore that cross she kept everyone she knew in her prayers. She was particularly fond of the rosary. She told me she had said many decades for me. I feel blessed that she had. I know she kept others in her prayers also - the staff that cared for her in the hospital, of course, and she told me she in particular prayed for priests - bless her, she knew how much we need them.

Hers was a life that contradicts normal expectations of what a productive life is. Her entire life was spent in a chair or a bed needing others to look after her - how could that be a useful life? And yet I think hers was one of the most amazing lives of all I have known, a great gift to all who encountered her. It was a life spent in prayer for others, a life shining through year after year of suffering, a life holding that suffering up before others as if to say with it (although she would never say so with words) 'if I can endure and remain faithful, so also can you.'

Leaving the hospital this morning not long after her passing I drove past the church near it. Normally I stop after such a farewell to light a candle for the departed, almost instinctively, without needing to think about it before I pull over and go in. Today I didn't; in fact, I had passed the church before I realised I hadn't stopped to do what I usually do. And I felt no inclination to turn the car around and go back. 

Was that because I knew inside that there was no need, that my friend was indeed the holy woman she always seemed to me to be? I suppose I can't answer that question. Probably I will light a candle at some future time - just to 'be sure to be sure' as we sometimes say in this country. But not today. Today I will light no candles. Because today I somehow seem so sure that the woman I thought of yesterday as a living saint is indeed a saint in heaven and that she keeps me, and all her family and friends, and perhaps all the world, in her prayers as she always did.

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