This is a sad day. Our dear friend and colleague Stephanie died last night at 11 pm, Minnesota time. It was 6 am here in Labastide-Esparbairenque, in the south of France. I got up a minute or two after 7; Luisa awoke around 9. I was typing a poem to Stephanie—one I had started in my journal during the time of our prayer watch, while Stephanie was in the hospital. People often say, “while she was fighting for her life”. I don’t know what you do when you are that grievously wounded in the brain and in the heart. Maybe it wasn’t fighting she was doing. Maybe Stephanie was waiting, preparing, releasing.
Stephanie leaves behind three young children and her husband Paul. Her middle name was Joy, and that name was her. Full of wit and energy, a great sense of humor, a very generous heart. A heart that failed, despite the best offices of her doctors and nurses and other caregivers.
She died in Abbott Hospital, just a few short blocks from our church. Had we been in Minnesota, we would have been over there visiting her and visiting Paul. Maybe we would have volunteered to help with the kids. What one can “do” in those situations is very limited. But we would have loved to “be” with Stephanie in her woundedness, and with Paul in his worry and sorrow and hope.
We often say in the church—when we can’t be physically present—that “we will be with you in Spirit”, or “we will be with you in prayer”. We were with Stephanie in prayer this last week, in the midst of the incredible beauty and joy of being here and being on sabbatical. As for the Spirit, on this day, I can sense, but I do not comprehend where the Spirit is in this grief. Were all the prayers of all the people who love Stephanie for naught? Is there some cry that God has not, cannot hear?
I imagine that this will not be the hardest day for Paul. There is the shock that overcomes everything. The suddenness of death that overwhelms, even when you have known that it may come. There are details to be worked out, the children to be loved, loved, loved. There will be many prayers, many people to help; perhaps food brought to the house, offers of childcare and errands, calls to family. The hardest days—when that is all gone, when there is nothing but the emptiness—they are coming. Oh, dear Paul. Oh, dear Stephanie.
I believe in the communion of saints. I believe in the resurrection from the dead and the life everlasting. Oh God, help my unbelief! Your perpetual light shines on Stephanie right now, right eternally. Give us a glimpse of that, of the peace that can surpass.
In this little village, the town bell rings once on the half hour, and then rings the number of hours as each hour ends and a new one begins. It just rang twice. In a few seconds, it will ring twice again—I guess to help those who heard the bell the first time but didn’t count the hours.
No more counting for Stephanie. No more accumulating. Her life was a blessing. Her life is a gift. But this, this incredible pain.
I usually end my blog posts with “Be Justice. Be Beauty” and then “be” something else I’ve written about. Today, please be…I don’t know, just be. Be in love, be alive, be joy, for this loss of joy.