To My Beloved Church Family and Friends:
I am overwhelmed with the love, patience, understanding, and support you have shared as a few challenges have come my way over the past week or so. As I reflect on the events of the last week, I’d like to share them with you.
It has been a week like no other. Last Saturday, May 14, I returned from my trip to Guatemala filed with inspiration and light from five days working at the Salud Y Paz mission I have been supporting for the last eleven years. My cup was overflowing with a spiritual fullness that was just awesome and I was all revved up and ready to jump back into everything at NCC with joy! Well, that is, until my daughter Marylou tested positive for COVID, just as she was preparing for her junior prom the following week. (Spoiler alert, she WAS able to go, thank you, Lord!) Having avoided the virus for so long, I still held out hope that it would pass me by, even as I tended to her, doing my best to keep my distance with my mask on.
On Monday evening, also Marylou’s 17’s birthday, I received a call that my sister Suzie was found in her apartment by her friend Lisa and was in really bad shape. She weighed just 70 pounds and it was clear that it had been a long time since she had left her apartment or had contact with another human being. At the hospital it was quickly determined that Suzie had very advanced cancer in multiple organs and there were no treatment options that could help. Suzie did not want any of us to be notified initially, but finally relented to Lisa’s insistence, thank the Lord! After getting past many communication issues with HIPAA restrictions and no information on file for “next of kin” my sister Diane, the oldest of the three of us, was able to make the trip north from her home in Connecticut to our home town of Plymouth to see Suzie on Wednesday, which was the same day I tested positive for COVID.
I quickly buckled under the impact of COVID that afternoon and evening, while Diane was at the hospital trying to comfort Suzie, secure hospice care and take care of several loose ends that Suzie had been too sick for too long to take care of. At the same time that evening, Diane was notified of the unexpected passing of a very close family friend in Connecticut due to COVID. Lord have mercy, this last week has had some unprecedented challenges all at once for my family. Diane never left Suzie’s side until she passed.
Suzie had lucid moments and lots of visitors who shared how much she had meant to them. Diane was blessed to hear stories of how kind, compassionate, and loving Suzie had been; she was a good friend to many.
I was finally able to connect with Suzie on Friday and Saturday for two brief video calls. She tried to pet my hair through the screen and told me I am pretty. I tried to let her know how much I loved her and how sorry I was because we never really connected. I tried to tell her how sorry I was for not knowing how to be more loving, understanding, and supportive to people who suffer with substance use disorders, learning disabilities, and depression. I tried to tell her how sorry I was that even when I did learn and knew how to be all these things, I still never did with her, but all I was really able to squeak out was, I love you Suzie, as Diane held the phone steady to her face as best she could. Her goodbye was much better than mine.
Suzie stopped responding to people on Saturday evening and passed away on Sunday evening. Diane was with her, as was Lisa and a few of Suzie’s close friends. She was surrounded by love and went into the arms of our Lord peacefully.
It killed me not to be with Diane and Suzie in Suzie’s final days and at her passing. That is where I was supposed to be. It is where I needed to be, but I couldn’t be there.
And yet…. I was so very blessed as everything at the church was covered in my absence. I’m so grateful. The wedding I was supposed to preside over in Connecticut on Friday was covered and the couple was very happy. The concert I was suppose to go to, (a reschedule from COVID already), was a blessing to two other people who were able to use our tickets; their joy made me feel joyful too. And, most of all, I was able to be part of Marylou’s Junior Prom on Saturday night, (although, I DID have to miss the grand march, my favorite part). Marylou was supported, and loved, and celebrated by Jim, Elizabeth, and me in a way that she needed and mattered to her. Even though my heart was hurting to not be with my sisters for Suzie’s last days on earth, my heart was full at the same time. In reflection, I believe Suzie would have wanted me to be right where I was.
Tomorrow, May 25 is the 7th anniversary of my mother’s passing and there is great comfort in the teaching of our faith through which I hold that Suzie and Mom are resting peacefully in the arms of our Lord, free from all of the hurts of this world, thanks be to God.
Let me talk about family history — the complicated kind nobody usually shares. Suzie had just turned 60 on April 5th, which was the last time I communicated with her, via text. Suzie spent most of her adult life distancing from our family and it had been four years since I had seen her and almost as long since I heard her voice. Life was not easy for Sue, not easy at all. It became clear at an early age that she learned differently than other students and at that time, she was not supported in a way that she needed to thrive academically, socially, or emotionally. It is heartbreaking.
Sadly, alcohol addiction and mental health disorders run strong in my family and Suzie was not spared in the family lineage. In adulthood she struggled a great deal in this way and it hurt her and the people she loved in so many ways. To say my relationship with her was complicated is an understatement. It has always eaten away at me that while in my ministry I could help many people in many ways, I could never help my own sister. I have much sadness and many moments of, “coulda, woulda, shoulda” thoughts as related to my relationship with my sister. Lord, in your mercy, please forgive me.
My experiences in my own family and our greater community have led me to many ministry projects focused on the support of people with substance misuse and mental health disorders. I feel passionate about helping to make progress in these areas and pray that in my life time I see significant change in the way we care for one another when any of us struggle in these ways.
I have shared my reflections to thank you for the support and love you show me as your pastor. Your blessing helped me through a hard time.
I have shared my story to share my life with you so you see that my life can be messy and you’re not alone when you feel like your life is messy.
I have shared my story to help de-stigmatize substance misuse and mental health challenges so people will no longer feel too ashamed to admit alcohol or drugs are getting the best of them or they are depressed or feeling like they don’t matter and their life is not worth anything.
I want you to know that YOU do matter and you have nothing to be ashamed of. I’ll help you as best I can, that is a promise, (well, just a few more days in COVID jail and then I will be able to make good on that promise).
God is good. Even in some of the darkest hours God is shining a light of blessing.
May God bless you and keep you until we meet again, (which will be Sunday in worship, unless I happen to test negative between now and then).
With Love and Gratitude,