My friends Angela and Becky had been telling me about this new women’s networking group that met in Goshen and invited me to go with them on a Wednesday evening in October several years ago. As I walked into the restaurant, I noticed a tall stately and elegantly dressed woman with a broad smile. She looked like royalty; I was drawn to her and wondered “who is this woman?” as if I was in the presence of greatness of some kind yet to be determined.
“Brenda is my name…and who might you be?” she asked. I learned that Brenda had been making her own clothes for years — the finely tailored melon-colored suit she was wearing was one of her own creations. She then proceeded to tell me about her work and her passion for college scholarships. She was dedicated to helping students get into the colleges of their choice and to assist them in making applications for scholarships.
I was totally drawn to Brenda: the greatness I had sensed was within this noble and sweet woman had little to do with her talents as a seamstress or her new business in scholarship consulting. It would be several years before I would fully understand the nature of Brenda’s greatness and how deeply her courage would touch me and all who had known her.
After I first met Brenda at that NWIN business dinner over six years ago, she and I became friends; she was also a client for a brief period of time when she asked for some guidance and inspiration in moving ahead with her business. About three years ago, I learned that Brenda was battling cancer; she was not given a positive prognosis. Nonetheless, Brenda pursued every avenue, followed every possible opportunity to capture the essence of life, despite huge challenges and financial hardships. Despite the odds, Brenda prevailed and emerged victorious. She stood tall, wearing those gorgeous and colorful suits she had made for herself. This past Fall she was honored and acknowledged by Independent Living; she spoke eloquently about the dignity and support this magnificent organization had made possible for her and her family. She had slain the dragon. She was victorious and thriving. It seemed…
Last week, I received word from our mutual friends that Brenda had been admitted to the Kaplan Family Hospice Residence in Newburgh. A few days after her admittance, I visited her. This past Friday night, I was having a very different kind of dinner from the one we shared that first night I met her years ago: Brenda’s college friend and I were sharing a pizza as we lent our presence to an awesome “birthing” process as Brenda slept peacefully in her room at the Hospice Residence.
The moment I walked into Brenda’s room, I knew that Friday evening would be her time of passage to her next chapter. During the past three decades, I’ve assisted many people, including my dear husband, in this sacred passage from the physical to the purely spiritual realm of life. I have experienced this passage as a part of life; it may seem like death because most of us define life as everything physical and when the physical ceases to function we call it death. I have learned that this process is a birthing into pure spirit. A birthing of the energetic ripple effect of a human being’s foot print left behind after the body has ceased to breathe.
As I sat quietly with Brenda, breathing along with her, as she was nearing her last breath, I recalled the few years of her valiant and courageous dedication to life: she was not going to accept defeat; she kept her spirits high even when the doctors gave little hope for her survival of her cancer. In the midst of many kinds of hardship and challenge, Brenda remained the ever-present nobility and sweet spirit of grace.
Friday night, as she was transitioning to pure spirit, Brenda was surrounded by love: her good friends and cousins were with her. I was also with her, assuring her that she was loved and that each of us in her life will continue to honor her memory and be inspired by her courage.
When someone we love has taken that last breath, there are ways that we can step into another level of gratitude for life which lifts the spirit and honors the person who is no longer with us physically.
I offer here – for Brenda’s friends and family, and for those of you who never knew Brenda but have had your own losses – some words of consolation and comfort:
RABBI MORRIS JOSEPH:
It is not God’s role to spare us suffering but to help us bear it. When the visitation we dread finds us, we do well to ask for the strength which will uphold us, for the insight which will reveal new wisdom to us, for the special power which will transform our suffering into a source of blessing. And to such a prayer there is always an answer…
Something precious has been taken from us, and we think of it as something we have lost, instead of something we have had. We sense only how empty our lives are now; we forget how full they were before; we forget the many days and years we shared.
We praise God for our treasures while we have them. Shall we cease to praise God when they are gone? For God never gives but only lends. What is life itself but a loan? “Everything,” said the Sages, “is give in pledge.”
Let us consider the days which have passed not as loss, but as gain – the gain which comes with new courage, with nobler tasks, with a wider outlook on life, with a greater awareness of life’s duties and possibilities.
RABBI MORRIS ADLER:
Our yesterdays are beyond the reach of death,
When our love transforms them into
Thus we continue to be guided by a light
Which transcends time and defies death.
RABBI ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL:
There are three ways we respond to sorrow.
On the first level, we cry.
On the second level, we are silent.
On the highest level,
we take sorrow–and turn it into song.
THICH NHAT HANH:
“Studying death can help each of us become someone who has a great capacity for being solid, calm, and without fear. Even so, we often feel anything but solid and calm when someone we love dies. Death stirs up conflicted feelings in the hearts of those left behind–some of us feel shaky and tender; others are shocked and angry; almost everyone is confused and unsettled. All of these feelings are included in what we call grief.”
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us look for you only in memory,
where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones…
* * * * * * * * * * *
When someone we love has passed, it is a reminder that each of us has our time; we never know when that time will be. Saying “goodbye” is not only sad because we will miss our beloved, but sad because we face our own mortality. I found myself musing about what it is that makes life matter. After all, we want others to miss us when we no longer have breath, don’t we?
What matters for you? Some things that matter for me are: hugs, smiles, laughter, and knowing I matter to someone else. In memory and honor of Brenda and others in your life you want to remember, dedicate yourself to letting the people in your life that matter to you know that THEY matter to YOU. Give them the experience of being important to YOU. Let them see you smile at them when they are approaching you; let them feel your warmth with a hug and kiss when you see each other. There is nothing more telling and precious that seeing the light of loving recognition in someone else’s eyes as you approach one another.
Make sure YOU matter!
With love and blessings,