Thursday, February 17, 2005

In Memory of Mary, my cousin, my hero, my friend

This week was the one year anniversary of the death of my dear cousin. She was 43 years old. She had been chronically ill since she was 12. She had so many surgeries I can't count, but the partial list includes a colostomy, wrist fusion, bilateral hip replacements, knee replacement, heart valve replacement, spinal fusion from c-3 down, and some I am sure I am forgetting. She never lived out of her parents home, and was able to get around just long enough to graduate as an X-ray technician, but not long enough to ever work.

She was the best example of Christian joy I have ever known. Constanly smiling, joking, breaking any awkward moments with a joke. This woman, who had constant pain, was confined to a wheelchair, and over the years had to relinquish every single hobby and interest she had, was a delight and a comfort to all she met. She had been quite a needleworker which was ironic considering the rheumatic disease she had eaten away most of the bones in her hands. Yet she was always stitching something. Some of my most treasured possesions are the needlepoints she gave me: one for my engagement, one for my wedding, and one for the birth of my first child. I also have a Christmas Tree skirt she quilted. These projects took her months, sometimes years to finish, and even now, as I look at them, I feel her presence. People would unburden their souls to her, and request her prayers. She took this very seriously. People knew she remembered precisely what they asked to pray for, because she always asked later how the issue was going. She was concerned and empathetic to all my litte trials, even though they never measured anywhere close to hers. She always prayed, always.

She was always so kind to me when I was little. She was 8years older than me, and I have always loved her. I have a photo of me when I was 4 years old taken after she had dressed me up as a bride. It is in my curio cabinet, next to the grown up version, on the day of my wedding. I asked her to be in my wedding, which suprised her, since she was in a wheelchair. No one had ever asked her before. The other two attendants were 7 months pregnant, and my cousin, who was always joking and laughing said, "I know why you want the three of us rocking and rolling down the aisle before you - nothing like two pregnant woman and a cripple in a wheelchair to make you look tall and thin." In addition to being in our wedding, she was the Godmother to our first born. She really was the Godmother to our entire family.

She was always teasing about her disabilities. She was a strong believer in laughter as medicine, her favorite being Bill Cosby records. Because she had an electric wheel chair with a joy stick, she told my kids she was the remote control cousin. She had a smile and a laugh I pray God I never forget. She laughed from the soles of her feet. She loved to make her own cards, never forgot a birthday, loved music and endured many painful exercises by singing at the top of her lungs. Another cruel twist she had to endure was about a year prior to her death. She had repiratory failure, and had to have a tracheotomy. After she recovered, she could no longer sing.

She had a near death experience during that illness that changed her forever. Before she received the trach, she stopped breathing, and at that time, felt herself float up, watching all the commotion. Then she heard the most beautiful singing and music, sort of like Gregorian Chant, but more beautiful. She said she felt such tremendous love and peace, and was pain free. She thought, "O, I must be dying," and then all she could think of was to pray, "Mary, Jesus, Joseph, I love you" over and over. Suddenly she heard a voice, but not through her ears, just in her heart. "Will you still suffer for the poor souls that have no one to pray for them?" She told me this was in no way a demand, and she felt entirely free to say, "I can't anymore." She was painfree, engulfed in love, and so happy. And it was that same love that led her to say, "Yes, if You want me to." Suddenly the pain returned, she heard the commotion in the hospital room, and was aware of the tube down her throat. Later, after her trach was put in and she could whisper a little, she told us about the experience. She said that as much as she is tired of suffering, she had always seen it as her vocation. Now this was confirmed. She left the experience with one gift - her fear of death had completely left her.

After that experience, some of her medication was changed, and she got quite a bit of pain relief, I believe she estimated 45% reduction in pain. She was able to feed herself again, and the day before she died, she walked with a cane about 50ft.

Last Feb. 12, I had a routine ultrasound done in my 7th month of pregnancy. I had never wanted to know the gender of my unborn children before, but this time felt quite compelled to know. It's a girl! Now, to choose a name. Early the next morning, I recieved the phone call that my Cousin had a massive brain stem stroke, and was brain dead. I couldn't believe it. Although she was chronically ill, we never thought she was going to leave anytime soon. Actually, we were afraid that she would just keep degenerating, and suffering for years, and who knew the terrible mountain she would have to climb. My initial reaction was, Boy, am I going to miss her! Then, thank God she didn't have to suffer any more. She died a natural death later that day, sparing my aunt and uncle the agony of disconnecting her from life support.

Now, my baby girl is called by the sweet name of my sweet cousin. I feel God was consoling me before she even died by allowing me to know immediately I could honor my cousin by naming my daughter after her.

I think of her all the time, especially when I see or hear something funny. She appreciated humor so much, and although I pray for her soul, I also pray to her, and ask her to pray for me still, that I may have the humor, courage and faith needed to live out what God has asked of me.

I miss her so much, and treasure my memories and reminders of her.

May her memory be eternal!!


Blogger david said...

... may her memory be eternal ... as long as you continue to honor her as you have here ... her memory will remain eternal ... i too have loved ones that have gone before me into that better palce ... if i am honest with you however ... death is an extremely difficult thing for me to accept ... very difficult ... the peace of Christ be with you :::

February 18, 2005  
Blogger ~pen~ said...

renee, my first reaction to reading your words, beautifully written, to honor your cousin is that she is a saint f God - i would start praying to her and seriously would document everything should she eventually become a cause for canonization.

another thought i had was about something i had read yesteday - here's an excerpt, somewhat paraphrased: france pastorelli was a gifted pianist whose descent into illness silenced her art. she turned her tragedy into an occasion for heroic virtue in living the life of a dependent invalid, deprived of that which she most loved, her music. "my God, there are certain circumstances in which it is not easy to trace Thy hand. i fail to understand why Thou has chained me a few feet from my piano." ultimately, france gave her life to God, praying only that she would not squander 'what God has revealed to her of the usefulness of suffering.'

your cousin reminds me much of her in the little bit that you have shared here. i stand in agreement that her memory be eternal!

February 18, 2005  
Blogger Renee said...

David, death is very difficult to grasp. It just doesn't make sense that someone was here, now they are gone. This is where faith has to come in, because it just doesn't make sense.

Funny thing,penni, at her wake, people were touching their rosaries and holy cards to her body, and considering them relics. The thing that I didn't mention much about was the terrible struggles she underwent dealing with fear, of both pain and death. This is something you don't always know about saints, that they had the same or worse struggles, they just never gave up the fight. Thanks for all your kind words

February 18, 2005  
Blogger Julie D. said...

What a beautiful story and you communicated so much of your cousin that I really wish I had gotten to meet her.

February 18, 2005  
Blogger ~pen~ said...

renee, you mean i wasn't the first one to think she may later be canonized? *faints*

i am fascinated by the lives of the saints, particularly because i used to fall so incredibly short of their virutous lives, now i am a tiny bit less than falling incredibly short. i am getting there, but the getting there is not pleasant at all.

as i am sure it wasn't for the holy ones of God. they had their struggles, their fears, doubts. my goodness, most of them suffered tremendously in their own *dark nights of the soul* and had to endure the hardship of never even having one bit of confirmation that God was even hearing their prayers, let alone heeding them.

at least i feel in my heart of hearts that He is with me, even in my darkest moments.

document, document, document!

February 18, 2005  
Blogger Essy said...

what a beautiful, touching story...thanks so much for sharing it.

February 18, 2005  
Blogger rita said...

Wow. I'm so glad you shared the memory of your sweet cousin, Mary. What an amazing gift, to have one of your best friends, your family's Godmother, up in heaven! Someone so tangibly close to our sweet Jesus, ready to whisper any petitions you might have given her. I love the idea of a Godparent for the family!!!

February 20, 2005  

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