Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Time to Say Goodbye

A former high school classmate breathed her last breath on the last death day of 2012 and woke up to eternity while the rest of us woke up to 2013. 

My memories of Cheryl ended in high school when we parted ways.  But they are alive, jumping and clear as my cherry jello desert. I can still picture her shiny dark bob and upper lip beauty mark, donning my brown robe as she directed and starred as Moses for our Exodus play; when with her serious look, she was the mightier cheerleader who rocked the mini skirt while my chicken legs didn’t; when her petite commanding presence was the class vice president to my lesser secretarial position; when her alto voice and dainty fingers caressed the piano to a song ("Time to Say Goodbye") she composed while I plink-plonked and eeked out the strains to “Do a Deer, a female deer…”;  when she explained physics and trigonometry to a bookworm whose head hovered between romance novels and the clouds.

            That’s where Cheryl was, always two steps ahead of me.   However, there is one thing I did do before her.  After graduating law school, I worked for Children’s Legal Bureau, a non-profit org that helped abused children.   But a few months of listening to harrowing tales (that still give me nightmares to this day), left me feeling helpless that I couldn’t do much for their innocent broken hearts if their testimonies got me depressed myself, so I resigned for a corporate firm, for a life of less drama and tragedy.  Years later, I discovered that Cheryl worked as an attorney for the very same non-prof.  I know for a fact she did a better job because that’s just the way she is.  And out of all the things that impressed me, it’s that she stayed on in this line of work while I left.  She had the compassion, strength and perseverance when all I did was fail.  (No bitterness here, ok?  Just a fond smile because I don’t expect anything less than excellence from a woman like that.)

 It wasn’t too long after that when Cheryl found me on Facebook and too quickly when  I found out she had cancer.  And suddenly from two decades of no-contact, she was on our daily prayer list for the evening rosaries and my children took to calling a person they never met “Tita (Aunt) Cheryl”  (Filipinos address our mom’s friends as Aunts as a form of respect).  

www.freedigitalphots.net Courtesy sattva
Then she popped up in my dreams recently with the same bob of a haircut and wide smile, flying from her room to the limitless expanse of the air.  We talked about the Blessed Mother and a bunch of other things I can’t recall.  I said my goodbye.  Her final words to me were, “It’s not bad up here at all.  Not bad.” 

I’m sure there’s a lot of grief in the inner circle of someone so bright, accomplished and vivacious, who suffers and dies from terminal illness at the prime of her thirties.  But for me, who lived at the outskirts of Cheryl’s life, who understands from my readings of heaven and purgatory and afterlife, I truly rejoice for her. Of course, I am deeply sorry for the loss of her presence to those who were closely knit to her side. But in her final moments of life, is where I can admit I admire, even envy, Cheryl.

Suffering frees us from all worldly attachments, helping us realize that we were born with a soul and die with a soul and nothing more.  Suffering in this life can take years off purgatory, serving to  atone for sins when we've broken the will of God.   The cross purifies our souls and the souls of those in our lives to soar and fuse into the perfection of God, love Himself.  The cross is the true mark of a disciple of Christ.

       The hidden "blessing" of a terminal illness enables us to say goodbye to loved ones, tie up loose ends and prepare our souls with the sublime graces offered by Holy Mother Church’s sacraments.    It can mean the benevolence of being surrounded by those we love on the deathbed and transitioning to the next life, welcomed by Our Lord whom we’ve served.  Our Lady’s words in Mejurgorje never fail to give me much hope, consolation and promise:  “If you abandon your life to me,”  she says, “you would not even feel the passage from this life to the next.”

I’ve lost several grandparents and buried two babies (miscarriage). In each of those instances, I’ve been given the grace to understand how redemptive suffering figures mysteriously in the plan of salvation; how humble acceptance of suffering can lead to the paradox of joy; and how eternity comes in just the blink of an eye for those of us who long to be reunited with those who are just a couple of steps ahead. 

The lyrics of this song have comforted me many a time through my grief and I hope it lifts your hearts up if you are grieving... "to run with the angels in streets made of gold, to listen to stories of saints new and old, to worship our Maker, that's where I'll be, when you finally find me...wish you were here."


1 comment:

8 kids and a business said...

This is beautiful, Annabelle, thank you. Having witnessed and accompanied people on their final journey, both personally and professionally, I think that people who understand redemptive suffering and believe in God teach us so much about faith and trust.