A Love as Strong as Death - A Letter from Lisa
(Click on photos to enlarge)
To my dear sister:
Several summers have since passed, but the moment feels so close that I could reach out and grasp it: the off-kilter fan on her back porch toddled loudly, trying to create a sense of relief from the thickly humid summer air. After just recently arriving home from a semester abroad, I was eager to just sit and spend time with my Nana, a woman who embodied faith, hope, and love in a way unprecedented by any other I knew. In order to stay in the company of one another, we talked for over two hours about everything and anything, but nothing at all at the same time: mindless, yet somehow fulfilling chatter. Pushing on two hours, she looked to behind her as she casually spilled out words, “Lisa, I’m ready to go.”
Death. She was speaking about death. I immediately pushed it away as more mindless chatter with words like ‘no’ and ‘don’t say that.’ But, with both fear and confidence in her healthy, yet worn and tired eyes, she looked at me and reiterated her eerie knowledge that the Lord was soon calling her home. Only two weeks later, I held her hand in the ICU as we caught each other’s eyes for a brief second during a moment of consciousness, just hours before she was gone.
Death: a force not to be reckoned with. But, then again, neither is love.
Believe in love, my dear sister, just as my Nana believed in love. After a loved one’s death, it is easy to praise them and ignore their faults and failures, placing them on a pedestal and canonizing them mere minutes after they pass. However, I will be the first to admit that one of the most influential and inspiring women in my life had her own share of faults as a woman, a wife, and a mother. Most of my childhood, my Nana was a woman who lived her life on non-stop and busy pace, dealing impatiently and angrily with her aging, forgetful husband who spent numerous years suffering from the debilitating and humiliating disease of Alzheimer’s. But, that is not how I what I remember her. Instead, I remember her as the woman, who during that last year of her husband’s life, gave up everything, literally everything in order to “wash the feet” of her aging husband. In the last years of both her husband’s and her own life, she chose to love each and every day through daily self-denial, denying her opinionated, self-sufficient, boisterous Italian self, and choosing to suffer with her husband, instead of suffer apart from him.
And that is a ‘love as strong as death.’ It is a love that is not cookie-cutter perfect, but rather is painful and broken. It is a love that makes weakness a strength and messiness an utter beauty. It is a love that wipes the face of a helpless, dying husband, while crying and screaming “Auitami!” to her God and the kitchen walls at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, sometimes daily. It is a love that completely trusts through fear, but always in confidence.
Reflecting back on that humid, summer afternoon, I may recall in detail some of the petty conversation, but mostly I recall a woman who felt peace in the midst of imminent death. She had strived in fulfillment of her one and only vocation, our one and only vocation: “O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love!”
Grab hold of St. Therese’s words, dear sister. Harbor them in your mind. Anchor them in your heart. Cultivate kindness, breathe authenticity, and above all, put on love.
Get to know Lisa
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Lisa Thimons, I am a 23-year-old recent graduate of Franciscan University and work in a program that provides an inclusive Catholic education for students with Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other developmental and intellectual learning differences.
What do the first two hours of your day look like?
Although this is a far cry from my daily routine, I’ll describe the first two hours of my favorite day of the week: Saturday. I love getting up semi-early and making myself a hot cup of coffee. I’ll sit outside on the balcony of my apartment to just read, pray, journal, and be. It’s best when the air is cold or it’s raining a bit, so I can cozy up underneath a warm blanket and breathe the fresh, calm air. Saturday mornings are just so still. I love the feeling of being alive while the world halts for a few short hours.
Describe your favorite part of your current occupation.
My favorite part of my occupation is definitely being able to experience the beautiful interactions between my students and their typical peers. I love witnessing general education students choosing to look past the fact that the peer they are on the recess playground with looks or acts differently. Seeing my students play, work, and study side-by-side with their typical peers gives me hope for a future that truly believes every person is able to love and be loved.
What's one fear that keeps you up at night?
Myself, along with many young Catholic and non-Catholic women I think, constantly struggle with the feeling of being enough. In a world that equates worldly successes and productivity with valuability, it is easy to believe that it is what you do that determines your worthiness, rather than who you are. We must remain confident that Christ does not expect or require the impossible, but rather desires only to humbly know ourselves in relation to Him.
Tell us about the first time you experienced a strong sense of belonging in the Catholic Church.
I was halfway across the world in Budapest, Hungary, and attending Mass in this tiny Catholic Church, literally in a cave, with a few friends who were also studying abroad. There were about 20 Hungarian Catholics there and naturally we stuck out like sore thumbs: Americans. No English was spoken, the harsh faces of Eastern Europe surrounded me, but there I was gazing upon the priest’s hands lifting up the same Eucharist: Home.
Tell us about a woman you look up to.
As the second youngest in a large family, I look up to each and every one of my six sisters. I am blessed by their authentic Catholic womanhood and desire to serve and love, whether that be in the workplace or with their own growing families. They know pain and suffering, but they live in the joy of the Gospel and the glory and truth of Christ’s conquer over death!
Favorite character ever. Go!
Atticus Finch. Talk about a man of integrity! Although Harper Lee’s recently published, “Go Set a Watchman” ruined him for me a little bit. So, I would say as a rule of thumb, if you're considering reading “Go Set a Watchman” for the first time: don’t. Instead, just read “To Kill a Mockingbird” again and again and again (and again!)