A Love as Strong as Death
(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.