April 13, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

From death into life, at any age

Cynthia DewesWe’re now in the Easter season, a period of joy and optimism, which might seem an odd time to contemplate death. Isn’t that a subject usually reserved for Lent and Good Friday in particular?

Well, not necessarily, as we realized recently when two friends from our former parish died within a few weeks of each other. We found ourselves commiserating at their funerals with other old friends about the mystery of death, which fascinates and probably terrifies most of us.

It seemed ironic to me that these were deaths of wonderful women so different in age and experience, yet so united in their faith that they were an inspiration to all of us.

Ann was only 45 years old, with two small children and a successful professional career. She was part of a loving extended family, including her widowed father, two married brothers, a married sister, nieces and nephews. She had many friends at work and at church, where she was active in

small-group and other ministries.

Ann went to school with my kids and they always spoke highly of her. She was quiet, but a person whom both boys and girls liked. She was also extremely intelligent, and earned an engineering degree at Purdue University, which may have intimidated prospective boyfriends.

At any rate, she never married. But her maternal instincts were strong, and she decided to adopt Chinese baby girls abandoned by their parents under the one-child rule of the communist government. Her family encouraged her in doing this and promised to help the single mom raise her girls, a prophetic move in light of what happened later.

On the other hand, Eva was nearly 100 years old when she passed. She had graduated from high school and become a registered nurse, unusual accomplishments for most working or middle-class women in the early part of the 20th century. At the funeral, a photo of her in her nursing uniform was displayed, and her skirt came down to her ankles.

Eva married and raised five children, staying home as mothers did then and using her nursing skills unofficially in her community. She was a wonderful cook, kept a comfortable home, gardened a bit and worked for the parish as a “church lady.” She led a full and satisfying life, typical of her generation of women.

For several years, Eva and four of us women from the parish met regularly for lunch. Although we were all young enough to be Eva’s daughters, we never thought of her as older because she was so young in spirit. She kept us laughing with stories like this one:

Among Eva’s church duties was laundering the altar linens. Once, she had carefully washed, starched and ironed the cloths and laid them on her bed to air. It was dark in the bedroom after dinner when her husband lay down for a little nap. He didn’t see the cloths, which were so wrinkled that Eva had to wash, starch and iron them all over again!

It’s an inspiration to the rest of us that these two women, so different in age and experience, were so alike in their strong faith in a good and loving God. We cherish the memory of the different gifts they gave us in life, and gain hope from their graceful examples in death.

Ann and Eva exemplified the promise of Easter. We pray we may meet them again one day.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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