By Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF
I see my brother Jim every day at work. On my office desk rests his funeral memorial card. Jim was my younger brother lost to us this year from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. He is the sibling I never expected would die first: Tall, thin, active– someone who actually used a treadmill regularly, drank (lots of) red wine, ate raw almonds, and avoided red meat and carbs. But within the past 5 years, we watched him disappear in plain sight; he died in home hospice just as Lent began, surrounded by his wife and sons.
At home on my kitchen counter, leaning against the fruit bowl, rests a stack of Sylvania Franciscan funeral cards. It grows every time we lose a Sister: Mary Jon, Ann Joachim, Ann Francis, LaDonna, Marie Andree and others. Currently, Rebecca La Point’s card rests on top. These are my Sisters, talented and dedicated women who served others generously and shaped the culture of this congregation.
We’ve all heard it over and over: Aging is an act of letting go, saying goodbye, learning to deal with diminishment. We’re now adjusting daily to the changes we only imagined years ago.
Our bodies don’t function smoothly the way they used to (that vacation or tour or even daylong festival—does it involve a lot of walking?? Will there be restrooms?); our energy level doesn’t keep up with our interest (I’d like to go, but I want to be home and in bed by 9pm!); our circle of friends and relatives continues to shrink (Matt and Marian can’t make it… he just had surgery and she can no longer drive at night.) I suspect we all have days when we don’t want to get up, get dressed, or leave the house!
“Getting old(er)” as my mother Loretta used to say, “Is not for the faint of heart.”
We believe though, that we are moving through the universal Paschal Mystery of Life-Death-Resurrection with all of creation. Most of us are growing more aware of the grace we need to let go of people, places, and practices.
However, we’re called to rejoice and live fully NOW— with whatever energy we can muster. The curtain hasn’t fallen yet. There are needs around us we can still meet, hearts we can console, stories we can tell or hear from each other. Death has not yet seized us. We have living to do.
In Isaiah 54:2-3, as the nation returns from long exile and distress, God tells the people that blessings and abundance await them NOW. Surprisingly, it is not time to retract, but to expand:
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back;
lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left…”
This is hardly a eulogy—it’s more of a Call to Action, to Life. So yes, do some thoughtful and considerate planning for your demise. Clean out your sock drawer, throw out those old photo albums and yearbooks, pack a box for Goodwill– but keep living generously, graciously, joyfully.
Let’s honor our losses (Jim, I miss you!) but live in the NOW as completely as possible. Our funeral cards are not printed yet!