When I previewed the readings for Monday, June 24th, the feast of St. John the Baptist, my thoughts immediately turned to my little man – our youngest son, John, who was named after John the Baptist (and a beloved priest, Fr. John Reynolds). Here’s the story:
4 A Death Turned to New Life
“ Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” Luke 20:38
Strange as it may seem, my husband’s aunt, a woman I would mostly see on major holidays only, has played a huge role in my spiritual development – perhaps even more so after her death. Elsie Therese’ Credo was an extraordinary, ordinary woman. Much of her childhood was spent in agony, as polio crippled her, leaving her with a permanent hump in her back, and limited lung capacity. Though she could never stand up straight, she walked with great confidence and dignity. Elsie was quite attractive, but she never married. Since her father died when she was a young adult, Elsie continued to live with her mother to care for her.
In their younger years, the two women traveled together. They also spent a great deal of time with Elsie’s sister’s children. Elsie loved kids, though she never had a family of her own. In the few, short years that I knew her; she helped me to fall in love with the Catholic faith I’d grown up with, but didn’t really know as I should. Elsie often talked about her faith, but never in a pushy way. She had a way of speaking about her beliefs without making others feel less holy than herself. All of us benefitted greatly from her daily regiment of prayers – the members of our family living and those who were dead. She was a lay Carmelite, and therefore was committed to prayer at certain times each day. She modeled for us a great devotion to the rosary and to Our Lady as a means of growing closer to Christ. She also prayed fervently for the souls in purgatory, a familiar tradition for many older folks that has all but gone by the wayside in recent generations. I so greatly admired her discipline and priorities, and wished I could be more like her.
On the other hand, Elsie was also the fun at any family gathering. She loved games and parties, jokes and theme parks. She always kept us in stitches! For the longest time, I didn’t believe that one could be both holy and cool. Dee Dee, as we fondly called her, proved that this is just not true!
When her mother broke a hip in the early nineties, Dee Dee all but gave up her own life to care for her mother twenty-four hours a day. Her sister, Sylvia, would relieve her as often as she could, so that she could attend mass and grocery shop. She remained on stand-by anytime Dee Dee needed a breather. Elsie bore the physical exhaustion like a saint, never complaining, always patient with her mother – always praying.
After a long illness, her mother finally passed away. Because Elsie had ignored her own health during this time of caring selflessly for her mother, she was mentally and physically worn out. Her lung capacity had been greatly compromised due to the polio she suffered as a child. Toward the end of her life, she often struggled to breathe, and used inhalers to help make respiration more comfortable. Still, she continued to live life fully, dining out with the family, and attending functions with the Carmelites.
In the early morning hours of February 9, 2004, Elsie passed away in her sleep. It is presumed that she simply stopped breathing. She had a rosary beneath her pillow and a teddy bear in her arms. How blessed she was with such a peaceful passing. I believe it was a reward from God for a job well done, as well as her faithful prayers over the course of a lifetime to St. Joseph for a happy death.
I remember that morning distinctly. My husband had called me at work, and the office buzzed into my classroom. The secretary asked me to call Eric during my first break. I was a bit concerned, because he never called me at work, unless it was extremely urgent. A teacher’s schedule just does not make phone communication easy during the course of the school day. My mind raced, and I began to stress over all of the possible reasons for the call. As soon as I had a moment, I raced to the office to call Eric. He told me that his parents had tried to reach Dee Dee by phone that morning and had received no answer, so they drove to her home to investigate. When they arrived, they found her in bed and not breathing. Eric told me that an ambulance had taken her to the hospital, and led me to believe that her condition was uncertain. He told me that when he heard more, he’d call me. I continued through the morning, as though stunned by a tazer, praying that she would be revived and wondering about the status of her condition.
The morning was beautiful and crisp, with bright blue skies dotted by white, wispy, cirrus clouds. As I walked my students to music class across the street from the church, I began to feel a warm, happy presence. After leaving the kids with their instructor, I sat on the wooden steps outside the classroom and looked up to heaven. I said, “Dee Dee, are you there?” Just then, the church bells began to peal. Tears filled my eyes. At the same time, a smile crawled across my face. I knew that she had passed, and that she was full of joy before the throne of God on this gorgeous Wednesday morning.
When I called my husband, he confirmed what I already knew in my heart. Plans for her funeral were underway.
I hope that the reader will find no disrespect in what I’m about to say, but it must be told, as it is part of an incredible miracle in my life. Flashing back now several years, I recall sitting in a pew next to my mother at her church. I was attending a Christmas musical, and tears began to well up in my eyes for no apparent reason. I told her about a feeling I had that a member of our family was missing – that he or she had not come yet. At the time, I had the “ideal” family of four. I was blessed to have both a boy and a girl. “Some people are not that lucky,” mom said. Trying to soothe me, she suggested that I was still grieving a child I had miscarried in a pregnancy between Joseph and Annie in November of 1995. I was still not soothed. I knew that I was missing a little boy – and that his name was “John…”
If you would like to read the conclusion of this story, OR if you would like to read other stories of God’s amazing interventions and invitations, please check out God Messaging…Will You Accept His Friend Request?