Beginning, we never talked about how it would end.

She approached me at the funeral wake of a mutual friend.  Standing among islands of quiet conversation, among women in tailored dresses gripping wine glasses in the September heat, Stephanie leaned cautiously in.  “My mother has just joined your father.”  Her voice trembled a little; tentative, far-away.  I – thick, uncomprehending – looked blankly back.  “A.L.S.”  she said, like the devil had just tagged her, like her draft number had been called.  Fiercely, tears erupted from an underground stream that I did not know tumbled through me until that moment, when I saw it, also, moving through her, and I realized that it was one.

Standing in the still-shallow currents of that stream many months ago, fishing for – what? for some sense of meaning, of solidarity, a more vivid life — we thought to put down in words something of this river itself, how its sorrows flow, how its tributaries join, how its grace moistens thirsty places in us, how it slowly takes everything away.

I know as well as anyone where ALS ends; still, somehow, I never thought about sitting on a hard pew in an unfamiliar church in another state, as I did yesterday, to hear Stephanie speak at her mother’s memorial service.  Or realize how I would drop everything to get there because that’s where the river led, and I, in the simplest way, belong to its flow.

Stephanie looked out on the good people who had carried her mother to Walmart, to choir practice; who cooked her meals, fetched her runaway walker when she fell, who brought messages by her house when she could no longer speak into the phone.  She spoke of gratitude, her voice again trembling with the sheer force of it, as she named the ways we are all carried by currents of kindness, even unto our end.

We never know where the river ends, but only how it carves canyons where we yield, how it deepens our capacity to hold life, how it leads us toward home.  “The river’s injury is its shape.” I’ve learned no more. writes Wendell Berry.  We are what we are given and what is taken away; blessed be the name of the giver and taker.

Sitting in the pew listening to Stephanie’s benediction upon her mother’s life, I could only say,  Amen.  Blessed be the name of the giver and taker.

And blessed are the names of those who join you on the way.

~ by Susan on 05/15/2011.

3 Responses to “a.life.(with)Stephanie.”

  1. Susan – thank you for sharing. Stephanie has been in my thoughts and prayers all week. Please, if you know of anything I can do, will you email me and ask.

    She is so special. Thank you both for sharing. The loss of our parents is something we all fear.

    Madeleine McGee

  2. How beautiful, Susan. I am so thankful that Stephanie has you. That you have one another.

  3. My heart aches for Stephanie and her family & friends, and yet there’s comfort in knowing that she has had you and you, her, in this sad, certain journey. Peace and love to each of you and yours.

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