Thanks to Tuesdays with Joan

Posted by Webster 
Before Christmas 2008, my friend and RCIA sponsor Joan of Beverly was diagnosed with lung cancer. In her 70s and slight of build to begin with, Joan underwent surgery, then began a grueling course of chemo and radiation, which dropped her weight to somewhere just north of 100. (No, that’s not Joan of Beverly in the picture, it’s Joan of Arc. But the resemblance is there!)

Along the way, not early enough, I admit, I began visiting her once a week. Then, two months ago, almost miraculously, it seemed, Joan received a clean bill of health: no sign of cancer, no need to visit her oncologist for six months! This is where the parallel with Tuesdays with Morrie stopped. I might have stopped my weekly visits once we knew Joan was well again, but the visits continue, because I have long since realized that I get more out of our meetings than I could ever bring to them.

When you meet someone whose faith is so solid, so unequivocal, you have to pursue the friendship. This is how I define friend today: Joan of Beverly.

I often walk up to Joan’s house from my office downtown. It’s a short walk. She’s usually waiting in her wing chair by the window. I try to bring something for her—a reading, an anecdote, a quote from one of Father Barnes’s homilies. Before her illness, Joan came to daily Mass, but she’s still not up to the 7 a.m. start, and she likes knowing what’s going on down the hill. (My office is right across from St. Mary’s.)

Yesterday afternoon, I thought I had a good one for her. I was reading Pope Benedict’s memoir and had been taken by his description of his parents’ deaths. So I read the short passages aloud to her, then looked up for her response. Thirty minutes later, she had stopped responding.

Joan spoke of her own parents’ deaths. Of her father’s passing away as she held his hand. And of her mother, whose encroaching dementia forced a family decision. Joan “put it all in the Lord’s hands,” asking God in prayer what he wanted her to do. A few days later, while she was at work, God gave his answer: Take your mother into your home.

Joan never questioned this word from God even though a couple of her siblings tried to dissuade her. It was Thanksgiving time, busiest time of year, and yet by Christmas, a room in her house had been done over and her mother had moved in. “Everything—just—worked,” Joan said, gesturing with her slender fingers that have only gained back a small amount of weight. “Everything always works when you put it in the Lord’s hands.”

Joan said to me yesterday that for the longest time she had thought she was “holding on to God”—doing all the things he asked, going to Mass, praying with her prayer group, saying endless Rosaries. Then one day, “I realized that he had been holding on to me all along.”

Joan is unwavering in such statements of faith. They are made with complete certainty. And all I can do most days is listen and nod and wonder. May you all have friends like Joan. I’m sure my experience is quite common among practicing Catholics who are friends to one another.

  • Maria

    Did you notice–" saying endless rosaries"? What a weapon.

  • Anonymous

    Great post!I also have an inspirational elder in my life, most Tuesdays! She's 85, blind, widowed and recovering from hip replacement surgery. She's also a mother, grandmother, former kindergarten teacher, devoted Christian (who bakes the bread used for communion in her Congregatrional Church)… and a superb knitter. Which is where I come in. On Tuesdays, I drive her to the Senior Center, where we sit and knit hats for newborns, seafarers and women and children suffering the effects of chemo or burns. Yesterday, she produced 21 hats!! (We had a couple of weeks off over the holidays).I have many years' worth of Martha stories, but will share just one as it follows from your post. When Martha's mother-in-law developed Alztheimers, Martha invited her into her home and cared for her for the last five years of her life. Bathing, cooking, laundry, loving… the whole nine yards, despite her blindness. Well, one day, during a snowstorm, Martha's charge decided to go for a walk outside in her nightgown and slippers and escaped unnoticed. When she was discovered by the police and returned unharmed, did Martha decide she could no longer continue as caregiver? Not at all! She simply put a slide bolt on the door that was too high up for her mother-in-law to reach!I so agree with your comment about getting more out of friendships like these, than we could ever put in.S.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, S, for this wonderful anecdote. And Maria–Rosaries as Weapons, sounds like the title of a best-selling book! Reminds me too of a favorite song by my main man Mark Knopfler who, as one of "The Notting Hillbillies," recorded "The Weapon of Prayer." Going to look for it as a musical Monday post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06195528409761980551 Anne

    Wow! I will take quite a bit from this post and be pondering it for a while. I loved this:"When you meet someone whose faith is so solid, so unequivocal, you have to pursue the friendship." and:"she had thought she was “holding on to God”—doing all the things he asked, going to Mass, praying with her prayer group, saying endless Rosaries. Then one day, “I realized that he had been holding on to me all along.”I was recently complaining that I couldn't feel God holding on to me. I am waiting for the day when I will also realize that he is holding on to me all along.Thank you so much for this!

  • Mary P.

    Hi Anne, I'm sorry you've felt alone. But who guided you to this site? Was a person or was it by coincidence? (Be forewarned, I don't believe in coincidence). Many of us have realized (for me, hindsight is best!) that our dear Lord has been holding, guiding and loving us "all along." I will also pray for the day when you will realize this in your head, as you seem to already understand in your heart!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Mary P. Anne knows who the Pilot is. Check it out:Her blogHaving shared that, we all need help bearing the Cross, and I'm glad to see our little community reaching out to one another.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06195528409761980551 Anne

    Mary P., thanks for your words of support and encouragement, I need all I can get! I do know that God is holding me, and sometimes I can actually feel it with my heart, and that is wonderful! But lately, it's been harder to "feel" him. I usually blame it on midlife hormones. :( I look for every little sign, and they are there, but I am a greedy girl and I want to feel him constantly! :)Frank, thanks for the link! And the person who guided God's hand to lead me to this blog was Daily Grace-she linked to the great post on Brother Sun, Sister Moon that drew me here!Love this blog! It is a great support for those days when I'm not feeling God very closely, and a fabulous lift for my spirits!

  • Webster Bull

    Anne,Comments like yours are wonderful to read. I'm sure Frank agrees with me that neither of us started blogging because we wanted to help or support anyone, but it seems to happen in spite of us. In fact, I think it happens anytime Catholics, ordinary ones like us, without any theological or clerical training, talk about the joy and meaning they get from being Catholics. That's really all I was ever aiming for.

  • Lorraine

    Wonderful post about Joan. I was one of the lucky people who drove her back and forth for her radiation treatments at Lahey all this past summer. I met Joan at a bible study a few years ago and I've considered her one of my faith mentors ever since. Such a lovely and humble lady and I consider myself very blessed to call her my friend.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Lorraine.


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