Yesterday I wept bitterly at the news that my little sister Denise had died. Just about a year ago we got news that her body had been attacked by a horrible sarcoma. The cancer was in her abdomen. They couldn’t operate or offer radiotherapy. Denise went through chemotherapy–so much that they couldn’t give her any more, and through it she joked about the hair loss and weight loss. She raged against the cancer and did not want to die, but at the same time she commended herself into God’s hands.
I flew over to see her last summer and took my relic of little sister St Therese to accompany my little sister Denise on her journey. Denise was not a Catholic, but she told me how, when the relics of Therese visited England she had traveled to Oxford to venerate them. Her faith was broad and deep–appreciating informal charismatic worship as well as a spirituality that was deeply Catholic. The last thing she planned to do was to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Everything was set for her to make the journey.
She shared one of my life’s mottos by F.D.Maurice, “A person is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.” Denise did not deny anything of the Lord’s great goodness, like me she kept the strong Christian Evangelical faith which is our heritage–and she simply added more Christianity to the mere Christianity. I think she would have said with Therese, “I will have all.” Becoming Anglican was her way of embracing more and more of the riches of the faith.
On Holy Thursday my 85 year old mother flew with my older sister to be with Denise. Donna was planning to travel to Lourdes together. On Friday Denise was well enough to pick them up from the airport. She didn’t know Mom was coming too. She was so glad to see them both. On Saturday evening she was joyfully cooking dinner and joking with her two daughters, husband, sister and mother. Then suddenly on Saturday night the cancer hit hard and by Sunday afternoon she was gone.
She never made that pilgrimage to Lourdes. The Lord had other plans and she was granted the final healing at home, with her family around her–without months of terrible pain and more humiliating treatment. It was a mercy. A severe mercy, but a mercy.
Denise was the youngest of five siblings. In American 1950s style we were all named with the same first initial. Maybe the reason I use so much alliteration in my writing is because we were called Donald, Donna, Dwight, Daryl and Denise.
In the meantime, Denise met a young Anglican priest about my age. John had been to English boarding schools and discovered a vital Christian faith in his early years. After a time living in religious community and traveling to Africa, John and Denise got married. John served first as a chaplain at Harrow School, then went to an inner city parish in the Northeast of England. John completed his doctorate and Denise began working on hers.
For so long they wanted children and finally they were blessed with two girls, first Eleanor and then Olivia.
John was eventually appointed a Canon at Ely Cathedral, then the Suffragan Bishop of Huntingdon before being appointed the Bishop of Worcester. Denise completed her doctorate in the seventeenth century poet Thomas Traherne and after discovering some unpublished manuscripts by Traherne–one of them in Lambeth Palace Library–she published three books on Traherne and established a reputation as an expert in his work.
I’m proud of my sister’s accomplishment in this world, but most proud of her dedication to her husband and children, her courage and good cheer in facing disappointments and her final illness. Most of all I admire her rock solid faith and hope in Christ the Lord.So it was with more tears that I celebrated the Holy Mass for her this Easter Monday, prayed for the repose of her soul and that she might continue her journey to the fullness of glory without impediment or delay.
We both loved the Chronicles of Narnia and so I can’t forget the final scene when the children at last go through the stable door and the Narnia they knew dissolved into vapors and they enter the true Narnia and run with breathless excitement into levels of Narnia that increase in reality and beauty, crying together, “Further up and further in!”
So keep running Sister.
Not farewell, but fare forward!
Further up and further in!