Posted March 20, 2005 in Memorials:
She Wasn’t There

by Helen Porthouse.

Last year, Jean Fox, the director general of women, had a stroke on Palm Sunday morning and died on Tuesday of Holy Week. One of the staff shares her memories of that most memorable Holy Week.

Last year I was the narrator for the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday. Even though the other two readers and I had practiced, I was nervous.

Though I love to read at the liturgy, Palm Sunday was the only day of the year that I would be reading the Gospel, and I was afraid that something would go wrong.

And standing in front of about 150 people, who were all watching me, added to my nervousness.

Throughout my life in Madonna House, when I was filled with fear, I would often turn to Jean Fox. Sometimes she would give me a word; sometimes she would just look at me and smile. Then, since I always knew that Jean believed in me, part of me could rest in her love.

So that morning just before I began to read, I looked over to where she always sat. She wasn’t there.

I focused on the reading and my nervousness left me as the power of the passion gripped me. The movie, The Passion of the Christ, which I had seen at the beginning of Lent, made the experience of reading and hearing the Passion narrative more personal, more visual, more real.

Though I didn’t know it then, while I was reading, Jean herself was entering into the passion of the Lord. She had had a massive stroke just before Mass began.

I was very grateful that I was able to visit her in hospital the next day to say good-bye. Even though she wasn’t conscious, it was very important for me to be able to say “thank you.”

Then the next morning, Tuesday of Holy Week, Jean died.

The Easter Sequence is a beautiful proclamation, which is sung before the Gospel at the Mass on Easter Day and for six days after that. Another woman and I had been asked to sing it.

Easter was the day that Jean’s body was brought into the chapel to be waked along with the body of Mary Ruth, another wonderful staff worker, who had died on Holy Thursday. While we sang the Easter Sequence, I looked at the two coffins.

“Christians, to the Pascal victim, offer your thankful praises. Christ indeed from death is risen—our true life obtaining.”

Christ lives. He redeems. He loves, even in the midst of grief.

At that moment, some of Jean’s faith, which had always upheld me, trickled into my heart, and I knew that this is true.


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