by Jo-Anne Paquette.
In the last five months of Martha Shepherd’s life, I was assigned to MH Ottawa to help take care of her. Here are a few moments, a few memories, from our life together at that time.
A young doctor in the emergency room had just told Martha the results of her CT scan: she had a growth on her brain. Then she said, "You will be transferred to another hospital that has an excellent neurological unit where they will take care of you."
The doctor waited a few moments for this news to sink in. Then she said, "I’m sorry to have to tell you this."
Martha replied. "Yes, this must be difficult for you."
Even at that moment, she was thinking of the other person.
A week after the surgery to remove that growth, the doctors gave her the diagnosis: the growth was cancerous, and they weren’t able to get it all out. They gave her a few options, but not much hope.
We were on our way home, stopped at a light, when Martha said, "We think of death as leaving somewhere, but it’s also about going somewhere else. I want to prepare for that journey. I just want to pray." And so we did.
One day, as we were washing the dinner dishes, Martha said, "Even the act of abandoning ourselves to God isn’t really ours; it’s his grace to give, in his time."
On another day, when we were reflecting together on this, Martha said, "You spend your whole life trying to surrender yourself to God, and then it happens in a minute, and it has nothing to do with you. But we have to spend our lives making this our work, because we need to be ready, waiting somehow, when that grace comes."
One of our last middle-of-the-night conversations occurred a few days before we returned to Combermere. Martha knew she was going to die.
"I’m sorry, Jo-Anne," she said. "I’m so sorry. This is going to be hard for you."
I said, "Well, Martha, I’ll walk with you until our paths separate, and …."
I didn’t know what I was going to say then, but Martha finished the sentence for me, "and then we’ll continue to walk together."
What a reminder to me of the Communion of Saints, of how connected we are to those who have gone before us!
Yes, my friend, we do continue to walk together. We do.
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