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Sabbatical, 2004
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Why I haven’t written lately

This is adapted from a real email that I sent just a moment ago.  It illustrates what my friend Josy recently said to Heather, “Looks like Tony hasn’t figured out retirement.”  How can life be so full for someone so elderly!??
Please note: because I discuss some pretty intense personal stories, I have used fictitious names and places.

Saturday, May 12, 2012, 10:00 PM

My dear ___________ ,

Here’s my excuse for taking so long to reply to your email:

After you and I saw one another last Tuesday, I ended up at Dixon Law Office, where I have temporarily resumed my life as Heather’s receptionist, plus data-entry and file management clerk! 1

That evening, we went out to dinner with another couple – a lawyer friend of Heather’s, and her husband.  We were celebrating four birthdays (the four of us are all within the forty days from March 27 to May 6; an interval that has a strongly biblical feel).  Just as the server was taking our orders my cellphone rang.  The call display indicated someone who was not known to me, so I did not take the call, and turned off the device so that we could enjoy our evening without further interruption.  When we got home at about 9:00 PM, I found that the person who had tried to reach me on my cellphone had left a message on our answering machine.

“I am the daughter-in-law to Wilma Smith.  She has less than 12 hours to live.  The family has gathered in Grace Hospital, and were hoping that you could come...”

Do you remember Wilma?  Her husband died years ago, while they belonged to St. Swithun’s parish, and I was their Rector.  He was only in his 40s when he died.  Wilma was left with four young children.  She displayed such dignity and courage at the time that I never forgot her, and often referred to her in my pastoral care dealings.

About ten years later, her oldest daughter died – of a mystery infection while coming home from Afhganistan for Christmas.  I took that funeral too – I was now at St. Ethelbert’s.

In 2010 Wilma came to see me at St. Luke’s, to say that whenever she died she expected me to take her funeral.  “Wilma!” I said, “I’ll probably die before you!”  “No you won’t,” she replied, “And I expect you to do your duty.”

During that visit she told me that her oldest son had died about three years earlier.  So, that makes a husband and two out of four children dead.  At the time, she was contemplating returning to active church membership.  However, because by then she was pushing a walker, getting around would be an issue, so I suggested St. Benedict’s, being the closest church to where she was living.  A priest there, a long time ago, had been convicted of abusing young boys, but I didn’t think she had any connection with that.

“I will never darken the door of that church again!” she said with some emphasis.  “Is this about Father Bloggs?”  I asked.  “It sure is!” she said.  “My son Bill was one of his victims.”

So... when I find out that this woman is now on her deathbed, is there any doubt that I will drop everything to go and see her and the family?

I went to the hospital immediately, and found Wilma’s two remaining children at her bedside, along with the daughter-in-law who had called me, two of Wilma’s sisters, and a brother-in-law – all of them crammed into the tiny Intensive Care isolation room (gowns and scrubbing, please; major risk of infection!).  Wilma had just had some exploratory surgery which was one of those open-her-up, raise-your-hands-in-horror, and sew-her-up kind of procedures.  She was not conscious – partly due to morphine, partly because she had begun her journey Home.  But I had an excellent visit with the assembled multitude.  Interestingly, when they had failed to reach me, the hospital located a priest friend of mine, who came running and had prayers with them.  But when I got there, we had some more prayers.  You can never have too many prayers, I figure.

Wilma didn’t die while I was there.  She took her time.  I was at work at Heather’s office the next morning when the call came.  There followed a hectic series of phone calls between me and the family and the funeral home, setting up a time for the Committal of the Body, 2  and another time for a funeral.  I dealt with this while leaving Heather’s office to attend a meeting of the Diocesan Stewardship Council, then going from that meeting to have a coffee with a man who has been a parishioner in days past, and someone whose life has in no way been smooth.  Then back to Dixon Law Office for a mad dash to the Land Titles Registry, and then home to make dinner.  I finally got to sit still and pretend that I’m retired around 8:00 PM, but was too exhausted to do anything of consequence.

The next day, I went to work at Dixon Law Office wearing my clergy shirt and collar, because towards mid-day I was to go to the crematorium to meet Wilma’s family and do the Committal service.  It certainly gave Heather’s clients a start to find a priest as their lawyer’s receptionist!  But although I witnessed some documents and did some other legal assistant duties, I was also busily answering my cellphone because another funeral home was trying to contact me to arrange for me to take a funeral next week.  At least in this case, it isn’t a family that I have known and loved these past 36 years, but all the same I shall go and give them my best care and attention.

The committal service for Wilma was powerful and deeply moving.  Afterwards the family and I sat down together to plan what the funeral itself would be like.  It had to take place the very next day (yesterday), because NOT ONE PERSON in Wilma’s family actually lives in Winnipeg, and they all needed to return to Saskatchewan, Alberta, and points even further away.  Wilma had lived alone in Winnipeg in order to continue in the care of the doctors who knew her.  Recently she began thinking about moving to be near her son, but by the time she was mentally ready to do it, her final illness had come upon her.

Thus it was that when she died, all of her loved ones were staying in Winnipeg hotels, and needed to return home.  So we built a funeral together in haste.

Part of the afternoon was then spent preparing scripture readings for the funeral, and sending them by email to the family, but finally I was able to do some more in my capacity as Heather’s Little Legal Helper.

That evening we had yet another birthday dinner in another restaurant, for now it was our cruising partner Werner Schulz’ turn to have a birthday.  We went with him and Mary to an upscale local steakhouse and had a lovely time, but my ability to sit down and attend to my online correspondence or any other of my retirement activities, remained on hold.

Friday (yesterday), I was able to spend most of the day at Dixon Law Office – really my first full day there – but in the early evening we had Wilma’s funeral, after which Heather and I kept a commitment to some other friends to have an evening of cards and conversation.  At this social occasion, there was also supposed to be a little bit of practice for an upcoming musical concert – the husband is Russ Greeene, the organist, and we’ll be playing together in front of an audience on June 21 – but Wilma’s funeral kept us late enough that this part of the evening’s plan had to be dispensed with... particularly because Heather and I really had to get home before midnight, since we both had to be up and at it early this morning (Saturday).

At 9:15 AM today, Heather was giving one of her lectures at the Alzheimer Society, about Wills and Powers of Attorney.  She then went to the Convalescent Home and attended a Mother’s Day Tea with her 94 year mom.  Meanwhile I went to a four-hour Vestry meeting at St. Margaret’s Church, where I made a presentation in behalf of the Diocesan Stewardship Council.  Because Heather needed the car to go to her lecture, I walked to and from St. Margaret’s, which was 5.13 km. there and back. 3   This was very good exercise, but I was so tired when I got home and sat down in my big chair, I immediately fell into a deep sleep.  Only now have I got sufficient energy to write this email to you.

But... y’know?  I’ve had such fun writing this out, that I think I’ll edit it and post it in my blog.  I think the names will be changed to protect the innocent, but the above might actually be very suitable blog material!  Thanks for unwittingly giving me the occasion to write it!

Your friend, the retiree,
Tony's signature

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1  Heather’s real receptionist/secretary is away for a month.  I’m familiar with her office, having worked there in 2007-2008, and besides, there is a huge file-management project that she needs me to do.  So I’m back at a daytime job once more!
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2  When there is to be an “immediate” cremation, I strongly recommend that people go to the crematorium and give the body a respectful and prayerful send-off just before the cremation is to begin.  A few prayers, a few tears, and a very rich time of closure.  It is difficult for the family to do, but in the long run they are never sorry.
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3  Hey!  I did what runners call a “Five K!”  Except that I walked.
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