"The best way to show your gratitude to God and people is to accept everything with joy.…We may not be able to give much but we can always give the joy that springs from a heart that is in love with God. All over the world people are hungry and thirsty for God’s love. We meet that hunger by spreading joy. Joy is one of the best safeguards against temptation."
Plough Daily Dig, October 26, 2018
I decided at the last minute to make this quote the focal point of a small group discussion I was to lead later that morning. It proved to be an interesting gateway to the subject of loss, a topic that comes up frequently. Irene had just moved to assisted living about five months ago and was really wrestling with adjusting to living in community and the death of her husband. She has also lost some of her hearing. It was not an easy conversation, but I sensed it was one worth staying with.
Estelle joined us late, but did not hesitate in joining in. "I had trouble letting go of those I loved until I knew for sure that they were in heaven. Maybe not in position one, but they are all in heaven." This "position one" intrigued us, and Irene asked her to explain. Here, Estelle faltered some, and explained that she was losing her words. I ventured in and asked, "Is position 1 what we might call sitting at the throne of God?"
"Yes," she excitedly answered, "there are all kinds of levels in heaven. I had to learn to trust that God was with them all." I smiled for I knew a mystic was among us, and this particular one spoke with a lovely Irish accent. "When I released them to God, I knew peace." As she said this, her hands fluttered upwards.
"Estelle, it sounds to me that you could actually see them go to heaven. Am I correct?" She leaned forward and nodded her head in agreement and haltingly said, "Then, I had room in my heart to love." She asked me to reread the quote and she added, "Yes, now I know joy."
This experience was fascinating. Two of the residents slept. Three had trouble hearing so I was constantly repeating and amplifying. Estelle seemed to hear with no trouble, but she struggles to find her words and often has to substitute words. The questions about her actually seeing her loved ones go to heaven and the throne of God were intentional because I had a sense that she thinks in pictures. I am convinced that even when words cannot surface, images often do, and I have seen some intriguing art done by Alzheimer's patients. Yes, they often do need some assistance with their creations, but that is what staff and volunteers are for. We are not there just to help them to fill time, but rather to help them find a lifeline so they can cross the some of the gaps that threaten to completely isolate them.
I reluctantly brought the group to a close as I was already late for a service, but as we concluded, we talked a moment more about the importance of soul conversation. Estelle worded it beautifully: "You brought a piece; Irene brought a piece. Your pieces connected with mine, and we could understand. Will you please come back?"
Somewhere I read that Mother Teresa said that even if she was made a saint, she probably would not stay in heaven long, but rather she would return to be among the poor. She certainly is still very much with us, and I am reminded that those layers of heaven can stretch all the way down to a small group of women trying to understand. Thank you, Mother Teresa.