Weekly Edgework #78 - December 27, 2005

Vida, Dear Vida!

I am a part of all that I have met. (Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

At mid-morning on December 1, 2005 I checked for incoming emails. There it was – an email from your husband, Harold. The subject-line simply stated, “Vida.” I clicked to open the message quickly, half-hoping for some good news – perhaps about your retirement party. But the sense of dread I had momentarily suppressed engulfed me like a tsunami as I read the opening lines of Harold’s message. “I have very bad news. Vida died on November 20 at the University Medical Center from bleeding on the brain that could not be stopped.”

I read the rest of the letter in a trance, brushing aside saltwater long enough to discover some of the details of your passing and funeral. And then I lost it. I was alone at home, which was probably a good thing because anyone listening in could not have understood the anguish that spluttered across my lips. “Vida! No! Vida!” Had I been silent I’m sure Mount Massanutten would have begun to cry out. “How could it be?” my soul groaned. But I knew I would have to trust Harold’s message. I have always trusted his word.

I grieved alone until Ruth came home around five in the afternoon. I had printed Harold’s letter and placed it on her plate that I had set for supper. She sat down and read the letter quietly. I stood beside her with my hand on her shoulder. When she looked up her bright blue eyes were clouded over by the same tsunami saltwater I had lived with all day. She rose from her chair. We embraced and wept on each other’s shoulders – lost in time and space. Then, while supper turned cold, we talked about who you were and what you had meant to us. We prayed for Harold, Heidi and Dave, as well as all others who were feeling loss that very moment.

As I reflect on that day, I am somewhat surprised that the news of your passing crushed us so completely. We interacted regularly for only four years in the late 1970s when we lived in Virginia. Since then we visited you briefly twice. And of course we sent each other Christmas letters annually. In some ways you were only a distant memory when we heard of your passing – or so we thought. Our souls told us something else. Their convulsions reminded us that you were more than a memory – that you had in fact taken up residence in our hearts.

I hear about friends and relatives passing away quite regularly. Where we live, funeral announcements are read on a local radio station at 9:05 a.m. every day. We often listen. When we recognize someone’s name we tend to cock our heads sideways a little as we confirm the identity of the deceased person with each other. Then we say something like, “Oh, that is too bad. I guess we all have our time, and this was hers.” And then we proceed to tackle the agenda of the day. But when we heard of your passing our hearts melted like wax thrown into a fire.

Why? Some of my friends can’t remember when they last shed a tear. They say they like it that way – that it gives them a sense of control and stability. I have a hard time remembering a week in my life in which a tear has not crossed my cheek. I think I prefer it that way – it assures me that my heart is at least touching reality. My emotional melt-down in this case confirms for me that we had touched each other at the heart level, that I am a part of all that I have met – truly met.

You were a strong woman, Vida. You had earned your Doctor’s degree in nursing and were a leader in nursing education most of your life. You touched countless people with your strength, including me. How I relish the memory of steel sharpening steel as we jousted with one another over issues of faith and life. Usually it was my edge that needed sharpening the most. You could hold your own as a woman in a world of men. But you also offered men like me an embrace of love – unconditional love that transcended sexuality.

You ministered to me when I was weak in ways you will never know. You were the first one to declare the results of my first welding experiment, which I had placed in our living room, a work of art. Our last stop on the way back to Canada in 1981 was at your house to leave it with your husband, Harold. When we last visited, Harold graciously released it back into my care. It now stands in our living room again – to the horror of some and amusement of others. It is one tangible link I have with you.

You were also a real woman intent on facing the broken and bleeding places in your life. I watched you peel back the layers of your heart behind which lay some harsh realities. You opened them up to God and some of us who loved you. And gradually you found some healing and the courage to take some tentative steps into your own future – not one scripted for you by others. You taught me much about heart and soul and courage.

After reflecting at length about my emotional response to your passing, I have come to a new level of understanding about Tennyson’s line, I am a part of all that I have met. Those we “truly meet” at levels of the heart remain a part of us in spite of the interference of time and distance – and I like it that way.

Even though I knew Spanish when we first met, it never dawned on me until after your passing, Vida, that your name means “life” in Spanish. And what a life it was! ¡Que vida tan preciosa! Thanks, Vida, for touching my vida!

With tender love that remains speechless,

Jack Heppner