Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Welcome Home

To many, she was Sister Debra, but she's always been my Auntie Deb. Today my family is saying farewell to their " 'dopted one," until we see her again in Heaven. Debbie became part of our family soon after she and my mother met as roomies in nursing school. She's belonged with us ever since, as my mother's kindred spirit and a beloved aunt to my sister and me. She was always praying for us, encouraging us, and giving of herself and her beautiful smile.

Barely a week has gone by since she passed away, and it's hard to write about her in the past tense. Knowing her time was near doesn't make it easier. Knowing she'd given everything to fight cancer three times in nine years, I wanted her to find peace. Through everything, she retained her considerable faith in God, and wanted to live each day she was given.  Seeing her decline over the past several months, we are grateful she has been released from pain, but that relief is mingled with loss.

And so we grieve. We use a word that is stronger than sadness and deeper than sorrow. We grieve for those left behind - for her mother, sister and brother in law, and nieces. For my Mom, who has lost the sister of her heart. For me and for my sister. For the other nuns. For those who were touched by Deb's kindness and spiritual conviction. Thank you to those of you who have prayed for Deb, and for your support in this difficult time.

When I visited Canada in May - praying for weeks beforehand that Auntie Deb would hold on just a little longer - it was hard not to hug her with my customary exuberance. She was so brittle on the outside. The drugs and accompanying nausea made it difficult for her to be herself. Yet inside, she was filled with God's love and strength. She was making plans and asking my mom to help her do things for others.

One day, she mentioned a bird's-nest pendant she had seen on someone, and wished she could find one like it. I happened to have seen a YouTube tutorial on a beading channel, so I agreed to make her one. The next thing I knew, Deb amended her request to one pendant per Sister - 50! - and I had to recruit and teach several others to create bird's-nests from three robin's-egg-blue beads and wire. With God all things are possible. She wanted each Sister of St. Ann to have one, but wasn't up to making them herself. 

Auntie Deb's occupations included nurse, nun, palliative chaplain, and artist. Her talent for watercolours was recognised by art critic Robert Amos in a recent Times Colonist article. A visit to the exhibit of the Sisters of St. Ann's artwork, which included a selection of her florals, was Debbie's last outing. She was able to speak with Amos, who happened to be there at the same time.

Deb was reading a book by Lorna Byrne called Angels in My Hair. Someone was always in the room as her time drew near, and I think there may have been an angel present, too. As a final blessing, my mom was with her when Debbie was welcomed home by her Heavenly Father. I love this song from Michael W. Smith, which comforts those who have lost a loved one. It speaks of angels, a place with no more pain, and the welcome that awaits those who love Him.

I can't believe that I'm here
Having to say goodbye.
And I can barely see you through
These tears I cry.
I close my eyes.

I can hear the sound

As angels gather 'round
Saying this is where you belong
Welcome Home!

There are the days when my heart aches
Wishing you were here.
But I know where you are
The hurt and the pain disappear.
There's no more tears.


Welcome Home!

What a lovely sound
Angels all around
Saying this is where you belong
Welcome Home!
Welcome Home!
Welcome Home!