Frances died last week. Her family all said she missed her husband Lenny since his death a few years ago, and would be happy to be at peace and reunited with him.
Frances and Lenny were faithful Roman Catholic members of a city parish. At her funeral, the priest said Frances especially loved to share in the Eucharist and to pray. She and her husband raised a large Catholic family on the east side of Indianapolis and were the central figures in their family’s life, the hub around which all activities turned.
Over the past few years I served them both as their hospice chaplain, and loved every visit with this gentle, kind, and funny couple.
When I met Lenny, it had been several decades since he was forced to give up his work because of an accident. A large piece of drywall fell on him and injured his leg so severely it had to be amputated. From that point on, he stayed at home and Frances was forced to go to work to support the family.
It’s just what one did. As down-to-earth and realistic as they were faithful to their beliefs, they supported each other and took care of their family, and from all the reports I’ve ever heard, did so without complaining or ever suggesting they got a raw deal.
About eight years ago, when the couple was in their mid-70’s, Frances answered the door one night and a young man pushed her back into the house. She grabbed his sweater and managed to kick him in the groin as they fell to the floor. But she was no match for the intruder’s strength, and he beat her mercilessly.
Hearing the commotion, Lenny rolled his wheelchair in and soon found himself under attack as well. The home invader beat him in the face so badly his eyes were swollen shut. Frances gave the thief her purse and told him they had no jewelry in the house, and their brutal attacker eventually left. The wounded couple spent two weeks in intensive care recuperating from their injuries.
When the children came to visit them, angry and frightened that someone would do such a thing to their parents, they were surprised to hear words of forgiveness and pardon coming from Lenny’s and Frances’s mouths. The couple expressed not even the least bit of ill will toward the stranger, and they urged their children and grandchildren to turn the other cheek.
The children convinced their parents that forgiveness was fine, but that they should also consider moving to a safer neighborhood. They found a nice senior community a few miles east for their folks and Lenny and Frances relocated there.
And that’s where I met them, when Lenny was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Do you know that in all of our conversations during his time on hospice, neither of them ever once mentioned that home invasion? It wasn’t until after Lenny had died and I was making a bereavement visit to Frances that I learned about their ordeal.
A year or two went by, and then just last fall, Frances’s own health took a turn for the worse. She not only was terminally ill, but she also suffered from an extraordinary number of wounds on her skin as it broke down from her condition. She was almost always in pain, and had to endure the agony of daily wound care and dressing changes.
Once again, Frances refused to be a complainer. She never mentioned her pain to me, and instead always focused on making me feel welcome or asking me a question that was on her mind.
I went to see her the day she died, and in some sort of remarkable turnaround the swelling in her body had diminished and some of those intractable wounds that she had been battling were actually healing. She was comfortable now in both body and spirit. I prayed for her, gave hugs and words of affirmation to her daughters who were at the bedside, and departed. She died within a few minutes of my leaving.
Her priest, the same one who had officiated the funeral mass for Lenny, spoke wonderful words of tribute to Frances’s faith and character as well as providing hope in God’s promises of resurrection life in Christ.
Then, at the end of his homily he read something which Frances herself had written and asked him to share. It was a brief letter to her family.
Frances encouraged them to find solace in the many good memories of their life together and in the love that they had known. She urged them to remember that, although she would be gone from them for a time physically, the love they shared would always be in their hearts.
And then these unforgettable last words that tell you all you need to know about Lenny and Frances: “When all that is left of me is love, give me away.”