To Have Loved And Lost
When I first thought about religious life I had a vague idea of what it might be like as sisters in a community, and I had no notion of what the age gap would be like. Yet, cross-generational living has brought me so many gifts. My sister-friends have showed me their wisdom, patience, good humor, and perspective. As sisters our shared charism- our passion for the work of Mercy, the history of the community, and our foundress Catherine- give us a common language, culture, and identity. This common ground has provided the basis for fruitful relationship with sisters who have walked in Mercy decades longer than I have. Those who are able to enter into this walk of mutual vocation and friendship are special people indeed.
Last June I lost one such person. I first met my dear friend Sr. Elaine when I was discerning religious life. She walked with me as a vocation minister through the first few years of discernment and entrance into the Sisters of Mercy. Her friendship, courage, and character impressed me from the start and we became close friends. One of her great gifts was the total acceptance of everyone who crossed her path. It didn’t matter if you were in prison, a coworker, young, or old. She met each person as they were, and loved everyone in her life- myself included. It has been such a privilege for me to have such a great relationship with my mentor because she embraced me in a mutual friendship despite the four decades separating us.
At Elaine’s funeral I looked at the array of photos from across the years of her life. I heard her friends reminisce about her early years and I found myself wishing I had been there too. I could only recognize my friend in those old photos by the tilt of her head and the strength of her presence. I knew her for the last nine years of her life, and there have been other friends with whom I have had even less time. When I began to answer this call to religious life I did not think about the losses along the way. I took these relationships as part and parcel of community life without contemplating the losses ahead of me. It has been a shock to loose so many friends at my age, but these relationships with my sisters have been precious and worth the pain of saying goodbye.
These sisters who, like Elaine, have welcomed me as both friend and sister are the ones who have taught me the most about life, and helped me grow. I am so grateful to these women who have welcomed me into their lives. I look back on my nine years of friendship with Elaine and know it to be such a short time. I will continue to carry Elaine’s love and friendship in me, in the woman she helped me become, and in the Mercy community she loved so dearly.