She did the same things until the end. The daily things. The stuff we think we’d just skip if we knew we were dying. But she never abandoned the rhythms. Meetings. A walk to the store. Church on Sunday. Changing a tire on her bike. She lived a life in which the little things mattered. Even when she was dying. Maybe especially when she was dying.
I cannot even begin to explain to you how this way of moving through the world impacted me. I, who am so often scrambling and fumbling for meaning so desperately… well, of course meaning is found in the faithful doing of little things with great love. From beginning to end. There has maybe never been a more meaningful person to me than Wray. In her simple way.
When she prayed for me, she would put one gnarled and crooked hands over my hands, and turn the other one up on her knee. She would pour her heart out over the little things that troubled me. As if the little things mattered so much. When cancer was eating her, she would pray for my children, my marriage, my sadness, my joy.
She had eyes like a 4 year old girl at a tea party. They never stopped twinkling. She would clap her hands together under her chin. Always this precious meeting of hand and hand above heart. A gesture I’ve only ever seen small children do. Hope unwavering.
She was light in the world. And she was weighty. Something about her quiet. Something about her piercing gaze and the way she would cock her head, and nod, and press her lips together and shrug. Smile the smallest of smiles like a secret. Her hands were open. Her heart was steady. She had bones like a little bird and legs like a baby deer, long and lanky. She would walk through the park with a stride like dancing, arms tucked into jacket, slouchy sack on shoulder. Somehow she never conceded to the weights of the world. Not to loss, not to illness, not to loneliness, not to the big “why bother?” questions that want to eat out the substance of our lives. She was light. She was always bending those knobby knees to kneel. And rise. And kneel.
She would come by after church and grab my arm and say, “Still no lively worship service. What a drag. Well, we won’t stop praying.” Wray prayed for years that we could sing praises with abandon. “Now she can. Now she is,” a friend said. And I just wept and wanted to punch the music minister in the mouth. She could have had it here!
No one told me it would be this awful. Death. Letting people go. Especially people who have loved you back to life.
When I was in the depths of my first major depressive episode, Wray would call. She didn’t have to have anything to say, particularly. Just her little lilting voice across the line. Quiet and clear, so you leaned in to listen. “Well… I just wanted to check. We won’t stop praying.” She never did. That was enough. That little thing.
She leaves an absolutely unfillable hole.
How can we possibly hold the pieces of ourselves together when such a beautiful piece has been snipped out? I think we can’t. Death is unforgivable.
The last time I saw her was on Ash Wednesday. She held my hand in the back pew on the way out the door. Patted my arm. She’d always pat my arm and then look sheepish. My kids were scrambling. Disrupting the stillness of a solemn service. I hugged her neck. Her papery cheek on mine. We parted ways with ashen crosses thumbed across our heads.
“Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.” And I never saw her again.
I didn’t know she was dying. Not in that moment. She lived so fully, you often forgot. I only knew she was priceless. I only knew I wanted to keep her forever. I never got to say goodbye. So I might bleed a little bit forever.
A love you, Wray.