“When she* shall die, take her and cut her out in little stars, and she will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
~ William Shakespeare, ‘Romeo and Juliet’
My dear friend, Linda Ruth Fisher, died on April 20th. Linda’s was a large life well lived. She was a robust woman with a head of enviable thick, wavy silver hair. I think most who knew her would say it was Linda’s blue eyes, twinkling brighter than sapphires that first caught peoples’ attention when meeting her.
REALITIES ~ BEAUTIFUL AND SAD
Linda’s cancer began two years ago. It was then we became closer friends. Linda wanted to make something happen for our sisters and brothers with disabilities. They are challenged daily by bias, ridicule, and hardened bureaucratic hearts and systems (most, but not all). Disabled people seek their basic civil rights: to be treated with dignity, equality, independence, and respect — no more, no less than those perceived to be ‘normal.’
Linda envisioned an artistic initiative to bring more attention to this civil rights issue in which she firmly believed I could guide the participants — all of whom were disabled to varying degrees. She fought hard, creating a ‘work around’ the State Council on the Arts grant for me to teach this program: A photojournalism class comprised of eight participants at the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley (ILCHV) — Command Central for those who are disabled in the vast Hudson Valley Region of New York State. The ILCHV and Linda did outstanding work on the grant and obtained approval! We celebrated, and then the participants and I began our work. The experience and stories of those who courageously wrote about living with disabilities are on this site: “But remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.“
That was two years ago. This April, within a span of a day or two, Linda went from home care, to the ER at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, and then into St. Peter’s Hospice Inn. I received a text from her sister, Beth, early morning on April 19 saying, it’s a matter of hours, or a day. Come soon.
Once through the hospital maze and in the hospice, it was quiet: no doctors, nor noisy machines, but only caring, attentive nurses. I briefly shook hands with Beth who graciously proffered that I take my time alone with Linda. I stood outside the door thinking of the last time I saw her. It was at my 72nd birthday lunch, almost a year ago. Linda entered the restaurant with Janet, her companion and caregiver throughout the two-year saga. She was already a little thinner, but still vibrant in both body and spirit. Linda wore a hat for the last chemo treatment had taken her beautiful hair. But oh my, Linda’s blue eyes sparkled and danced with her delight in life! I knew I would hold on to that memory, but the moment arrived for me to say goodbye.
I gently pushed the door open and found myself in a softly lit room with upholstered furniture for those who visited. One-third, or less, of Linda’s once-Rubenesque body lay on the bed surrounded by pillows for comfort. She was receiving oxygen. This was not life saving; without it she would suffocate in a painful death. Though sedated, Linda was not in discomfort. Her breathing was a bit rapid: I could not help but be mindful of each exhaled breath.
I sat in the chair closest to her bedside. I gazed at a shadow of a woman, once a great lioness, whose door-to-her-heart was always open to anyone who knocked. I discovered honor, not fear nor grief, in being with Linda during these last hours of her life. I took her left hand, stroked her forehead, and said:
Linda, it’s Lee Anne. I am here darling. I know you can’t speak, but you can hear. I love you. Your presence in my life will now take up residency in my heart through many fond memories. You were so generously supportive of me as a person, artist, and writer. How can I ever give back what you gave to me?
My dearest Linda, you say you are not a woman of faith, though your life’s work contradicts that statement. You strived and succeeded in supporting the oppressed politically and with your own funds; you fought for civil rights wherever, whenever needed. Your home was open to anyone who required help.
Well, my dear, I am all about faith: one we delightfully, and respectfully, debated during one of our dinners. But, in reverence for my Lord and love for you, I need to do something. I hope not to offend you, Janet, and your family. I am going to read the Twenty-Third Psalm. I know you know it. If you object, just push my hand away and I will stop. I’ve already seen you use it, perhaps reacting to a stimulus known only to you at this point. Okay, since you’ve squeezed my hand and not let go, I’m taking that as a ‘yes.’
I believe the work we did with the ILCHV marked a shift in my approach and purpose for my artwork. I know you are saying that it was me; I did it, etc. No. It was not I; it was the Lord guiding me. The truth is I was never able, or inclined, to give of myself that way; the complete surrender to another’s need. I confess this to you now. Yet, something happened in that teaching process: I learned how little I knew about the important matters in life as well as facing the stark reality that my own heart was hardened. I was humbled, right-sized by the bravery of the participants, their work, and the results. Thank you, dear Linda, for fighting for them — and for me.
My dear, there is much more, but it is time for me to say goodbye. I see the corners of your mouth barely turned up in a smile. So, I believe our walk through some shared memories have pleased you. Know how much you are loved.
I took one long last look at Linda, kissed her forehead, and left the room. I walked around the hospice for a short while, noting those in rooms whose occupants were restless and alone; others openly grieving in the lounge areas; still more people who were laughing, probably over a story that was told many times at Thanksgiving dinners about the person in the room preparing to leave this life. My heart urged me to pray for each of them, but not knowing their beliefs I could not.
These are some of Linda’s favorite images. She loved the flowers together with “Blue Ridge Mountain Spring,” and “Sky.” I present this pastiche of painterly photographs to celebrate Linda’s life with beauty and an expansive love that defies all boundaries on earth and in heaven.
I was compelled during the drive home to finally give voice to my unuttered prayer in the hospice: Father God, I pray that in all hospices and hospitals each person is anointed with your tender, merciful Grace: the sick and dying, doctors, nurses, technicians, orderlies, chaplains, volunteers, families, friends, and mourners. May they be lifted up and accept Jesus in their hearts, if they haven’t already, allowing Him to wrap them in His Eternal Love, comforting arms, and most assuredly in His peace and rest. I pray in Your Son’s name. Amen.
Once home, I randomly opened my Bible. I was not seeking anything in particular, or so I presumed. However, I landed at Psalm 103:15-17, and the reading of it brought me to the first tears of the day.
Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows and we are gone — as though we had never been here. But the love of the Lord remains forever.
*I have taken poetic license and replaced “he” with “she.” I hope The Bard of Avon forgives my puckishness in this instance.