Friday, 27 July 2012

Anne Marie

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S. J .

Four years ago, someone very dear to me passed away. The day she died, as I was heading off to work, rollerblades in tow, Carla, my brother’s girlfriend, saw me heading out. “Where are you going?”, she asked a bit confused. “To work,” I replied sheepishly. “Are you sure that’s such a good idea today? I mean …”, she added. “I have to. I can’t just stay put. I just … I gotta go … see you later,” I said as I took my leave.

I don’t remember the whole rollerblade ride to work. I remember that on my way to work there were many churches and that as I passed each one I would cross myself or say a prayer for those who needed it. I remember listening to music, and enjoying it so much more than usual that day. I think I felt like I was sharing it with my ill, bed-ridden sister a lot more that day. Maybe her spirit was already with me.

When I got to work, I sat down and was ready for whatever God would grant me that day. Was it going to be a full day of work? I knew it probably wasn’t. Still, I wanted it to be. I wanted life to continue. I wanted … a break. My boss knew this was going to be a hard day for me. She and I stepped out for a few minutes. We sat together. She shared with me some of her own experiences: “It’s never easy. You may even feel anger today. Don’t reject those feelings. Don’t be afraid to be emotional.” Suddenly, the phone rang. I knew it was going to be for me. It was only 9 am.

A co-worker informed me that Dad was on the phone. Dang it. No … couldn’t we delay this just a bit more, I though to myself. “Yeah dad?” I said once on the phone. “She’s gone. Your sister just passed away. Please find a way to come down to the hospital quickly.”

32. She was just 32 years young. While many people in my family were breaking out of their usual agnosticism or atheism to blame God for this, I was angry at her for giving up so quickly. Was anger the best way to deal with grief? Of course not, but I think my boss was right. Every emotion needed to be allowed on that day. And like my sister’s fiancé Keith, I was a little angry that she had given up her battle against Locked in Syndrome so quickly. But I let go of that anger. I don’t know if I would have the courage to face that condition either.

Keith was suffering much more than I that day. He was the first one to discover she had passed away. When my parents had walked into her hospital room in the palliative care ward, he was lying next to her in tears, holding onto her for dear life, even though she had not been able to hug him back for weeks. Can I say for the record that I am glad I went into work and missed that scene? I would have lost it. I would have completely lost it.

A few days later, Keith (an atheist) and I were standing in my parent’s kitchen, waiting for our families to congregate for one last feast in her honour. “Danny,” he said “you have to tell me something, man, because I just don’t get it. After all that your sister has gone through for 8 years because of the cancer, and then the Locked in Syndrome at the end, all this pain that such a beautiful person experienced … how can you still believe in God?”


The bell rang as I was thinking of how to phrase my response. I never got to answer.

What would I have answered? I could have been mean and said “Has being angry at God helped you heal?” I could have dismissed his question, “Keith, I could stand here all day explaining it to you, and you wouldn’t get it. What’s the point?” In truth, at that time, I would not have had any answer for him; so it was for the best that the bell rang.

Today, I would say that this experience helped me be more sympathetic to everyone else who goes through this kind of loss and pain. People have told me that they appreciate the expressiveness in my face when they share about losing their parents or siblings, that it’s almost as if I was sharing the pain with them. I can honestly think of no better way of being Christ-centred, of being loving to all … but I can’t do that without God.

That’s why I believe in God, Keith … that’s why.

But I still miss her so much.


  1. Thank you for the heartfelt sharing, Brother.

  2. So sorry. What a beautiful sister. Tom Schuessler Mayville, WI