May the Faithfully Departed Rest in Peace

Written by Father Bill 12 Comments

Tom’s and Priscilla’s thoughtfulness on the 10th Anniversary of Cheska’s death.

Anniversaries are odd things.  At 3:05 this afternoon, on this date, ten years ago, my third daughter Francesca Louise died at the age of  nine years, five months, and 25 days.  We had learned of her brainstem tumor 468 days before, on January 9, 1996. 

This anniversary should be no different from any others like it, except that it is further removed from the Ur-event than previous anniversaries, and less removed from the anniversaries to come. But, the Lord seems to have thought anniversaries are important (e.g. the annual cycle of the feasts of the LORD in the Law), and that groups of anniversaries may be noteworthy  as well (e.g. the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee, a Sabbath of sabbatical years).  So, perhaps, the first decade after Cheska’s death is worth noting for the reason that it is a decade, and the first decade at that.

The short story goes like this …

Cheska was the third of four daughters.  Her older sisters were hard-charging, bigger than life presences whose normal sibling rivalry contributed a constant syncopation to our domestic rhythms.  Aunt Kathy gave Cheska’s younger sister the nickname “Fun, Incorporated.”  Contrary to all this, Cheska’s demeanor was melancholic, serious, often pessimistic, early on aware of the Fall, the Curse, and all the woes that attend these features of the universe. 

Who’d have guessed that the Lord would have laid that trial on her small-boned frame?  But, there it was, in an MRI on January 9, 1996.  I should have guessed from the neuro-opthamologist’s manner that something horrid was afoot, as he told me “Your daughter has a pontine glioma.  You should consult a neuro-surgeon as soon as possible.” He said this, as I look back on it, with the tone appropriate for what the neuro-surgeon did tell me a couple of hours later.  “These things do not heal.  There is nothing I can do for your daughter.”  So, on that momentous day, our family set out on a 15 month, 12 day adventure to deposit Cheska at the gates of heaven, to depart from her until it’s our turn to pass through that portal. 

Mother, Father, and Cheska — a headstone in Waxahachie City CemeteryThat she was in Christ is an abiding comfort and provides a shining hope.  But, from another angle, her trial – unusual (at least in our expectations) for an eight-year old – has meaning only because she was a Christian.  Indeed, her youth, the monstrous calamity facing her, the near-inevitability of the outcome, the inexorable deterioration of her mobility over the months, the squalid humiliation of her final hours – the sheer enormity of it all pointed to issues far grander, much deeper, and necessarily other than a worrying, whiney eight-year old girl in a small Texas town. 

For us and for everyone watching us, the issue was necessarily Christ Himself and the veracity of His words.  The gospel itself was laid squarely on the table, and we alongside it, for everyone in our town, in our parish, throughout our extended family, and throughout the network of thousands of friends and acquaintances that come with over a decade of vocational ministry.  “Come to me, you who are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  How does that fit with what faced Cheska for almost 16 months?

We know the answers now, and they’re more than will fit into this blog.  So, I’ll skip to the end, and let Cheska provide her own testimony, in her own words, and by her own hand – her left hand, since her right hand (the dominant one) was by the time of this testimony, paralyzed.  In the last few weeks of her life, she set about writing small poems and she illustrated them as best she could with her weakened muscles and her severely marred vision.  

In previous years, on the anniversary of her death I have passed the exact moment sitting in an Anglican chapel that now bears her name.  It was in this chapel that she continued to worship all throughout her illness, even when she had to be physically assisted to the communion rail.  Her last Eucharist in this chapel was Easter Sunday. She was buried in that Easter outfit three weeks later.

 On this tenth anniversary of her death, however, I’ve decided to post this blog and four of her poems as evidence of Christ’s saving work in her soul.

 Cheska’s illustration of “God, God, Hear my cry”

God God

God, God in the sky,
Hold my hand, and hear my cry.

Sometimes, Lord, I wish to die.
I know that’s wrong, so I will try
To live my life, although it’s tough.
Lord I think I’ve had enough.

Lord I ask that You’d heal me.
This tumor’s got me by the knee.

God, my heart’s about to bust.
So please come down and live with us!

.
.
.
.

Cheska’s illustration of “To My Fuzzy Daddy on his 50th Birthday”

To My Fuzzy Daddy
On  His 50th Birthday

I’m in a yucky hospital,
Where Id really like not to be,
‘Cause all they do is stick you,
Very uncomfortably.

Then it’s time for medicine,
I guess it’s for the best,
But let me tell you something,
It doesn’t give you much rest.

Oh no! Here comes the chemo!
They stuff it in my body.
I guess it’s time to see my Friend,
His name is Mr. Potty.

.
.
.
.
.
.

Cheska’s illustration of “Test Sting”

Test Sting

Jesus loves me,
I can see.
He hates this test sting,
so does me.
He doesn’t test me
to make me sad,
make me mope,
make me mad.

He gives me tests
to check my heart,
to see if it is extra smart,
to see if it really believes in Him.
Lord, I hope this makes You grin:

I believe in you will all my might,
and wish to hug you extra tight.

Cheska three weeks before her home-going

Till This Goes Away

When I get to feeling that this will never go away,
I always find my Mommy, and we go and pray.

And, when I’m sad and lonely, and feeling most depressed,
We always find the Bible, lay down, and read, and rest.

And, till this goes away, though it may take a little while,
I’ll always try my best, to wear a happy smile.
 


12 Comments

  1. Michael   |  Monday, 23 April 2007 at 7:43 am

    She was quite a poet, and what a testimony of faith and courage those lines contained! Quite a comfort to you and Barbara, I’m sure. Thanks for sharing.

    Sincerely,

    Michael

  2. Seamus   |  Monday, 23 April 2007 at 7:19 pm

    I can think of little to add, except that I am deeply, deeply moved by what a wonderful person your daughter must have been, and by the strength you and your family have demonstrated during these times. I too have become closely acquainted with death in my immediate family (my mother passed away from cancer nearly a year ago now, after fighting it with an unimaginable strength of body and soul for eleven years), and I can see that you must have reached the same conclusion I did: that the death of a joyful, faithful, hopeful, righteous person, though it is tragic, is a proof like no other for the existence of another, better world from which those good qualities issued.

    I want to apologize to you and Michael for not responding yet to your most recent posts…I am quite eager to reply, but there’s a lot of new material you’ve introduced and I don’t want to just toss off a response. I do want you to know that I have been reading, and that hopefully, once my classes , I will be able to write the thoughtful response your messages deserve.

    Sincerely,
    Ryan

    (I feel that we’ve reached such a level of candor here that a pseudonym no longer seems appropriate.)

    P.S. The discussions we’ve had here have inspired me to write an essay for my Chaucer class about gender and theology in “The Canterbury Tales.” I recommend the lesser-known “Second Nun’s Tale” in particular.

  3. Seamus   |  Monday, 23 April 2007 at 7:20 pm

    (excuse me, I meant to say “once my classes end”)

  4. Leigh Ann   |  Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. She was such a perseptive child. What a joy to think she is rejoicing in heaven in her perfect body.

  5. Fr. Bill   |  Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 4:28 pm

    She was indeed perceptive. I don’t want to take anything away from her, of course. But, the spiritual maturity — even the human psychological maturity — turns out to be a fairly commonly observed phenomenon among children who have short, terminal illnesses. In conferring with other parents whose sons and daughters were dying, they often reported a greatly accelerated maturity. When that maturity is overtly spiritual, it is a huge comfort and encouragement to the parents!

    As to her rejoicing … during Holy Week, we were watching Zefferelli’s (sp?) Jesus of Nazaraeth. There is a scene in that film when Jesus heals a paralytic. Cheska watched this spell-bound, and said, “I would give anything to have that.” We felt the same way.

    So, yes. When the end came, there was a decided note of rejoicing that she finished her course well, that the horrid trial of progressive paralysis was ended, and that she was free of the body that failed her (as all our present bodies will do, as well).

  6. Leigh Ann   |  Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 2:39 pm

    We had a pastor once who said “when we we get to heaven we will realize that we had been “sick” every day of our life”. It is an amazing thought that even on our healthiest day the effects of sin on us are still overwhelming.
    What a grace to have that perceptiveness–to have Him walking through the fire with you and knowing He is there.
    I have a son who has autism. And it is amazing to me the “preserved innocence” that he seems to have. There is no guile in him even when he does wrong. He does not try to hide his disobedience and is not sneaky in his sin. It seems that with this disability God has given an extra measure of grace that even with the disability there is a closer connection to the prefall state. I hope this makes sense and does not come of as heretical. But it just seems to me to be a reinforcing of the statement “where sin (or the effects of the fall) abounded grace did much more abound”.

  7. Kamilla   |  Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Wow! All I can say to your faithfulness and your dear daughter’s own faith is – wow!

    I am sure I have seen a picture of your wife somewhere because I immediately thought of her when I saw this picture of Francesca.

    Kamilla

  8. Fr. Bill   |  Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 4:05 pm

    . . . it is amazing to me the “preserved innocence” that he seems to have.

    I know what you mean. My wife’s eldest brothers are identical twins. However, Donald’s umbilical chord was twisted in the womb, so that he was born with severe brain damage, rendering him the constant peer of an 18 -24 month old child.

    Both brothers developed “normally,” of course in their bodies, at least as far as such development proceeds in isolation from environmental factors. Jan, the normal twin, developed physically in accord with his athleticism in youth and his later career as an Army Infantry officer. Donnie’s comparatively less rigorous life kept similar physical development happening in his body.

    But, the most interesting differences come in the spiritual dimensions of the two brothers. Jan early on was a strong Christian. However, as you observe in your son, his weaker brother’s spirit has had so much less opportunity and capacity for sin, and also a correspondingly diminished fallout from sin. I imagine in eternity, these two brothers are going to provide an eternally fascinating example of God’s grace working itself out so very differently in men who came into the world genetically identical. The graces offered and received will be very different, of course. And, so will the spiritual fruits glorify God in different ways.

  9. Cathy   |  Monday, 30 April 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Thank you for sharing the poems, photos and thoughts about your precious daughter. They brought tears to my eyes. May God bless you with peace and comfort you and your family with His love as you move forward on your journey.

  10. Andrew   |  Tuesday, 08 May 2007 at 9:50 pm

    Fr. Bill,

    Thank you for your witness of the truth and for sharing the witness of your dearly, faithfully departed daughter. I pray that your reunion with her will fill the void that her untimely death has undoubtedly left in your heart. All tears shall be wiped away, and everything will be made right when our blessed Lord brings all things to their culmination and fulfillment. Glory be to God.

    Peace to you,

    Andrew

  11. Amerz   |  Sunday, 08 July 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Fr. Bill, My mom has been a fan of the 5 Aspects–she made my sister and I listen to the tapes and do the study several times as we were growing up. I remember hearing about Francesca and mom had me send her a package with glow-in-the-dark stars and silly putty. When we heard of her death, we were very sad for you and your family. Five years later, my older brother was killed in a sudden car accident. What you have written here really rings true for me. Though our losses are different, they echo the same questions and truths. I wept when I read this blog and prayed for the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and hope to comment more. Thank you for sharing this.

  12. Fr. Bill   |  Monday, 09 July 2007 at 10:33 am

    Amerz,

    Thanks for your comment. And, thank you for your kindness to Cheska.

    At this distance of ten years, I still remember the stilly putty and glowing stars! I was a big fan of silly putty when I was Cheska’s age. We had some fun with it, and the stars festooned her bedroom ceiling. I know she looked at them for many, many hours, for the drugs she took to control the swelling on her brain had the effect of depriving her of sleep. And, near the end, she didn’t move a lot in bed.

    Losing your brother as you did put a whole different spin on the test it presented. We were looking at Cheska’s departure for months before it occurred. Your brother vanished in the twinkling of an eye. Each poses different challenges to those who remain behind.

    One thing that comforts and encourages me is the line from Amazing Grace: ” … when we’ve been there ten thousand years … ” From THAT perspective, it will be interesting for the saints to compare notes on tests and trials such as these.

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