There are area codes, which when they appear during call screening, can only bring bad news. The phone rang just before dinner and Joe said, 'Oh, no, it's an 819 number.' As he was just putting the casserole in the oven, he handed me the call. A voice that I did not know said, 'Is this David or Joe?' I knew in that instant that our friend Phyllis was gone from us. We had spoken on Mother's Day and she was poorly then.
Even when you know that someone's journey is almost over, it comes as a shock to know that you will never again see them, speak to them, or hear them laugh - except in memory. The voice told us the details of Phyllis' last day here on earth, we were assured that she was well cared for, that some of the many who loved her were there, that she enjoyed our bundle of Mother's Day flowers until the end. Those assurances didn't ease the emptiness which had opened in my heart.
Joe came out of the kitchen and sat down listening to me ask questions. He made the ASL sign for 'dead' and I nodded. He then sat quiet, no longer hearing any of the conversation I was having on the phone. I knew that there was a Phyllis sized hole opening in his heart too.
We had known Phyl for coming on 20 years and for all of that time we kept in regular touch with her. She had a ready laugh, loved to hear what was going on in our lives and share what was happening in hers. She was 86 when she died, many years our senior, but in friendship, that doesn't matter. It was nice to have a fount of wisdom that we could call on, it was nice to have someone who had the perspective of time to problem solve with, it was nice to have someone who's voice - always held the slight timber of love. We could count on Phyl.
When Phyl had lost the ability to leave her home, I asked her how she was coping, and she said in her matter of fact voice, 'It doesn't matter where you go or what you do, you always live in the same sized space.' It was a bit of insight that had me thinking hard for weeks. Phyl was like that, unexpectedly she'd drop a bit of wisdom into a conversation and you'd realize two days later what she'd said.
In recent months she'd become forgetful. But she only forgot events, only misremembered facts, she never once forgot who she was, or to be kind, or to ask after you and your life. Phyl was a deeply faithful person. She taught Sunday School, she sang in the choir, she worked with the United Church Women, she baked for bake sales, she made coffee by the gallon. The church was her community. The church was her pathway to God. She once said, 'I was never a brave enough woman to live without prayer.'
Occasionally throughout the years we called Phyl to ask where a scripture was in the Bible, to request of her a prayer, to seek a bit of heavenly wisdom. She was always there, always willing, always ready.
And now she is gone.
But she left for us an example. As she slowly lost ability after ability. As she moved from her own home to a home. As her body stopped serving her. She simply became more and more able. Her legs did not make her able. Her hands did not make her able. Her house was not a symbol of her ability.
Her heart, crammed to the full with love given and love received. Her heart, which warmed her words and filled her laughter. Her heart, grew day by day, more able. Until finally, I believe, she was able to step over death and straight into the arms of her God.