Our family had taken a five-day vacation – a chance to get away from the computer and the chores at home. Upon our return I was utterly shocked by an email I had received.
An 83-year-old friend in town had passed away in her sleep the night before we left. Her memorial and Mass had been held the following Friday and Saturday. Out of town, I had missed the entire event. How would I bring closure to the death of my friend, Dorothy Samuel?
The first time I had heard Dorothy’s name was in December of last year. She had written a very complimentary letter to the editor regarding one of my stories. The unusual thing is that we lived in the same town. I still remember my editor calling to ask whether I knew this woman, and jokingly asking whether any money had changed hands.
My editor later told me that Dorothy took offense at such an insinuation. That’s the kind of woman she was. I contacted her, for the first time, not long after that and we struck up what would be the first of many telephone and email conversations. We had only met once.
Despite our age difference we had much in common. Dorothy was the parent of one son and three daughters. She converted to Catholicism six years ago. She was ardently pro-life. She read the National Catholic Register, and she was a fellow writer.
We spoke of the faith, of writing, of the Eucharist, and of life-issues. Occasionally she would send me story ideas. She often printed off my articles, offered her critical comments, and shared the stories with others. One weekend she spent reading a book I had just published. Afterwards she described that she felt as if she had been on retreat with me.
She was a woman of uncommon principle. She was unafraid to speak up for what she believed was right, and to question those things she felt were wrong. She saw the Church as one that stood by its principles and held onto its values amidst a changing world. She loved the Eucharist and was struck by the communion it created not only with Christ but also with those seated around her. She had been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation just weeks before her death.
The events of September 11 led us to discuss how we both used writing as part of our grieving process. On October 4, in the last email I would receive from her, she wrote describing her own psyche as a “squirrel cage.” In writing, she said, she was letting God take over the cage and cleansing it of “pain, doubt, anger, resentment, and frustration.”
She expressed the difficulty in coming to terms with her husband Will’s death 20 years ago – a process that led her to write a book on grief.
I could identify with her sentiment of writing as therapy, often feeling that writing is one of the primary ways in which the Holy Spirit communicates with us. Writing has seen me through marital difficulties, miscarriage, surgery, tragedy, and the death of loved ones.
Dorothy would be extremely uncomfortable knowing that I was writing about her. I sit typing this with tears in my eyes. Having missed her funeral, it’s the only way I know how to grieve her loss. I hope you’ll forgive me, Dorothy.