One of the women I most respect passed away shortly after noon yesterday. I have known her since 1991, and for over two decades she was like a second mother to me. She lived in the Rocky Mountains, and during three weeks each year, she was my grounded companion.
She was grounded because the place at which she worked did not allow her much freedom to get away. But she was also grounded because she was, well, grounded. She was my companion because every morning and early evening I would come to her office and we would talk. Sometimes for hours. She grounded me.
I came to Colorado alone every winter to snowshoe. Every summer I came with my family, and every fall I came with my co-workers for a larger retreat held in the region. Occasionally I would sneak in a fourth trip late fall in the fall, always alone. I wrote most of my first book there, and a fair amount of my next six books. The space was conducive to creative writing. It wasn’t just the mountains. It was also the space she created with her gentle warmth.
I hiked all day and came back to the warmth of the fire each evening. The picture above was taken not far from her place on one of those winter hikes. In the evening we would sit by the fire and talk. Her early adult years had not been easy, but she found herself when she headed to the mountains. She tried to retire when she turned 65 or so, but quickly became bored. Besides, the mountains kept calling. So she returned to the mountains and her gift of hospitality.
Over the years she came to know a lot about me. I talked about my bouts with depression, my struggles as a parent, particularly when my children were in high school and college. She was a mom and understood, offering advice when requested, listening attentively otherwise.
I talked about the work opportunities I had to become the senior pastor of more than one megachurch, and why I did not feel called to the position. She understood. She listened as I talked about my struggles with evangelical Christianity and the frustration of working in the political world of organized religion. She understood that too.
After we moved to Colorado, Cathy and I would see her when we headed to the mountains to hike. We spent one Christmas afternoon with her family, when they all came up to visit because she had to work that day. The next year was the last time I saw her, though my trips to the mountains continued.
I wrote and told her I was transitioning, but never heard back. Last summer I hiked with one of her former co-workers who stayed in regular touch with her. He said yes, she had gotten the letter. He said he would ask if it was all right if I stopped by for a visit. It turned out it was not all right.
I have abundant stores of grace for this Godly woman who loved so many so well. I understand how difficult it was for her to see me as anyone other than Paul. She was one of my two most elderly friends. She needed her memories intact, and I respected that need. It was a great loss.
Her former co-worker now owns the business at which she kept working until six or seven months ago. He wrote yesterday to tell me of her passing. He said, “Love was at the center and core of her being.” She was the kind of woman who saw love at the center and core of every being.
I never know what to do with moments like this. It will not be possible for me to be at her wake or funeral. I have become a little too well known to sneak in and sneak out unnoticed. I also know that some of her family members would be uncomfortable if they knew I was there. I respect their space and need to grieve without distractions. Not being able to show my respects in person is a second loss. You don’t think about these kinds of realities when you transition. They always come upon you like a sudden storm.
I am grateful for having known her, and for having had the opportunity to be blessed by her presence as we sat by the fireplace, appreciating life’s blessings and struggles. More than just about anybody I know, she lived well the poignant words of Dag Hammarskjold:
“For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.”