Facing The Facts/4

Reminiscence from Sister Marian Cowan, Mev’s spiritual director

It was with deep pain that I recall the two calls in which Mev informed me of her brain tumor and subsequently asked me to be present with her in California for the surgery.  I was humbled once again to be one of the few persons Mev really wanted to bring out to be with her.  I am so grateful to have been included.  We celebrated Mass, we prayed, we waited, we walked and we waited some more.  Not until Mev had come through the surgery and we saw her sitting up and talking were we able to leave her and return to our own cities again.  

During the time that Mev and Mark continued to live in Berkeley, we chatted a little more often, and I was always filled with sadness afterward. Then they moved to Saint Louis.  This gave me greater opportunity to see Mev and visit with her.  I traveled a lot during that time, and I was also assisting another friend as she moved through cancer, so I was not able to see Mev as often as I desired. Mev’s disease continued to take its toll on her body, so that each time I saw her, I was shocked at the progress of physical debilitation.  Yet her spirit was radiant, as always.  This does not mean she did not feel all the emotions proper to her condition.  She did. And Mark and others helped her to express them.  For most of November and December, I was at last able to take a regular time to sit with Mev and assist in her care.  This was a privilege for me.

My other friend became very ill while she was in Arkansas, and she died on November 10. I gave myself a week to deal with this reality before again trying to be with Mev. I became so frustrated when each time I went to the house I was met with the note [sign on the front door] asking folks to come back later.  I felt a great urgency to see Mev and to spend some quality time with her.  Mark responded to the notes I left, telling me to come on in the next time, which I did.  This was the day that is impressed in my memory for all time.

When I arrived, Pat Geier from Louisville was sitting on the couch with Mev, who could no longer form words and whose right side was now paralyzed.  But Mev knew what she thought and felt and did her best to communicate.  She was delighted to see me, and we tried to do a little sharing.  After a while Mev began making a movement with her head, laying it down on her left shoulder and closing her eyes. She would then lift her head, open her eyes and fasten them on mine, asking me with her look to grasp the meaning of this gesture that she kept repeating.  It dawned on me that she was trying to talk about her death.  So I asked her, “Mev, are you trying to talk about your death?”  She smiled assent with her eyes, nodded her head vigorously and said, “Ahhh.”  Still fastening her eyes on mine, she implored me with her gaze to go on.  I ventured, “Mev, are you telling us you want to die?”  She looked so relieved and smiled as she threw up her left hand in assent, again with a firm nod and “Ahhhhhh!”  I looked at her with all the love in my heart and responded, “I want you to die, too, Mev.”  Mev’s reaction to this was so embracing that it left no doubt in my mind, or in Pat’s, that we had finally got to the heart of the matter with her.  She threw up her left hand, looked extremely relieved and sighed her “Ahhh” as if to say, “At last someone understands.”

At this point, I looked at Pat, and we realized that this was a moment of profound significance that the three of us shared.  We continued to talk a little bit.  And Pat brought us back to the conversation we had just had.  She (or I, I do not remember) asked Mev if she needed at this point to have people tell her she could go to God whenever she was ready.  Mev nodded and rang her bell to summon Mark.  She indicated to me that she wanted me to repeat for Mark what had just transpired.  I did and was very touched with Mark’s response: “Oh, Mevvie, I can’t tell you I want you to die, but I can tell you I am ready for you to die.”  Mev seemed relieved and even more loving of Mark for his willingness to let her go.

Hardly had we finished this when a neighbor came over. She sat down on the floor and was happy as usual to be there.  Mark asked me to repeat what I had just told him.  Mev agreed.  When I did so, the neighbor was shocked and said, “Marian, you can’t expect us all to be at this point.  A lot of us aren’t ready to let Mev go.”  I glanced at Mev and spoke for her, saying, “It is Mev’s life we are talking about.  It is unfair to ask her to wait until everyone is ready to let her go.  We are the ones who need to make an adjustment, not Mev.” Looking again at Mev,   I saw her confirm what I had just said.  This was one of the hardest days and yet one of most blessed days of my life.  I was so grateful that Pat had been there with me.  We were all quite spent by this time.

A few days later, the community of support gathered around Mev, and we all spoke to her, giving her our permission to leave us through the doors of death.  I will never forget the sight of Mev in her father’s arms afterward, just sitting on the couch and resting in the union  of wills with that of God.

–Mark Chmiel, The Book of Mev, Part 2.

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