The angels have beckoned me from heaven’s open door,
And I don’t feel at home in this world any more.
A person can live a short life and die, and yet after the passing of many years their memory lingers and will linger until we ourselves die.
This is true of my cousin Mary Catherine. It was about sixty four years ago that she died. She was about seven years of age and I was about a year younger. You can figure that I am an old man now, yet memories of her are still with me, and her death was a turning point in my life, little boy that I was. One of my last vivid memories of her was of a quiet summer afternoon. I had asked her to join in a pretend game with me.
She was to be a pioneer lady and I was to be an Indian who had captured her. My ideas of what Indians were like were pretty vague as you can Imagine. I had the impression from watching movies that they tied people up and danced around them while making whooping sounds with their hands over their mouths. That is what I intended to enact with Mary Catherine’s help.
I asked her to stand against a tree while I circled her, winding a length of clothesline as I went. She silently obeyed and stood still while as I began my dance. I wound the rope loosely as I began, it was, after all, merely a token imprisonment. But before a had made more than a few circuits I looked up to see Mary Catherine standing stock still, unprotesting, but with tears in her eyes. I was amazed at her response and felt so remorseful. I stopped the game immediately and unwound the rope as I told her how sorry I was. It was only a game, I had not meant to make her cry. But the damage had been one. She remained silent as she stepped away from the tree. She was not the least angry with me, but had been traumatized by the experience, all of which had taken place within seconds. She returned to her home, just a few houses away. I was so sorry, so downcast, for having caused her to be so sad and upset. I could not fathom what I had done to cause so much sorrow. I had not realized what a meek and gentle soul she was, how fragile her emotions were.
I was accustomed to playing with kids who were assertive and tough minded. I usually ended up as a victim in our games of pretense. The one time I had tried to reverse the roles I had grieved this sweet girl.
I hate to write this, but the last time I saw Mary Catherine she was lying in a casket. It was not very long after the event I have just described to you. She had developed the classic symptoms of appendicitis. A doctor had dismissed the clear warning signs and diagnosed her condition as constipation. He prescribed a laxative popular at the time. She developed a fever and abdominal swelling. Soon she became delirious. She called out to her mother “Make her stop hitting me”, referring to her older sister, who was heartbroken at these words. Before she could be taken to the hospital for surgery her appendix burst and she died from massive infection. It did not have to be this way. Even in those days death could have been avoided with prompt diagnosis and action.
How awful that my two most vivid memories of Mary Catherine are the day I made her cry, and the last time I saw her at her funeral. I remember her mother smiling as she used to comb out her long hair and braid ir. That is how I remember her on that last day, with her hair braided that way.
I said her death was a turning point for me. It was, in a way, the end of naive childhood. Death had intruded into my world. But along with the sorrow of death, another thought came into view, the hope of heaven.
My Christian education was rudimentary, to say the least. My church taught morality, good behavior, I suppose you could say. But I did hear the good news about heaven. I knew almost nothing of the heaven of the Bible, but I did know there was no suffering there, no more death, and it became a very desirable place for me. I thought of Mary Catherine in heaven and I wanted to be there with her.
From those days forward I have longed to go to heaven. Long experience has shown me that the world, the place that so many love, is highly over rated. No matter what happiness a person finds in the world, time and death will eventually take away. If I am to invest in the future let it be one that does not end. I have lost a number of those I have loved. I have had to learn that we cannot hold on to them down here. I came to have faith in Jesus, who has taken away the sting of death.
I am still working on my walk, still learning about the faith. But it all began for me with the death of that sweet and gentle soul, Mary Catherine.