Full Circle

Life has a way of coming full circle, as I was reminded while attending a funeral recently. We were celebrating the life of Clara Thorp, who’d represented goodness-on-earth for 92 years.

I met Clara decades ago when I interviewed her for a newspaper story. She was retiring after a sterling career at the local nursing home. A single mom, she’d started as an aide, got her nursing degree, and devoted her life to the elderly, the dying. Hers was one of those stories you relish writing.

As with so many others whose stories I wrote, Clara and I went on to live our separate lives. She reportedly enjoyed her retirement, though she continued to help out at the nursing home when needed. A stone marker was placed in the home’s lawn to honor her. That old building outlived its usefulness and is boarded up now, the stone marker removed. Yet legacies of love outlast even stone.

Full circle, I met up again with Clara late last year. Her final passage in this life was spent at an adult group home, where I visit most days to read aloud to my centenarian friend Elizabeth. Many—not all—of the residents are living with neurological loss: dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc. One of Clara’s daughters had copied that newspaper story from long ago and posted it on the refrigerator at the group home. It served as a daily reminder that Clara, who may’ve been confused and lost in the present, had lived a full and meaningful life of service. It had to impress those caring for Clara to know that she’d once provided the same kind of care for others and did so from her heart.

I, too, was grateful to reread that story, to remind myself of the impressive woman I’d interviewed all those years before. Though still tall and slender, the Clara I re-met was a shadow of herself. Sometimes though, a light glimmered through that shadow. Occasionally, as I read to Elizabeth, Clara would shuffle past, pause, and stoop down to straighten the blanket that covered Elizabeth’s feet.

In death, Clara left behind a large and loving family, a crowd of friends who turned out for her memorial, and something else. A vision of heaven. I usually eschew descriptions that  mere mortals try to offer of heaven or the after-life. Eternity is a promise and a mystery. I’m willing to wait for that mystery to unfold. And yet Jack Schneider, who officiated at Clara’s memorial, offered a vision that I embrace. He reflected on the people whom Clara had tended as they approached death’s door: the many—the frail and perhaps the fearful—whom she’d comforted at the end. What a crowd of hands there are, ready to lovingly welcome Clara home, Jack concluded.

And will the circle be unbroken by and by, Lord, by and by?

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