I find it odd that I don't remember how Irene and I became friends. On the surface, we don't have much in common. She was more than fifty years older than me, truly a Senior Saint. I am overloud, a bit rambunctious, and a little bit of a trouble maker. What started us talking? It's been years. (I'm not sure how many - 6? 4? something in that range.)
Ah, that's it! My ride to church used to sit behind her, and one week she missed the service for some reason. It feels decidedly out of place to sit next to an empty pew spot when you sit in the aisle, so I scooted up one row. We hadn't talked till then, past silly small talk and her consistent and rather undeserved praise of my singing. My attendance was spotty for a few years, than I was out of state for nearly another year, but whenever I made it back she was my anchor in the congregation. She had sitten in the same place for decades, and whenever I wandered back I would sit with her again and we would catch up. (It wasn't just me, seeing Irene's bag is how everyone in that little region knew where the were "supposed to" sit!)
When I came home, our friendship became deeper. We lived through, commiserated through, and vented through many medical hoops. She had cancer, among other things. We'd share our family victories and defeats, and she inducted me as an honorary old lady. She continued to make too much of my singing, telling people they just had to sit by us and hear. I truly don't sing that well, but it makes my heart glad that she enjoyed it so much.
She had outlived four "pew buddies" and warned me the seat was cursed. I cheekily told her that no one had ever sat where I sat, that was the advantage of the wheelchair. We sat together, talked together, worshipped God together, and hurt together almost every sunday for the last year. I missed a few, and she missed a few for the same reason. Every week she missed, another of our old lady club would let us know where she was and how she was doing. This past Sunday, for the first time in a year, she didn't know. I resolved to call Irene and check up on her, but we have a trip scheduled for Weds morning, and a million things to do and I forgot.
I got a call this evening, that she passed away this afternoon.
Irene, thank you for everything. Thank you for enthusiastically welcoming me on every church visit while I was wandering the wilderness. Thank you for taking me seriously as a young crip, most folk your age don't. Thank you for enveloping me in christian friendship, heedless of our differences in culture, background, age, and experience. This is me, waving across the Jordan. I'm immensely enriched for having been able to sit and learn from you, and I wish I had made more of the opportunity. Have a good rest, you have more than earned it. When it comes time for the resurrection, I'll be looking for you. Peace.