Sunday mornings, I place my cell phone on my desk before entering the church. I figure those couple of hours in the church can be spent without being wirelessly tethered to the world.
But not last Sunday. It was an early Daylight Savings Time – March 9, to be exact. And ever since AT&T fired or shot the Time lady, I’ve been using my cell phone’s clock to coordinate myself with my calendar. So this Sunday, my phone was in my pocket throughout the liturgy. It was a good thing because it was a few minutes after services were over that my phone rang. It was my close friend, telling me his mother-in-law was on her way out. She had been battling cancer for several years and now she was in the hospital.
It was also a day that we had gone to church in only one car. So I asked Susan and Christaphor to join me out to Woodland Hills. At the hospital I found Arlene with her family huddled around her in the Intensive Care unit. One of the last times I had seen Arlene was at the TV studio – I was doing my weekly show and she was doing a promo for the Armenian Bone Registry. We discussed her cancer. We discuss her faith. It’s very interesting how God makes these meetings possible – sometimes using the most unlikely places where we can share and exchange matters of great importance. I walked away from that meeting so impressed by her attitude. She had too much to live for. She wasn’t going to let this dreaded disease get in the way. She approached life in a very big way – with much zest and love: a small lady that filled up the room with her smile and charm.
And so, in this Intensive Care unit, this small body was taking a very rough and hard beating.
It didn’t look like she was awake, but I’ve learned in all these years that it’s not our call to figure out if a patient can hear or not. So I went up to her and said, “It’s me, Der Hayr. Your Der Hayr.” I’m not really sure what gave me that extra bit of confidence to personalize myself to her life, but I felt it was right.
We all stood around the bed, holding hands. I began the Lord’s prayer and then the Gospel passage. I read from John 14:
- “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
The emotions in the room were running high. A lot of tears, you wouldn’t expect anything less: a life was being cut short. I followed Arlene’s daughter and her husband into the waiting room. We began talking about the twist of life and fate. We were hitting on some of the big issue of life when a cousin came up to us and said, “You’ve got to come.”
We walked back into the room and there was Arlene, at peace. She wasn’t breathing. The breath had left her body exactly a minute since hearing the Gospel message. Her suffering had ended. She was at peace.
I know we were all moved and stunned. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” says God and certainly, the trouble had left the room. Her peace was touching each of us.
There are times in our lives when things just work. This was one of those. Arlene was leaving an incredible message to all of us. She was waiting for this final blessing – she was squaring things with her Maker and at the same time letting everyone know that at the end of the day, this was the ultimate reconciliation one needs to make in life.
As her motionless body lay there, I thought about the last words she heard, “I go to prepare a place for you… I am the way, the truth and the life…” She heard these words with her most treasured possessions standing all around her. She left this world at peace, leaving behind the pain, the suffering and the disease. She received a blessing sure, but at the same time each of us in that room knew that there was something greater happening here. We were blessed by this experience.
As a priest, I find a very profound point of equilibrium – where we give and it comes back to us in many different forms. In all of these variations we find the presence of God peaking at us through the thin veils of human experience, touching us – almost shaking us up – to reconnect to our humanity.
Today was the funeral. I went wantingly. I wanted to be there because it was a miracle that touched me. In the filth and disgust of something called cancer, a beautiful expression was blossoming.
I spoke about the angel Arlene. An angel is a messenger and Arlene was that angel that brought us the message: love never dies. She loved, she was loved and in her relatively short life of 59 years, she lead a very full existence. Her life was one which touched others.
At times like this we use some thoughtless terms such as paying our “last respects.” Or she “succumbed” to the disease. Or she “lost the battle” to cancer. With people like this, there cannot be a “last respect.” Honoring a person like Arlene is to live the example of the life she lived – more than a positive attitude, she had an attitude of love. She cared for and touched others. How dare we end it for her by saying she lost or succumbed to anything? Arlene was a victor, not a victim. Anyone who loves is a winner, because in return she’s gained all of eternity. She has reconciled with the ultimate force of the universe. She is one with God.
We all have a certain number of years – some get only a few, others many and still others get an over abundance. 10, 50, 80 or 100, its really doesn’t matter how many – sure life is sweet and nice, but the real measure is in how and in what way those years are filled. It’s something we all know, but when a life like Arlene’s touches us, it’s just one more opportunity for us to fortify our understanding of the power of love in our lives.
May God rest her soul. I stand today in thanksgiving for having known this very special woman.
Matt. 15: 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Thoughts on the passing of Arlene Titizian (1948-2008)