Thursday, August 22, 2013

For Diane White

Read enough of the Bible and you notice how concerned God is with the care of and justice for all defenseless people, but especially aliens, widows and orphans. Orphans, usually called the fatherless, are mentioned more than 40 times in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament books of law and the prophets. In Psalm 68 God is called the “Father of the fatherless.” He certainly functioned as loving Heavenly Father to Diane and she in turn loved him back.

Diane Murphy was born at Pearl Harbor and her father Larry died in the Second World War. She and 2 of her siblings were taken in by the best friend of her father, Chief Petty Officer Frank Lanham and his wife Anna. They moved to Oakland, California where her foster father worked at the Naval Air Station at Alameda. As in Hawaii there was water, which was great because Diane loved to swim. She was so good she was actually scouted for the Olympics.

It was on the Almeda base that Diane Murphy met Arthur White. They were married in 1961 and their son Don was born exactly 9 months later. They moved to New Mexico where their daughter Laura was born in 1965. In 1966 Arthur's work took him to Australia, and Diane and the kids followed. Again there was water to swim in and Diane loved the country. When Arthur suffered a foot injury at work, Diane went to work picking tomatoes. She was always a hard worker.

But Diane didn't just work. Besides swimming, she loved to sing and dance. She was also a published poet and writer. She researched the events surrounding her father's death. At the time, the circumstances were a secret because he died at the Battle of Tassafaronga. He was one of the 125 men on the USS Pensacola who were killed when a Japanese torpedo set her oil tanks on fire, exploding her torpedoes, machine gun ammunition and the 8 inch projectiles of her number 3 turret. Diane also found out that her father was particularly beloved, because he was the ship's mailman, and knew everyone on the ship as well as many of the natives.

The Whites returned to New Mexico in 1971. Diane became a Nurse's Aide at Clovis High Plains Hospital. She studied and became a Licensed Practical Nurse, a profession she followed for more than 30 years. One day a patient was dying and Diane asked another nurse to cover her patients as she sat with the man in his final moments, holding his hand. Eventually that became a specialty of Diane's, sitting with the dying. This was long before the hospice movement became widespread. She even baptized a dying man named Diesel who asked her to. She knew that any Christian could baptize a dying person if they were willing. Another thing empowering her to do so was the fact that she was an associate of the Order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston.

Diane was a cradle Catholic. She would speak again and again of the tropical trees and the untropically habited nuns of Sacred Heart convent school in Pearl Harbor. She went to Holy Names and Holy Cross High School in Oakland. In Clovis she attended Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I came to know Diane when she came to live with her daughter Laura, a former coworker of mine. My wife Julie and I would visit when Laura was out of town. Julie would make great meals for her and at Diane's request, I would anoint her with oil and give her communion, though she knew I was an Episcopal and not a Roman Catholic priest. She knew we served the same Lord.

Diane was always happy. She was surrounded by animals, which she loved--cats and birds and hermit crabs. She could look out the large sliding glass doors at the water. She could watch TV and read her Bible and say her rosary. And she was with her daughter.

She made new friends here in the Keys. And though her memory was impaired by her disease, she remembered them, even those, like me, whom she only saw occasionally. Thus in her final illness and moments, she knew that she was surrounded by those who loved her.

And now we enter into the paradox of grieving as Christians. We miss Diane: her smile, her sweet disposition, her joy in being with people. And yet we know we should be happy for her. It is rather like having a loved one go on a long voyage. You are happy for them because they are off on an amazing journey and a much needed rest from the trials of this life. And yet, because you will not see them again for a long time, you are sad.

We do have memories and those are a comfort and an immortality of sorts. But they are tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that no new memories will be forthcoming. This chapter on our life with her is over. And so once again happiness and sadness are entwined. We mourn.

And that's OK. Our Lord Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. And he knew that he was going to bring him back. But seeing his sisters Mary and Martha and all their friends crying, Jesus could not restrain himself. Perhaps he flashed back to the day Joseph, the man who raised him as a father, died. It's OK to weep and mourn because Jesus did. It's just that, as Paul said, we do not mourn like those who are without hope.

And that hope is no doubt what sustained Diane when she lost her dad. The fact that just because this chapter is over it doesn't mean that there won't be another. Every week in the creed we say we believe in the resurrection of the dead. Because that is God's basic modus operandi. He is the God of the living. He resurrected his Son. He will resurrect his wounded creation. And he will populate it with his people, in new and improved bodies, our same software, debugged, in new hardware, as John Polkinghorne put it.

Our hope in Christ is living with him forever in a new creation. Diane will love that. There will be singing. Diane will really love that. And it says in Revelation 21 that a river will run through the new Jerusalem. Diane will not only love that but knowing her, she'll be swimming in it, enjoying the new earth as she did this one. And when we get there, I bet her first words will be, “Come on in. The water's fine.”

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