Freudian Slips: Nuntheless

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

October 13, 2005

Nuntheless

"But it’s morning. I have been given another day. Another day to hear and read and smell and walk and love and glory. I am alive for another day. I think of those who aren’t." –Hugh Prather
Sister Sue 1940-2005
One of the hardest things about life is saying goodbye to it. Mercifully, many of us leave this life unexpectedly like a bump in the night but there are others who must know the intolerable cruelty of when their time is up. This is the bitter truth regarding terminal illness.
This past August, the news of a co-worker’s illness spread almost as fast as her pancreatic cancer. Sister Sue made her terminal diagnosis public by hanging a colorfully crayoned banner outside her office which read, “I’m dying to leave this place.” Some colleagues questioned the peculiar advertisement but nothing could be further from the candid truth for a terminally ill person. Sister Sue was a hard-nosed nun cut from a different cloth. She served the Lord and others. To her credit, Sister served every population as if the world’s salvation could be crafted from her two hands. Sister Sue pulled no punches but an outstanding sense of humor softened her giant blows. Her quick wit and habit of creating levity around the office was much appreciated. I didn’t prescribe to her religion nor did I always embrace the prudence she imparted on others but human compassion should overrule personal differences any day of the week. This was more than any day of the week. This was the end and staff all sensed the precious time left with Sister Sue, who had already planned her interment and settled her estate.
On Tuesday August 2, 2005, Sister agreed to go out for Chinese food with a group of 25 co-workers. The spotlight was never her attraction so I wondered how she felt needing to be driven to the restaurant. I watched her lose her balance getting out of the car. It was the first beat I have ever seen her miss in the many years that I have known her. Sister Sue sat at the head of the grand table and devilishly ordered the unhealthiest menu item. I sat close enough to her to be within listening distance. Wearing a patch for pain, she nuntheless beamed radiance with either a brave front or a religious resolve. During the luncheon, Sister never once lost her smile. She joked lavishly to the surprise of many in her company. She even dipped her spoon into her water glass and sprayed holy water around the table. I basked in her contentment while others seemed borderline offended. She spoke fondly of the hospice agency whittling her 18 different medications down to a manageable few.
Sister Sue commented, “When you are terminal, you don’t have to worry about your cholesterol or blood pressure. Terminal cancer has a sadistic way of curing lesser ills.”
Absent was any hint of bitterness in her voice. Irony begets that the person with the least time on Earth would wait the longest for a meal at a luncheon in her honor. But it happened if anyone took time to notice. After we dined, people began to recount fond stories of Sister Sue’s dedication to her job. Sister seemed to cherish the memories.
“I am being euologized while I’m still kicking. Glory. Glory. They should do it this way more often.”
After the meal, the fortune cookies arrived tableside. I wondered to a fault what particular fortune a terminally ill person would wind up with. My prayers were answered. Nobody had long to wait for Sister Sue's awe-inspiring reading of the fortune aloud:
GOOD THINGS ARE BEING SAID ABOUT YOU.”
Sister might have called the inscription on the fortune cookie as God’s word. I had the good fortune of knowing her and listening to the good things being said about her. The sadness could be seen on the faces of people in attendance because this was bon voyage, the Last Supper if you will. Sister Sue brought grace to this table.
Later, we circulated a personal diary through the office, a Book of Life if you will. Not knowing what the next day would bring, I said my goodbyes to her with a hug and a Hallmark greeting card. I had trouble even finding a greeting card that would fit the morbidity of the occasion. Comforting words were that much harder to find. It seemed counterintuitive to give a greeting card for a curtain call. What do you say to someone who has a death sentence? I conjured up the writer and humility in me.
Sister, There should be a governing law in the universe that any Good Samaritan, who has given her life by blessing a helping profession, should be able to retire by their own choosing. Alas, the gift of life is not to be fully understood until the hereafter. I wish you inner peace as you are about to embark on your unexpected journey. Love, Joe Tornatore
Wednesday August 3, 2005 was Sister’s last day on the job. Several staff helped pack up her cluttered office. I supplied manpower. Others supplied those in need with tissues. Sister seemed to be almost cleansing herself as she rid herself of the paperwork that constitutes a bureaucracy. She gave the shredder and trashcans an incredible workout that afternoon. She seemed to exact some sort of irony while shredding documents that had gone from classified to inconsequential given the circumstances.
“Dying is out of this world, isn’t it?” she commented.
“That is what I’m hoping for, Sister.” I answered faithfully. “To leave this place.”
“We all will.”
So she indiscriminately gave away dictionaries, supplies, and mementos to anyone bearing need. I made the following careless observation after loading a borrowed pickup truck full of her furniture and personal possessions.
“Sister, do you realize you’re still leaving with more than what was left to me in my divorce?”
She said, “Material things don't matter. They certainly don’t matter to me now. I will donate what is being hauled out of here.”
With her office purged, Sister Sue gave a few of us the wink-wink then did a disappearing act. She returned wearing her nun’s habit and made a surprise procession around the office. Since I brought in the only camera, I got hired as the photographer in a closing scene. I assure you that preparedness did not deserve the penalty of collected sighs and stares. As Sister Sue made a procession through the office, I found myself the unwitting trailing historian. Sister Sue encouraged her colleagues to pose and take pictures with her for prosperity. Time and time again my camera shutter clicked and captured her soul. She joked about holding an autopsy in one hand and a death certificate in another. Like an old school Catholic nun, Sister carried a two foot ruler in one hand. Her soul and humor were everywhere. I cringed making it a bigger production than necessary but a parade was the manner in which she wanted to leave us. It was her right of passage.
Then came the time for Sister Sue to leave us…
“Hercules, I want you to help me up into the pickup truck. I don’t think I can make it alone.” A few colleagues walked her outside. I followed and opened the vehicle door.
“Grab my habit, Joe.”
I stood motionless for a split second wondering how to politely lift a nun from the derrière.
“Don’t be shy. I got to get into the truck. Grab my habit so I can lift my leg.”
I moved in close. “Okay, here we go.”
“Has a nun ever asked you to grab her habit?” she joked.
I mused, “Not in this lifetime.”
She settled into the pickup truck, her earthly possessions now stacked in the flat bed. I kissed her ashen cheek. God puts us in strange places for a reason.
Sister Sue then whispered words I will never forget, as if she knew I would be writing this story for those to better remember her by.
“Keep writing.” she mouthed.
A fire truck with sirens ablaze came roaring out of the fire house across the street.
“A fitting send off.” Sister remarked. “Follow that fire truck.”
God put out Sister Sue’s fire on October 8, 2005.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Erin said...

What a beautiful and touching post about an obviously amazing woman.

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous marcus said...

It is hard to literally say good-bye to some one you know is the type that touches every person they meet. We are thankful anyway for the time that we did have with such a person, and how knowing them surely enriched our lives.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous et said...

Beautifully written essay! She knew, as well as others, that you have what it takes to become a literary genius.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Merci said...

Thanks, Joe, for posting this! I lifted a copy of the photo; hope you don't mind! I was not there for those last 2 days, and I did not get to say goodbye in person. I sent a card a couple of weeks ago. Hope she saw it.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Zelda Parker said...

What a gripping tale. She would be pleased.

6:54 AM  
Blogger madcapmum said...

My first piano teachers were nuns. They were incredibly tough, humour-filled ladies cut from the same cloth as this lady. Thanks for writing about a grande dame.

11:46 AM  
Blogger PaxRomano said...

Joe,
Simply put; that was the most beautiful and touching thing you've ever written...

7:54 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

thanks everyone.

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She was,and still is,my mom,(3 kids, 7 grandchildren). Her life story is just as amazing as the snapshot caught by Joe's keyboard. Terrific write-up. Rick

6:40 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Rick,
you being her son, that means a lot to me.

9:27 PM  
Blogger E said...

One of your best, Joe. I feel like I know her, just a little.

8:02 PM  

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