I found out today that a very special person who touched my life passed away. I had lost touch with her over the last couple years and I missed the announcement of her passing last September. I just saw it today- I don’t know how I missed it on her Facebook page. Her name was Virginia. She was 88. She was a vibrant and active lady up until a year or two ago when she fell and hurt herself and went into assisted living. Her daughter wrote that was very hard for her to go there and then Covid hit and that was very hard for her in her decline.
Her husband, love of her life, had passed a number of before we met. She often posted about him on Facebook – it was clear she missed him very much. I picture her with him now. She loved milkshakes – a particular orange one from McDonalds I think I recall. I picture her sipping one as she sits with her beloved on a bench in heaven.
Virginia and I met not by chance. It was an act of divine intervention- and that meeting made a huge difference when I was going through a very hard time.
Two days before we met I had just discovered that I had breast cancer. I was 49. I had three young teenagers. And a wonderful husband- who from the moment we got that news and sat shellshocked on our bedroom floor as I was babbling and crying all at once- was nothing but a firm rock for me to hang on to. I had so much to live for and I was so scared. I didn’t know how to face this thing. I sunk into quite a pit of despair.
On the Sunday after that diagnosis I felt I needed to go to church to pray. I could not face the service that was going on so I went into the chapel. I wept and I prayed for help…I prayed that God put the people in my path that could help me out of despair. Many things happened as a result of this and as I recall them now I am still shocked at how the Divine listens.
After I was done praying in the chapel I felt like I could slip into the service if we went into the upper loft. As we made our way into the loft area above the crowds I heard my name called over the loud speaker. That was random I thought – how odd that I walked in as my name was being mentioned. Well maybe not so random. When I heard my name, I looked up and I saw many faces looking up towards our seats (we sat in the loft most Sunday’s- people get to know your seat patterns!)they were in the midst of prayer requests- someone had put one in for me. I still to this day don’t know who it was and it was so kind. I had posted of my diagnosis on Facebook just before we left for church that day. I really didn’t want to post anything but in my despair I honestly felt like I was being compelled to do so. I am sure the prayer request came from a friend in church who saw my post. And the Facebook posting led to so many other amazing connections that ended up helping me so much in such a bad time.
We stayed to the end of the service and we were walking to the exit of the building I saw a very tall, well dressed older woman coming in. We had never met but I had seen her in the church building before. I looked at her just to nod and say a friendly hello but she stopped and said “are you Anne Sweeney?”. I was taken aback she knew me by name and I said “yes” and she then introduced herself as Virginia N. I knew her name as she was a long time member of the church and her name came up often. She was a very well loved and admired person. I could tell that from the way people spoke about her. I was glad to be meeting her but I was in no mental shape to chat.
She began to compliment me on my writing. At the time I was writing a column for the church newsletter. I was very appreciative of her words. I had only recently put my words out into the world and I was always unsure if I was doing a decent job. Later I would find out she had been a media specialist for 41 years in the county school system and so that compliment was even more special!
I thanked her for her kind words and told her I might be taking some time off on my column as I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She just looked straight into my eyes and said she had fought breast cancer 7 years before (I think that was the number of years). I can’t remember all the words she said after that because I was in such a bad place. But I do remember not feeling so alone and connection was made. As we ended the conversation she asked if she could give me a hug. I thought that sounded like a nice thing – so we hugged. What a sweet and kind a comforting thing to do for someone you just met. That meeting was no accident!
I left the church feeling like maybe there was a way back to the light. Back to the fight I was going to face.
Virginia and I became Facebook friends and we would message each other and she would check in on me as I went through my surgery and recovery. When I was going to be facing radiation she left me a message to go to the church office where she regularly volunteered and pick up something she left for me. I was so surprised to see a basket that contained lots of wrapped goodies each numbered up to 35- the number of days of radiation. The card on front said ‘Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful…” and a note said I was to open one per day after each treatment. What a special thing to do for someone.
The gifts were sweet and simple. A comb, a magazine, a gift card, something to eat. Each day I was so happy to be able to look forward to opening one of those gifts. It lifted me during a very hard time. It let me know someone out there loved me…she didn’t know me well…but she loved her neighbor enough to just want to make a difference in their very hard day. The love is what you feel in the gift. The contents are secondary to the love. That love is what we can pass on- and pay forward.
I completed my cancer treatments and my life went on. Virginia would keep in touch with me. Messaging me asking about my kids and husband. She kept in touch when I was dealing with more surgeries for chronic pain I developed from the cancer treatments.. She always had an encouraging word for me.
By then I wasn’t attending church. My pain issues were just too severe. And I must confess to not having been a church goer these last last few years even as my pain has been dialed back from surgeries. That is something I struggling with still- not my faith but with religion- but that is for another post. So because of this I didn’t see Virginia – I only connected with her via Facebook. We messaged less and less- and I knew she was having a hard time with pain herself. I knew something happened to her and she went to assisted living to rehab and I guess she never got back to her beloved home. But she went home to be with her God who she loved so and was so faithful to – and to be with her husband and the many friends who went before her.
My heart is heavy- she passed in September but I only just found out so for me it just happened today . Virginia was a very special lady. Those who knew her- and there are many- will tell you many stories about her. She had quick wit and a great kindness. She was strong. And she reached out to help a lady she didn’t know – God had our paths cross that day- we could have just nodded to each other and exchanged a pleasant hello as I walked out of the church. And had I left the chapel and not spent the last few minutes in the church service we may have never met. But I am so very glad we did meet.
My writing -which I have struggled with in this last year or two -was a catalyst to our connecting. How she knew my face I will never know. But I am glad we spoke that day. I will never forget her kindness to me and I hope I have paid it forward – I have tried – and will continue to- though I don’t think I will ever be quite as good at it as Miss Virginia was. I wish her a peaceful rest and I thank her for the gift of love and hope she gave me during one of the biggest challenges in my life. I will never forget you Virginia.
I wish for everyone to have Virginia story.