“Memento mori”

“Sonia died last Thursday.” A guest, who had been her companion for the past several years, spoke to me with resignation in the backyard at Manna House.

“I knew it was coming,” he said, “She’d been sick you know for a while.”

Some five years ago Sonia had a stroke. But she was stubborn. She persistently worked through rehab to where she could walk again. She was tough and resilient.

Sonia had a big personality, lots of good sass. She held her own on the streets. She did not take an insult or a slight quietly. At her best, Sonia had a boisterous spirit, a passion for life about her, a quick wit and a sense of humor.

But in the last year or so she began to lose weight. Never big to begin with, she became increasingly frail. Her sass became somewhat subdued, but never went away.

“I don’t like what’s happening to me” she told me once, “this ain’t right.”

She knew death was coming, but she was not going to go quietly; that was not her style.

I do not remember the last time Sonia came to Manna House. As she became increasingly ill we simply saw less of her. Her companion gave occasional updates. None of those were particularly encouraging even though he would always end with, “She’s not giving up.”

Now he shared with me what he remembered of her before her illness came.
“We had a lot of good times. Those are gone now. She’s gone.”

I shared my sorrow at her death, and that I would keep her in my prayers.

“Thanks,” he said, and he walked away to quietly share the news with others in the backyard.

Sonia’s death hung in the air, as people remembered her, mourned her passing, and offered condolences.

Somehow an old Latin phrase came into my thoughts. “Memento mori” which means, “remember that you must die.”

Many years ago, my novice master, Fr. Alfred, when covering the Rule of St. Benedict with us monks in training shared that Latin phrase as part of his commentary on a line in Chapter Four of the Rule that states, “Remember to keep death before your eyes daily.”

For Benedict, the reminder of death’s reality is a reminder of what is important in life. A life well lived is ordered by love, by compassion, by a simplicity of life that affirms our dignity is in our being made in the image of God. We are to live with a faith in God, not in our possessions, our power over others, or our pathetic attempts to stave off vulnerability.

I thought of Sonia who in her death reminded me of something important about life, including her own life. Each of our guests comes as a gift from God, and in that respect, Sonia was no different than the hundreds of others who have come over the past fourteen years. Yet, Sonia also brought her own distinctive gifts. She brought her unique self to Manna House, in all of her complexity and hopes, sorrows and dreams. She brought her sassy spirit. And thank God she did.

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