A Death in the Family

by Whitney Fullerton, originally posted on the Lisieux Facebook page

We lost one of our women this past Wednesday. For privacy reasons we will refer to her as Amanda in this post. One of the most interesting things I have found out about Amanda since her passing is that she loved to read. A close friend told us she would read constantly, even in the dark after everyone went to sleep, that she’d “be over there reading in the dark with a little nightlight.” At the end of her life she was sleeping in a pickup truck in someone’s backyard and occasionally sleeping on a friend’s floor. These are five different people’s experiences with her over the course of the past two years:

“I have been with Lisieux now for four to five months. Amanda was one of our core women that we served every week. She had some unique health issues that we provided help with. I have to admit she wasn’t one of my favorite women for a while because I watched Sandra go out of her way to accommodate her and she never really showed much gratitude. On New Year’s Eve, we had hot meals for the women. As I was driving down Summer, I saw Amanda and pulled over to offer her one. She walked over and smiled really big and spoke very kindly. She was truly grateful for the food. About a week later, myself and two other volunteers went out to serve the women. Sandra stayed back at the drop-in center. We ran into Amanda and once again she was all smiles, very cheerful, and outwardly grateful. That’s when I realized that she was never ungrateful, she was just comfortable with Sandra and didn’t feel the need to wear a mask around her or put up appearances. She could be exactly where she was without fear of judgment or criticism. That’s how we are with close family—whether blood family or the family we choose. We can be real with them. We can show our ugliness and darkness and we are still loved, and it’s the same way with God.”

“I remember one night when we used to park and get to hang out with the women. We hadn’t seen Amanda in a little while and we had been wondering how she was. She walked up that night and her hair was done and she was almost glowing and she was in such high spirits. She was talkative and excited to not be using anymore, you could tell how much of a difference it had made. I was so proud and excited for her.”

“I’ve known Amanda for about 18-20 months. I remember the time, before the pandemic, when she came to the circle and I didn’t recognize her. She was not using. She said she was living with a man who cared about her and for her. She asked if we had any paperback books with us. We didn’t but we told her we would bring some. She stayed healthy for a few weeks; then we began to see the decline. Much later she told us her cancer had returned. She had health challenges because of her first fight with cancer and this time, we could see that it was heavily affecting her. The drug use increased and then the overdoses. She spent some time in jail and called us when she first got there to help with personal needs that had been caused by the cancer. Jail would have provided for her needs but not in the same way we did. She counted on us. We never know why someone is stuck in the world of the streets. But we know that she didn’t say one day, ‘I think I’ll go do drugs and live on the streets.’ We know the struggles of the women we serve and they are all different. Sometimes, the struggles are too much. We don’t know the cause of her death and we could speculate all day. But whatever it was, it was never Amanda’s fault.”

“While making a left on a side street two Thursdays ago, we immediately saw Amanda on the corner, waving as she approached us and smiling warmly. Whitney and Caroline introduced us, as Amanda graciously made eye contact and gave me another grin, topped with a ‘hello.’ Caroline gave her a meal, Whitney engaged her about several things she might need (socks, a scarf, pants, a belt, gloves, etc.), and I quietly reminisced on the only two beautiful things I knew about her thus far: her name and her smile, both of which possessed something marvelous. As humans, we smile by nature before we ever learn to speak by nurture, and a name can never be taken away, even when almost all else has been stolen or lost. And perhaps because we share these things (and so much else) in common, this stands as one reason among many for why we must be and stay present among the women we serve—’I am my sister’s keeper.'”

“On Christmas Eve, I joined Whitney and Sandra to drive around the neighborhood and hand out Christmas care packages to the women. It was my first time volunteering in this way, and Amanda was the first person we saw. We pulled over and I got out to give Amanda her bag. I gave her a big hug and wished her Merry Christmas. She was so appreciative of the gift and seemed surprised and happy to receive a hug. When I got back in the van, I found out that due to Covid restrictions, I wasn’t supposed to get out of the van, much less give women hugs. Given Amanda’s recent passing, I’m so glad my desire to share love trumped any fear of a virus.”

That hug could have been the last loving touch that Amanda experienced before she passed and it doesn’t feel to me that it was coincidental.

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