The battle is o’er, the victory won! On this past September 29th, my beloved and only sister passed away from an aggressive colorectal cancer, which eventually spread all the way up her spine, making the final push of her well fought race an arduous one. And a victorious one! Emily lives now in the glory of her triumph, won by Jesus, who united to her intimately in her many and particular sufferings and now unites with her forever in Resurrection joy!
In her final weeks, she was the Suffering Christ. As our Dad said, “Jesus needed a sister.” She was pierced with His Wounds and is now shining in splendor.
I have poignant moments of missing my sister and with such tenderness, I feel her so close! “If only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17) She is glorified with Jesus! And we who suffered beside her, also feel her rising. We rise beside her! It truly feels as though the part of my heart that is Em-shaped, is now in Heaven. And she is with me here, even more closely. I have a direct link, and she said to keep her busy, so I sure am!
On October 3rd, we celebrated Em’s funeral Mass, her Homecoming! Sacred Heart Church was packed. 500-700 people came to celebrate this humble, sweet warrior, so well loved. Emily’s heart, now united with the Sacred Heart, beamed indescribable LOVE and JOY into that place. It felt more like a wedding. And it was! My sister’s Eternal Wedding Banquet. As our beautiful Mom said, “I have kissed my daughter off for her Honeymoon! How could I be sad?!”
I would like to share with you my eulogy for my beloved sister. May her heart touch yours, and yes, keep this new little saint busy! She loves you!
Emily and I would always tell one another we were so glad we were the only 2 sisters, so we could say to one another unabashedly, “You’re my favorite sister in the whole wide world!” And she is. She’s my best, most favorite sister. I love her with all my heart. I could never do her justice in words. All I can do is pour out my heart, so full of Emily’s love and beauty, so full from these last few weeks so closely by her side. She poured it ALL out, every last drop and breath in LOVE. She had nothing left to give, and if she had, she would’ve given that too. She gave us LOVE. All LOVE.
Emily’s life was fraught with profound suffering from day one. Birth defect, newborn surgery, and 9 proceeding surgeries throughout her life, a deep battle with depression and anxiety, heartbreak, loss, loneliness, heart ache, a penetrating yearning for intimate and forever romantic love, and all her hidden sufferings.
But what Em did with this suffering is what makes her shine so brightly to us. She LOVED. She LOVED and she LOVED and she LOVED right from her tender ache into ours. Selflessly and with her whole heart. Her eyes could pierce softly right into your core, making each of us feel so seen where we ache for it the most, loving everything natural about each one of us. She had a way of entering the spot in you that it seems only God knows, that you feel when you’re quiet and alone. She was there. Seeing and knowing and getting it. Just by her gaze across the table or a wink. Em caught all the little moments, especially the vulnerable ones. If what you said went unnoticed, she’d catch it and send you that warmest smile that touched the sweet spot.
I’ve always felt that she’s with me in every moment, living my life beside me…all the sweet moments, hurting moments, dear encounters, meeting funny people. Sometimes I’d tell her about it, sometimes I wouldn’t need to. Sometimes we experienced it together. For years I told Em about a woman walking around Lancaster with a killer mullet. Em loved it and would take joy in my next siting. One day, I got to surreptitiously snap a photo of this rockstar from my car. I showed it to Em, and we reveled in this lady totally rockin’ her style: business in the front, party in the back.
Em helped me be more present, more still, to slow down enough to see and hear and notice…and laugh. Em had this way of appreciating all the little things like fried ice cream and heart shaped stones, all the little moments, the little people, the underdogs, the ones that could slip between the cracks. Em had her heart attuned to the silent cries. Her heart was open and even sweetly seeking the lonely spot in each person that she could touch just a little bit with love and her darling wit. She made friends with every cashier and clerk, every waiter. She treated every single person with respect.
Two weekends ago, when we were all gathered around Em in her hospice bed, she spoke to us. Very important things were on her heart and she wanted to share them with us. She said, “I kept wanting a romantic, intimate love. I kept thinking I didn’t have it, didn’t have what so many people have… but love is everywhere! It’s in the man crossing the street, who smiles at you. Intimacy is everywhere.” She told us to “tap into the treasure chest of love in our big family. There’s so much there. Ask for it, ask for what you need. Be vulnerable with one another. It’s hard work. Very hard work. It can be scary,” she said, “But keep trying. Even if someone doesn’t know how to meet your need or they mess up, keep asking. There’s so much love here.”
2 ½ weeks ago, when Em went into the hospital after becoming paralyzed on her left side, she looked at me and reached her hand up as far as she could, wanting to touch my face. I brought my face to her hand, and she gently stroked my cheek. She said to me through her pain, “Don’t be afraid to receive joy! Let yourself be loved, Marian. Think of what you want to give others, and receive that for yourself. Be with people who let you rest in their love. It takes a lot of energy to be brave. I will always be with you, I will always be loving you.”
I bawled my eyes out. I felt like Jesus was looking right into my eyes and loving me. And He was. Em was Jesus.
In these last weeks, Em lived the Passion of Christ in her own body, pouring out nothing but LOVE from her Cross, her bed. She remained ever concerned about others, asking forgiveness and freely forgiving us. When we would help her roll to one side for cleaning, every ounce of movement excruciating for her, she was more concerned about us. She’d say, “You ok, Mare? You’re doing a great job! You’re really good at this.” She’d thank us and encourage us. In her last conscious day, we face-timed our brother, Nate. She could hardly speak. She was battling fierce pain. But she said, “Nate, how are you doing?” We couldn’t hold back our laughter at the ridiculous generosity of her selflessness. This is our Em. Huge heart, thinking always of others.
Often, in the last few months, Em would say to each of us, “You’re so brave.” And we’d say, “You’re the brave one, Em!” And she’d respond, “We’re all brave.”
Em saw bravery because she lived bravery. Each moment took courage for her. And she didn’t complain. So much hidden suffering. So many sleepless nights and crawling to the bathroom alone, not wanting to disturb Mom and Dad, her faithful servants til the end. Not one complaint. Just acceptance. She offered it all in love for each of us. Truly, for each of us here.
And she’s still giving that love. She’s still loving us.
About a week ½ ago, Msgr. Esseff came to visit Em at hospice. He is a 91-year-old very holy priest, an exorcist, who was directed by St. Padre Pio and spiritual director to St. Mother Teresa. He came to Em’s bedside and prayed with her. He gave her the Sacrament of Confirmation and then he invited us all in to join. He spoke reverently with tears in his eyes, “Emily has taught me to love. She has taught us how to love. She will be a saint. Keep her busy.” Em whispered, “Yes, keep me busy! Keep me busy!”
Very soon after Em took her final beautiful breath, our brother Christopher called Msgr. Esseff, to tell him that Em had passed. He said assuredly, “She has gone straight to Heaven. No stops. She is there, and she is a saint.”
I must also share with you that 2 days ago, I woke up to a text on my phone, from a mystic friend of mine, Marlene. She said, “My heart is weeping and I am not sure why. It may be for your family. I heard Emily speak a short while ago as I began my prayers. She did not see purgatory. How could that be a surprise!? I heard Emily. I am sure it is because when I begin my prayers, I send my soul to be with the Communion of Saints. And there was Emily! What a consolation she was for me. I was telling her that I would be with her so she would not have to be in purgatory, and she joyfully responded that she was not there! I briefly saw her and that is when she consoled me. She seemed very light, almost blondish, light filled.”
Marlene had never seen or met Emily before this. She sees her now, radiant in her Heavenly Home!
No more pain for her. It has all turned to joy.
Mom, Dad, and my brother Christopher, and I were honored to be at Em’s side as she passed. Her breath which had been an agonizing fight with each labored heave, calmed into a gentle ocean wave, except she was the sweet little fish drinking in each new wave… her eyes which had been at half mast for over 48 hours, opened wide wide, and looked up, beyond, into Beauty. She became a baby again, completely vulnerable and utterly beautiful, shining. She looked slowly right to left and then to the center, at us and beyond us…and she took her final 3 slow and gentle breaths. Total peace and wonder.
She handed us with exquisite tenderness the most vulnerable moment of her life and gave it to all of us with LOVE.
“You did it Em!!!” we cried.
“You did it!!!”
“For those who had accomplished their mission in life, the day of death is the most glorious day of life.” Em certainly accomplished her mission. Now she’s partying!
My sister, my most beautiful, favorite sister.
You are so brave.
You are so beautiful.
You are so LOVED, intimately and deeply forever.
You are all LOVE.
And to each of us, from across the table, she winks with that warmest Em smile and says:
I see you!
You are so brave!
You are so beautiful!
You are so LOVED, intimately and deeply forever.
…Take my haaaand, and we’ll fly, we’ll fly… HOME! (lyrics from her song, Scarecrow), listen here: Scarecrow by Emily West
Copyright 2019, Marian Veilleux