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Unconditional Kindness

10:45 AM  Dec 21st, 2015
by Thomas M. Columbus

My wife, Suzanne (a three-time UD grad), and I went to the rededication of UD’s Chapel of the Immaculate Conception this August. The chapel held many memories for us. A photo from the 1970s shows our first two children, Liz and Mike (both two-time grads), as very young people sitting on the floor near the altar at an overflow Father Norb Burns’ Mass. Father Jim Russell remembers our youngest child, Ben, in the 1980s, playing air guitar during hymns at Mass.

For the dedication, Suzanne and I wanted seats near the door. Some time ago she was diagnosed with heart conditions, in recent years compounded by congestive heart failure; a long ceremony could be too much. So we sat in the last row on the left, near the side door.

It was also where often I had sat alone, having left my work behind in my office and come to the chapel to contemplate whatever one contemplates after a child dies, as did Ben nearly 20 years ago. I looked over at Suzanne. Her face seemed contorted. Tears were in her eyes. I feared an episode with her heart.

“What’s the matter?” I said.

She replied, “Nothing. It’s just so beautiful. It’s just so beautiful.”

That was the only time she made it to the renovated chapel. She died Sept. 22.

Liz and Mike and their families and friends and colleagues (and owners and waitresses and bartenders at Suzanne’s and my favorite restaurants and even apparent strangers) have given me, and each other, support that a theologian might reflect tells us something of the Mystical Body. It tells me Suzanne touched a lot of people.

“She had a kind word about everyone,” someone said, “even the most difficult people.”

“But she didn’t mince words,” Liz’s husband, Tony, said.

Nobody saw a contradiction between kindness and honesty.

Mike spoke at her funeral Mass. “My mom was selfless and unconditionally kind,” he said. “She taught my sister, Liz, my brother, Ben, and me strong values and the importance of family, faith, hard work, kindness, tolerance, generosity, forgiveness and love.”

He spoke, too, of her competitiveness. On one family vacation, Mike’s wife, Jenn, thought playing beach bocce with Suzanne might be a relaxing game. Suzanne, Mike said, “body-checked Jenn, nearly knocking her to the sand, in order to line up her next roll. My mom rationally explained, ‘She was in my way, and I am here to win.’”

The congregation of friends and colleagues from UD and Kettering Medical Center (where Suzanne managed the clinical lab before retirement) thought Suzanne was a winner, too. When Mike finished, they broke into applause.

Back at work now, again doing some part-time writing and editing for this magazine, I recently edited a piece in which Brother Ray Fitz prays to be able “to ponder the mystery of God and creation.”

And, as I did years before, I again frequently leave my desk behind and walk to the chapel. I sit where I sat with Suzanne at the dedication, where I sat after Ben died. I stare at the statue of Mary. I stare at the stained-glass image of Jesus on the cross. And I listen.

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