This morning we have gathered to do three things: one, to celebrate the life of Ann Pierce, two, to mourn her death, and three, to celebrate our hope in the resurrection of Jesus.
I have known Ann for nine years. For me, Ann always stood out. I am not sure what it was about her exactly, perhaps her perfectly coifed hair, or her style of dress that gave her a bit of an aristocratic air. In fact, I remember describing Ann to someone as a grand lady, one who throughout her years spent countless evenings presiding over dinners and other gatherings on behalf of her spouse or some sort of charity.
I also remember visiting Ann at home for the first time soon after Neil became seriously ill. As many know, she maintained a meticulous home where nary a thing could be found out of place. A home, that when you walked into it today, looked as new and fresh as it did when she first decorated it many years ago.
Over the years that I have known Ann, I came to understand that her home off Windcrest was more than wood and nails, it was in so many ways her fortress. The place, like for many of us, where she went for refuge, where she was able to close the doors and forget about the sea of change that continually swirled about her.
Change was not something that Ann embraced, or looked forward to, because for Ann, more often than not, change meant loss. It was not until I spent an evening with her in the Emergency Room a couple years back that I fully understood this. It was that evening, when I realized the grand lady was not so grand, that like all of us, she too carried with her a lifetime of wounds. Some were physical, scars from countless surgeries designed to fix the many physical issues that erupted throughout her life.
The deepest were emotional. The grand lady as I had known her for many years had not had the grand life as it appeared. Abandoned by her father and orphaned at an early age,
Ann was raised by her grandmother and aunt. Taking advantage of the opportunities World War II afforded women, Ann did not take the traditional route from home to marriage and family, but instead, sought education and employment until she met her beloved Bill. Listening to her story, it was no wonder she was so bonded with her step- son Denny. They both understood the pain of loosing a mother. Together Ann and Bill had David and a lifetime of happiness seemed to be in the offing for the two. But this was not meant to be. Bill’s life came to an early end after fifteen years of marriage. Leaving Ann alone once again and needing to finish raising their teenage son.
As I thought over Ann’s life to this point, I considered using the image of the bent over woman from the Gospels as my biblical image for Ann. But somehow that image did not fit. Despite the troubles and tribulations that Ann endured, she was anything but bent over or broken by them. Instead I feel the other woman healed by Christ is the better fit. The woman who stepped out from the crowed and sought healing by touching the robes of Chist. After all it took courage for her to step out of the crowd, it took faith for her to reach out to touch the robes of Christ.
Yes the grand lady, was a lady of great courage. Unlike so many who close themselves off to love after the death of a spouse, Ann opened herself up again and soon found her beloved Neil. Together they traveled, Neil sold church candles, she enjoyed bridge, entertaining and doing charitable work. He took care of her, she took care of him. And life was good again . . .well into their golden years. This is not to say their years together were perfect, there were illnesses, there were surgeries and there was loss.
But life for Ann continued. She never stopped fighting for those things she loved. For the communities that gave her purpose, whether it be the Corinthian Club or her beloved Church, she would never give up. For the people she loved, she never stopped advising, cajoling, guiding or pushing us to become the better and greater people she believed we could be.
When it came to death, the grand lady of courage became the grand lady of faith. I remember our conversation just over two years ago. Ann new her body was breaking down. Eating was no longer a joy. “Everything”, she told me, “tasted like metal.” The doctor’s, she knew, would probably be able to fix her, but what was the point, she was too old and done with fighting. And, like so much in her life, Ann faced death on her terms, managing it to the end.
As I think back over my visit the day she had told me that she would not seek treatment for her latest issue, the words from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy came back to me, “I have fought the good fight, I have run the good race, and now the victors crown lays before me.” Yes, the grand lady had fought the good fight and like the woman who reached for Christ’s robes, she was reaching out to allow Christ to fully heal her wounds, as is only found through the hope of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life. And the woman who started life wounded by abandonment and death, ended her life filled with, and surrounded by the love of God through each and every one of us.
When her home went from fortress to prison due to her health, Ann was rarely alone, visited and looked after by a constant stream of friends, family and fellow parishioners, all of whom tried to cajole her into eating. When she finally accepted the care of Syracuse Home, she did not find herself alone as photographs and countless vases of flowers attested to.
In this morning’s Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples that he is leaving them to prepare a room or a house for them with God the Father. I chose this passage because Ann’s house represented so many things to her. But unlike the homes that she has lived in all her life, the home she entered a week ago Tuesday is not made out of wood and nails, but is formed by the arms of God’s embrace. It is a place where the wounds and fears of life are healed and soothed, and the constancy of God’s presence makes us whole. And yes, a place where the grand lady who lived and struggled among us, lives again.
St. Luk’es Episcopal Church,
February 3, 2012