Some time ago, I had a wonderful conversation with a Sister who was in her 90s. When I visited her, she patted on a seat, indicating that I should sit down. As I did, she looked out the window of her bedroom and began, “Sister Geralyn, do you want to know what came to me during my morning meditation?” I nodded. She continued, “I was thinking about heaven. What does one do when all eternity is spent in a love embrace with the Triune God? To spend all eternity worshipping Him? I wonder if one gets bored doing that. I know what I would want to do is to visit all my friends and family who have died. I would want to hug my mom and dad and my siblings. Better still, visit with Blessed Pauline and all the Sisters who traveled from Germany and worked here in the United States many years ago.”
I smiled and said, “Don’t you think that by worshipping the Lord you would also be connected to them and their stories?” She opened up her eyes with great excitement and said, “Really? I can’t wait!” I asked, “You are not afraid to die?” She responded, “Fear is something strange. One can naively say, ‘I am not afraid!’ until something terrifying comes your way. Fear death? Well, what I fear is not being ready, of suffering and letting go of the life here that I love so much. But once I feel that feeling, I dismiss it because the glory that waits for me is so much better!”
I write to you about Sister Anna Ballak because, on April 12, 2020, she was called to her heavenly home. Her death was not COVID-19 related. Yes, Sister Anna, who often said, “He doesn’t want me in heaven yet!” died on Easter Sunday! She is finally singing Alleluias with the choir of angels – something that she often told me that she wanted to do!
I write about this amazing woman because we find ourselves in the midst of a dreadful occurrence on a global scale – a pandemic. I came across a health report from CNN that explains what we are all facing as I type these simple words: “Dread is a combination of not knowing, fearing and terror. … Do you go pick up groceries? Are gloves enough? Should I touch the mail? Your child sneezes. You’re living in fear every moment. Where we suffer most is that we want to hug someone. We need human touch and we’re denied that. There is no measure of how painful it is or how horrible it is for people right now.” 1
I can see you all nodding in agreement. Quite honestly, I too have felt the bite of terror as I went “out” to grocery shop or do banking. I too have had a few pretty awful anxiety attacks that woke me up from a dead sleep. But honestly, that was weeks ago.
You might ask me, “What is the magic pill to stop being afraid?” I don’t have a pill, but I can offer a series of actions that have helped. As a child, I became very frightened if anything happened out of the ordinary. What was worse is that it always affected my stomach. At school, my third-grade teacher asked me to each lunch with her one day. She was worried about me! I was completely head over heels in love with this beautiful Sister! As I munched on my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she told me a little secret. When she was a child, her teacher gave her something magic to help deal with her nervousness, a Weeble! Ok, I am truly dating myself. Remember those small, weighed figurines and the saying, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down?” She went on to explain, “Fear is the force that makes weebles wobble. BUT they always right themselves up again!
So what’s the force that makes Weebles stand up again? I believe that there are several.
- Finding normalcy. Establish a schedule and stick to it! We are creatures of habit. Yes, even the artist types like me. Schedules maintain a normalcy that can assist you in finding your balance. This means regular wake, meal and bed times.
- Reach out and touch someone. When isolation or stress from work gets too much for me, I call someone that I trust that can just listen! My nine-year-old Godson and nephew called me during Holy Week and expressed to me that he was afraid. I asked, “What are you fearful of, Johnnie?” His voice choked, “Because of the virus, I am afraid that the Easter Bunny won’t find me!” Honestly, I almost laughed, but I listened to him as he told me about his fear, and I told him that he might not get as much as he did before, but he wouldn’t be forgotten. Before I hung up, I had him giggling. I then called his mom and told her of his fear! She had no clue!
- Remember that you are not alone. The ramifications of social distancing and isolation give us an added feeling of being all alone and that no one cares. This is NOT true!!!! How many signs or news reports actually focus on that reality? A lot! Besides that, because of our Baptism, we are united to the body of Christ. Our union with Him makes us ONE family united by heart strings! We are all in this together!
- Pray, pray and pray some more. Establish at least 20 minutes a day in which you either pray a Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet, read scripture or a book about the saints. Watch the list of live and/or recorded Masses on YouTube, but don’t overdo it! Besides this, many of our parishes are a part of a parish resource called FORMED. This is a library of books, videos, bible studies, movies and audio books that might be a source of inspiration.
- Stay active. Exercise, walk, breathe deeply. Complete that project that you just don’t have any time in which to work.
- Give something back to someone else – do acts of charity. Visit your neighbors from the distance of your sidewalk. Reach out to others by writing a card or calling. I know of one parish in which all of the “seniors” that live alone receive a phone call to check in on them.
My conversation with Sister Anna so many years ago taught me one thing that I re-learned once the stay-at-home order began: live with your feet on the ground and your eyes directed toward heaven. Every once in a while, look at your feet to “ground” yourself in the moment, but direct your heart towards heaven.
Know that I keep all of you tucked in my prayers.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness