Last week my cousin was dying. She had advanced cancer. She had asked friends and family not to call or send text messages because she was unable to respond. Telling her that no response was necessary, I sent her a photo every day of some of the devotional pictures of Christ she had seen here in my home when she visited me two months ago, each one with the caption “You are so loved….” I can no longer travel, so it was impossible for me to visit her in Alabama. I had invited her to stay here with me but was not surprised when she preferred to stay at home with her friends and with the doctors whom she trusts.

Jean and I were a generation apart, and we were not raised together, so we were never close. But she was a black sheep in her flock as I was in mine, and we found, over the distance of time and space, that we shared some things in common. We kept in touch mostly by occasional phone calls. She had a Southern Baptist childhood, as did I, but except for the old Baptist hymns we both loved, each of us moved away from that culture. She still professed a kind of generic Christianity, though she didn’t attend any church and maintained that she could not adhere to the tenets of any organized religion. I would say that Jean was estranged from her church but not from her Lord.

A few days ago, when my phone rang, I was taken aback to see her name on the screen. I braced myself when I answered, thinking it would be a friend of hers or a hospice worker using her phone to inform me that the end had come. There was barely a whisper: “I just want to thank you for the pictures …” The call lasted less than a minute and I could tell it took much effort for her to speak.

She is gone now. I have asked for a Mass for Jean. I told her when she visited that I would do that. She responded with an indulgent smile. I know she dismissed the idea of Purgatory, but I think her time there may be a little shortened, not by her kindness in phoning to express her gratitude as by the gratitude itself. And all that gratitude implies.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.