Late Have I Loved You

She taught me how to find joy through suffering, prayer, humility, and love.

Our dealings from the beginning had a mother-daughter feel. Judith played the loving, nurturing mother; I, the eager-to-please daughter. It was curious, because we never met. But she headed her e-mails "Dear heart," "Cream puff," and "Dear angel" and filled them with encouraging and pithy tips, such as "Don't ever describe something that you can get an expert to describe" and "Give me all five senses."

When Judith got sick, I knew she didn't want to talk about it. We carried on as before, but my own motherly intuition could sense loneliness and suffering in her short e-mails. So I took a chance and sent her a book of prayers and some coloring creations from my kids. We enclosed a note telling her we were all praying for her. She sent an e-mail thanking us and signed it, "In your love's warmth."

Over her last months, this lady who had been a work mother to me became in her own words a "scared little girl." I was humbled and honored when she wrote me saying I had become "a spiritual mother" to her. Another note said that she could feel our prayers holding her spirit high.

She wrote of her suffering, how it demanded patience and humility. "I am not accustomed to needing so much help, and that humbles me every day," she stated. "My body, some nights, is its own cross, and my mind remains too lively." But other correspondence was hopeful. "I have been singing the beginning of the Magnificat a lot. 'My Spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior.' "

Even in her dark hours, she still showed me love, warmth, and encouragement. As a good mother does, she taught me how to find joy through suffering, prayer, humility, and love. For that, I will always be grateful.

Toward the very end, she sent poems and prayers in which she found inspiration and solace -- poems such as "Life of Sundays" by Rodney Jones and Wordsworth's "Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room." The last poem she sent me was a prayer of Saint Augustine's: "Late I have loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new; late have I loved you. For behold you were within me, and I outside; and I sought you outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things which you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. I was kept from you by those things, yet had they not been in you, they would not have been at all. You called and cried to me to break open my deafness and you sent forth your beams and you shone upon me and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for you. I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I have burned for your peace."

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