I’d been taking part in a volunteer visitor program at one of London’s retirement residences. I had been assigned to visit Jacqueline who lived in one of the Independent Living Suites.
Within the first 5 minutes of visiting her, I didn’t think we’d get along. I’d gone through the illness and loss of my father just a year or two before, and I was a recovering Catholic turned very angry Athiest, and I really had no time for God. Jacqueline lived by God and her faith as a Baptist, the former wife of a Preacher.
There were times when I didn’t think our visiting arrangement would work out. For her, everything was Biblical, and she always had 100 Huntley Street on the T.V. when I visited. I was getting further and further away from any participation in religion, and I was put off by her constant God-talk.
But then we got to know each other.
I got comfortable sharing my Atheism and having her faith tested more than enough times, she understood where it came from. She would share her struggles as a Preacher’s wife, struggles that a Preacher’s Wife wouldn’t have been able to share at the time, but cathartic for her as she found someone she could trust in me all these years. She would cry as she shared some of the pain of the sad things that had happened in her life as a wife and mother. I would sometimes cry with her as I shared my pain over losing my Dad. She’d comfort me, and then as I would leave, she’d say a prayer over me. While those were words to a God I didn’t (don’t) believe in, I still accepted her love and her wishes for my healing.
She was going blind, and wasn’t able to read, and one day asked me if I would read a book to her. It was one of her Baptist publications that I scoffed at under my breath, but nonetheless, read it to her every week. It was about the Lioness in nature, and the strong, vital role she plays in bringing her environment equilibrium. It was Biblical in nature, but through that book, we were both able to connect, as women, and as the fierce lionesses the book described, despite our 50+ year age difference. The content of the book brought back memories of her life that she would share from me, each story, however sad, containing a little life lesson in it for me to find. I felt stronger as I found moments in our womanhood in which we could relate to each other, despite our differences in fundamental beliefs.
One day I called Jacqueline’s number to tell her I’d be late for our visit. “I’m sorry to have to tell you about this, but Jacqueline passed away last night”, the voice of her daughter-in-law who had answered the phone told me. I cried for days.
We never got to finish our book about the Lioness, but through Jacqueline, I am always reminded of the Lioness, the vital queen of strength, acceptance, resilience, nurturing and fierceness, and sometimes when I feel the need for a bit more strength, I think of Jacqueline, and I can feel her behind me lending me some of hers.
(Photo taken by Levi in Nairobi National Park, Kenya)