There’s a post I’ve needed to write all week. It starts like this,”Goodbye, dear Fran.”
Fran died on Tuesday morning breaking my heart.
I first met Fran in 2007. I was her pastor. I started visiting her at the senior pastor’s request as part of my associate pastor job. But before I knew it, I was at her house more than was asked of me. I was in a season of life that didn’t really fit me. But with Fran I always seemed to fit in just fine.
She was a 83-year-old shut-in. Well, sort of. While it was true, Fran lived in her home alone, she got along ok. She drove her own car with pride (though honestly I held my breath when I rode with her). She came to church every week, Sunday School and worship alike. She got her hair done at JCPenney’s as part of her routine. And, she bought her own groceries and made her own food. She was always up for a meal out if it involved a person she liked and Chinese, Ledo’s pizza or Italian.
I kept going back to see her during that two-year tenure in her town because there was something about my conversations with Fran that always left me better.
This was the magic: Fran saw me.
When we first met, Fran saw my gifts for preaching (and especially loved that she could hear me when I spoke without having to turn up her hearing aids).
Fran saw that I was lonely living out on my own for the first time in Gaithersburg, when all my friends and husband-to-be lived in DC.
Fran saw that I worried about being true to myself and living out my calling. There were many days when it all felt too confusing. “You’ll get there, Elizabeth. You will.”
And when Fran came to my church office the day I told her that I was leaving (another congregation called me to be their solo pastor across town), we both wept. We wept and wept and wept. But she knew I needed to go. “You are meant to be in the pulpit every week,” she reminded me over and over again. “But don’t forget me.”
I promised her I wouldn’t as she and several other members of the church treated me to a goodbye lunch.
And I didn’t. Over the next several months, we crossed the bridge together of becoming friends.
And this was the magic: I saw Fran.
I saw that Fran was a member of a church that didn’t always get her either. (Never lacking of opinions, Fran wasn’t afraid to say a project or budget item was foolish).
I saw that Fran was a person that enjoyed a rich conversation, even though she lived alone. People don’t have these very often in our fast paced everything.
I saw Fran as a person with much to offer the world– if even just in talking to me for the afternoon– at age 84, 86 and 88. As I left her house, she watched me pull out of the driveway as she waved mouthing: “I love you.”
I loved her too. It’s no small thing to be seen and heard. It’s no small thing to know you’re always welcome even if you don’t call before you come over. It’s no small thing to know you can tell any story that needs to come out, even if you’ve shared it 5 times before.
The cherry on top was the fact that she and my husband shared a birthday. So even as life took me to places like Oklahoma (which she wasn’t happy about), Kenya, Honduras and beyond, we always kept up on the phone and through visits when I was back in the area.
Almost three years ago, Kevin and Fran even shared a birthday lunch together over pizza with me picking up the check. It was her 90th.
There’s a book I finished on Monday morning, only minutes before I heard she was reaching the final end– Adopted: the sacrament of belonging in a fractured world by Kelley Nikondeha.
In the final chapter, Nikondeha writes this, “God’s family stretches beyond our smaller notions of biological or ethnic connection. . . . It’s the continual work of the prophets and the Spirit to open our eyes to this simple yet astounding truth: Anyone can be our family if we let them.”
Fran was my family. I’m glad God made it so.
In recent years she celebrated with me the purchase of what Kevin and I hope will be our forever home wanting to see pictures of every room.
She cheered on the publication of my book Birthed and read every word last winter, telling me with tears in her eyes how much my story of perseverance meant to her. “You’ve got wise things to say to people, Elizabeth, even us old people. We need to learn from you.”
And with much joy she welcomed my daughter into her loving embrace as well. Giving my girl the short, but powerful gift of having a “great-grandmother” something I couldn’t have offered her without Fran. For Christmas last year she wrote my daughter a $15 check with a card. So sweet!
One day, I’ll tell my daughter about these memories of Fran.
I’ll tell her that when she meets people who truly see her, like Fran did me, she’ll need to stay close. I’ll tell my daughter the most beautiful parts of life emerge when we plant both feet of ours in the space of love. Sure, it will hurt like hell when they leave us. But, our hearts will have been forever molded into something so real. Our souls will be filled with such belonging because of love’s pure joy.
Fran wasn’t afraid of death in the end. When I visited her four Sundays ago and she told me, “Now, don’t be afraid to pray for me to die. I’m ready.”
This I know for sure: Fran’s story will forever be a part of mine. Her life, her living room, her telephone opened up space for me to be me. I belonged. And truly what is better than this?
Goodbye, dear Fran. You will be missed more than you know. And I hope I don’t cry too much on Monday morning when I lead your funeral. You deserve the best because you were the best.