The Philadelphia Inquirer
South Jersey Commentary
Wed, May. 12, 2004
A WOMAN’S GIFT AFTER HER DEATH HELPS OTHERS GET ON WITH LIVING
By Kathryn Quigley
Sadness filled my heart in the last week and made it ache. My friend's husband lost his long battle with cancer and died May 4.
I grieve for his wife, his three girls, the unfair truncation of his life. What is the point in taking such a good man? Why didn't God cure him? Is there a heaven?
Universal questions. Despite my 16 years of Catholic school, I feel I have no firm answers.
Then came a few signs. I chose to believe them. So might you.
An unexpected gorgeous rainbow - over Glassboro, of all places - breaks me out of my depressed fog and forces me to stare at the vast sky. A hug from a colleague pulls me into the here and now, where I am so blessed. An e-mail from my dear friend Cack Quigley, who suffered a loss last week, too, fills me with hope.
Cack is 84 and lives in Silver Spring, Md. We are not related, believe it or not. How she and I became great friends is a story for another time. But aside from sharing my last name, she is a writer like me and looks for signs as I do. On Sunday night, she found one.
Cack's beloved granddaughter, Monica Wicks, suffered from cancer for years. She kept her spirit; she lived her life - even taking up the drums to release the frustrations of her illness. Monica died Thursday at the age of 25.
Cack writes to tell me of her own broken, grieving heart. I take solace in her words. I send her an e-mail about my friend. Because Cack is one of the wisest women I know, I hope she has some answers for me.
"I am having such a hard time understanding why such good people die so young. I don't get it," I write to her. "Why did they have to suffer? Is it God who causes this or God who lets it happen or God who is just there for us? How can we be sure they are in a better place? Most of the time I feel they are, but sometimes I don't."
Soon, I figure, Cack will e-mail me back with some sort of soothing answer.
I attend the funeral of my friend's husband. I feel even worse. When I come home, there is an e-mail from Cack. Here is the story she tells: On Sunday night, she talked to her daughter, Cathy, Monica's mother. "I got a great Mother's Day gift from Monica," Cathy said.
Monica had been dead for three days. But a girlfriend of Monica's went over to Cathy's house and handed her a present.
"This is a gift from Monica," the girlfriend said.
Cathy was astounded.
The week before she died, while sitting with her friend, Monica had described the gift she wanted to give her mother on Mother's Day. This particular girlfriend remembered the conversation after Monica's death.
And though the girlfriend lived in Minneapolis, she drove over to a small gift shop in St. Paul. She described the gift, but the clerk said they had sold all of them. She asked her to check other stores, as she was very eager to get this gift.
Another clerk overheard the conversation, went into the back room, and brought one out. "We have one, but it's on hold," the clerk said.
Monica's girlfriend asked, "Could you call the person who put it on hold and ask if I can buy it? I want to give this as a special gift to the mother of a friend."
The clerk said it was not store policy.
Then she looked down at the name and continued, "We're holding it for Monica Wicks." The girlfriend explained that Monica had died Thursday, and that she wanted to buy the gift for Monica's mother for Mother's Day. By this time, the three women were crying.
Monica's girlfriend presented the gift to Cathy: a beautiful wall hanging that Cathy has already put up so that you see it as you enter her beautiful new home. The words on it sound just like Monica. "After all, the most important thing is to live well, to love well, and then to let go."
Thank you, Monica, from your mother, Cathy; your grandmother Cack; and the less-doubtful me.
Kathryn Quigley is an assistant professor of journalism and creative writing at Rowan University in Glassboro.