Monday, May 23, 2016

Seven years since Kathleen Ross "graduated"

Today will be seven years since my wife Kathleen Ross of blessed memory passed away in the City of Hope, after a year-long cancer journey. 

This is not the journey we had planned. In the summer of 2008, we intended to begin a sabbatical year, to spend nine months at Pendle Hill, a Quaker Retreat Center near Philadelphia, where we met as students in 1989. I  planned to write a biography of Howard and Anna Brinton, notable Quaker teachers and writers who helped nurture Pendle Hill as its directors. Kathleen planned to study spiritual direction.

We sold our home, the Bishop assigned a new pastor to Kathleen's congregation in Torrance, and I resigned after 12 years as editor of the Quaker magazine "Friends Bulletin". We packed a POD with all our unneeded belongings and loaded up our camping gear to take a three month journey across the country to visit national and state parks, family and friends, on our way to Pendle Hill.
Our actual journey took a dramatic sharp turn when on the day the sabbatical began, Kathleen underwent a needle biopsy which revealed that she had a  mass in the chest wall caused by lymphoma.
We were homeless when we received this alarming news, and were incredibly grateful when Quaker friends offered us lodging in their homes until we could settle into an apartment in Santa Monica near the Quaker meeting.
For the next ten months we devoted ourselves to healing and to advocating health care reform so that all Americans could have the quality of affordable health care that we enjoyed. We blogged about our cancer journey at and I hope someday to write about our experiences (I tentatively titled this project "Love Never Dies"). This blog was an outgrowth of the blog we began during this period. 
Today I want to thank God for Kathleen, and also for all those who supported us during this difficult period: my Quaker meeting, our interfaith friends, and our extended family. I am consoled by the words of Scripture that Kathleen wanted me to remember: "I am convinced that neither life nor death, nor powers nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor heights nor depths nor any created thing, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus."
I believe these words, I feel them in my bones, and I know them to be true from many challenging experiences, yet Kathleen's death was the most painful moment of my life.  Her death broke open my heart and it has never completely healed. I still grieve. I still mourn her loss. And yet I am grateful for what this loss taught me. Her death has helped me to become more human, more fully alive, just as the death of Jesus enabled his disciples to become more Christ-like, more in touch with their Inward Teacher, the Holy Spirit. 

Losing Kathleen has given me an opportunity to grow in new ways. After her death, I assumed a pastoral role in my Meeting. People who had problems or had suffered losses sought me out because they need I could empathize. I became a better listener. Several years ago I enrolled in the Stillpoint Spiritual Direction program. Becoming a spiritual director was something that Kathleen wanted to become just before she passed. I felt led to continue the work that she never had a chance to finish.
What does it mean to be a spiritual director? It means to listen from the heart to another human being and to help them connect with what is most alive for them. This is what my spiritual director does for me, and what I would like to do that for others. I am not there yet, but this is one of my growing edges.

Two years after Kathleen's death, I met Jill Shook, another wonderful Christian woman who has transformed my life. I feel as if I am re-born, and have been given a second chance at life and love.  I am deeply grateful to God for Jill, and for those who continue to walk with me in my journey of faith.

 A week ago, I had the joy of giving a presentation at Santa Monica Friends Meeting, and my dear friend Stan Searl wrote this "Prayer for Healing." What a blessing it is to have friends as we journey together along life's winding and often rocky road, accompanied by a Guide who loves us beyond measure.

A note on these poems. When Kathleen had her stem cell transplant, it was around the time of my birthday, so I bought her a birthday balloon, since her transplant was a kind of re-birthday (or so we hoped). During my last visit to her, I released this balloon and it soared towards the San Gabriel mountains near the hospital where she was in ICU.

During Kathleen's memorial service I bought another balloon, this one with the words "Congrats on your Graduation." Debbie, a member of our Quaker meeting who is very outspoken, said: "When I saw that balloon, I was puzzled and wondered why Anthony bought it and then I realized, Kathleen has graduated." Indeed Kathleen has graduated--she has earned her advanced degree by learning how to live like a Christian, love like a Christian, and face life-threatening illness and death like a Christian, with grace and love. Now she is reunited with the One who both teaches and embodies perfect love. Rest in joy, dear heart!

Prayer for Healing

Stanford J. Searl, Jr.

“On the day you had your transplant
I brought you a balloon ….”

 (Anthony Manousos, “From Your Window in ICU”).

We visited her in the Kaiser on Cadillac,
singing together and praying for recovery
feeling Methodist hymns rise up.

These hymns sounded out into the hospital room,
a prayer seeping into the Divine
landscape of her heart.

Quakers surrounded her bedside
to sing breathe on us breath of God,
praying for our breathing to be filled by His breath.

In the midst of this dying,
we fell in love again with this minister
who reminded us how it felt

to be hopelessly in thrall with the savior of all
(even with cancerous lungs)

to celebrate the power of Christ within.

From your window in ICU

(for kathleen by anthony)

From your window in ICU
you could see only the dry river bed
but you joyfully imagined
where it led towards the blue mountains
and the rocky paths where you loved to walk
amidst the pale green chaparral

What a celebration it was
when those who were reborn
as stem cell survivors gathered
joyously at the City of Hope
Thousands of them, with their loved ones
caregivers, doctors, nurses--some of them dancing
some simply standing up or sitting down
miraculously, self-consciously alive
with buttons proclaiming their age:
one year, five years, twenty years old.
My button said, “One day….”

On the day you had your transplant
I brought you a balloon
to celebrate our re-birthday
our new life about to begin

And now in my mind I release that balloon
once again
and let it float away
dancing in the air with a kind of wild joy
towards those blue mountains

where you yearned to go

Kathleen celebrating her stem cell "birthday" on April 29
Kathleen with her stem cell balloon

Wellness party in September
At a "Wellness Party" with Friends and family

Kathleen and her family.
Kathleen with her beloved brother Jim, sister-in-law Anne and nephew Edward

Anna Kee and son Brandon Wong with A and K at Palisades Park, Santa Monica.
With Mei Kee, the Chinese "daughter" we informally adopted
when she lived with us in Whittier

Frank Strickland and Anthony
With Frank Strickland of Del Rosa UMC, a church we served and loved.
Frank was a lover of roses as well as of Jesus. I am carrying an urn
with Kathleen's ashes.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, how touching. How celebrating. Thanks, ANthony. Have had a glimpse of this beautiful soul. And the singing in her hospital room sounds sweet.