Touched by a Stranger by Maureen O'Shea


osheaHave you ever been touched by someone you’ve never met?  Have you ever heard about someone else’s life, someone you didn’t know and felt something?  In the course of life, we often hear sad stories, Stories, tragic and painful.  Someone else’s story.  Someone else’s life.  Usually we murmur something appropriate, hold our children a little tighter and get on with our lives.  But once in a great while, something gets in.  Something manages to break through the barrier that we use to protect ourselves and our emotions.  It was like that with Kim.

She was my best friends’ sister-in-law.  She had two children and a loving husband.  By all accounts she was a loving mother and wife.  I remember hearing how thrilled she was when she found out she was pregnant with her little daughter, Alexis.  She and her husband, Peter already had a beautiful son, Jon.  Jon was eight when Alexis was born.  They had to start all over again with diapers and bottles and such.  Then, about a year later, she found a lump.  She got sick.  No apparent reason.  I heard the story from my girlfriend and I felt sadness.  I felt fear.  It’s normal to look at your own vulnerability when you hear a story like that.  I too have two children and a loving husband.  Occasionally I would hear stories of long hospital stays and treatments.  Of wonderful family stepping in for babysitting duty.  Of amazing neighbors with thoughtful dinners for a man trying to cope with two children, a house, a job and a sick wife.  At some point, some part of me started to sit up and take notice.  I started to care more than usual.  I started to think of this woman as more than a stranger.  During this time, I met Kim’s 3 year old daughter, Alexis.  She has the most beautiful brown eyes.  Deep pools that seemed to look right through me.  She touched my soul.  And I saw the reality of the situation.  It was no longer a passing story.  My heart opened.  I began to pray for her.  I would think of Kim constantly.  I was at a shrine in Stockbridge, Massachusetts with my mother-in-law and I made it a point to find a prayer card of St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer patients.  I mailed it with a letter and an article written by a friend of mine who had beaten leukemia at the age of 16.  I started off the letter with “you don’t know me, but I’m a friend of your sister-in-law’s”.  I don’t know why.  The months are going by and occasionally I ask about Kim.  It’s not good.  I’m thinking of her often.  I’m praying to a just God asking him to spare her, to relieve her of her suffering.  Often in the middle of the night, I find myself like a defense lawyer, pleading her case to God.  I call upon my deceased relatives and friends to pray on her behalf.  I keep feeling I can make a difference in this woman’s life.  And the other part of me says, “What?  Who the heck do you think you are?”  Then one night I had a dream, I dreamt that I went to Kim and lay my hands upon her.  I dreamt that I healed her.  It was like a catalyst.  I kept wracking my brains for something, as though I’d forgotten something I knew.  Something I could do, but what?  Finally after weeks, it came to me, a former client of mine was a spiritual healer.  At the time I was working with her, my mom had just passed away and I was searching for comfort and answers.  I called her.  There she was, open and loving and willing to go and be with Kim.  I thought, “good, that’s it then, that’s what I had forgotten”.  But then, Maureen invited me to come along.  And my heart began to sing.  I wanted very much to be a part of this.  I wanted to meet Kim and make this connection.  I truly believed the Holy Spirit planted this obsession in my heart.  I didn’t know why and strangely I didn’t care.  I just felt I had to do this.  It’s funny about spiritual “stuff”.  You don’t question it.  You just “know” you’re doing something greater than yourself.  Something that has a lot to do with you and at the same time, nothing to do with you.

Maureen and I went to meet Kim on the day of my 40th birthday.  It was the most joyous day I can remember in a very long time.  I was so filled with love to be doing something for someone else.  I felt that I was doing God’s work, I was exactly where I belonged at that moment in time, being the feet and hands of Jesus.  Finally, I met Kim.

Kim.  What an amazing woman.  She knew we were coming.  My girlfriend had told her of my obsession with her and she had received my letter several months earlier.  This is what I saw.  A beautiful woman.  Tiny in the bed, she looked as though she weighed less than 100lbs.  She was wearing a bright, colorful turban and had the most beautiful smile.  But her eyes.  Oh her eyes, how they sparkled.  Her bright, shining eyes, like windows to her soul.  She was hooked up to machines from both lungs, draining fluid and yet, she struck me as vibrant.  The energy fairly radiated from her face and body.  More energy than I see in most “healthy” people walking around.  Kim had the most open and loving face and we hugged when we met.  I looked upon this woman and never once questioned why I was there.  This virtual stranger had allowed me to come into her private hell and bring a stranger along with me.  Neither of us questioned, neither of us cared.  It was as though our souls were speaking and no other explanation was necessary.  I have never felt so useful in my life.  Maureen made it clear that it was not up to us what kind of healing would come about, but that she would ask the Holy Spirit to come upon Kim.  We laid our hands upon her and prayed quietly, I remember having to take off my sweater because the heat from her body encompassed me.  It was a moving, spiritual experience for the three of us.  I did a lot of praying after that day.

Twenty days later I got the urge to call Kim.  I still had her number.  Kim’s husband, Peter, answered the phone at the hospital and he was crying.  The doctor had just left and it was now imminent.  I was the first one he told.  Why did I call then?  Kim was unable to speak.  I spoke with Peter for a few minutes longer.  I felt great sadness and began to cry.  I went to my father’s room and took his rosary beads.  Kneeling down, I began to pray.  Again the feeling came over me, that I should do something.  But what?  There didn’t seem to be anything else to do.  I took a shower, crying, pleading, praying and all of a sudden, I knew I had to go to them.  The most intimate, private, personal time of a family’s life is when someone is dying and yet I felt I had to go.  I told my husband he just said “Go”.  I jumped in the car and sped to the hospital, talking to myself all the way.  “If the Holy Spirit wants me to do this, I’ll get in.  If this is some ego thing, I won’t get in and I’ll just turn around and go home”.  I got down there and got on the elevator.  On the way I met a priest and asked him to look in on Kim.  He said, “I’ll come now.”  I went into the room of this lovely, suffering woman.  Her mother was in the chair beside the bed.  Kim was heavily sedated and semi-conscious.  I introduced myself and my new friend, Fr. Jim.  Her sweet mother and I embraced.  I don’t know that I did anything for Kim that day.  I said some prayers and had a lovely visit with Kim’s mom.  We talked about life and death, we cried and held hands.  I sat with her as people came in and out of the room.  These two beautiful strangers, somehow felt like family.  I knew I needed to be there that day, for that time and it was a gift for me to be with Kim and her mother.  I watched as her mom, wiped Kim’s brow and was reminded of the 4th station of the cross, “Jesus meets his mother”.  The imagery was so vivid, it almost made me cry.  Antoinette had no idea how like Mary she was at that moment, she was just caring for her child.

Kim died the next morning at 4:30am.  I cried and prayed and yet some part of me knew and accepted that this was the way it had to be.  Now my tears and prayers were for Kim’s family.  For her brave, handsome husband, Peter, her son, Jon and her baby Alexis.  For her mother and her sisters.  For in my heart I knew that Kim was sitting at the right hand of God on that Holy Thursday.  I remembered the words Jesus said to the thief while on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Every tear was wiped away, all pain and suffering gone.  That Kim was escorted and met with joyous love, by so many souls, some she knew and some she didn’t.  Because I know some that I had been haranguing with my prayers and pleadings just had to come and welcome her.

I may never know why Kim’s soul touched mine.  Why a self-confessed lazy person, like myself was moved to try to make a difference in her life.  I used to joke with my husband about the ivory tower I live in, well someone came knocking and I let them in.  That experience opened my heart in such a way and began a spiritual journey for me that I still travel.  I know that whatever connection Kim and I made over those few months, I am a better person for having known her.  And I will never be the same.  Thank you Kim.  Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

With love,

Copyright 2010 Maureen O’Shea


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