AN UNFORGETTABLE JOY
Naomi Joy Wilcher Remembered (April 8, 1929 - June 21, 2005)
She was born Naomi Joy Thompson on April 8th, 1929, the only daughter of William and Muriel Thompson. She was baptized on June 23rd of that year. She married my father, Leslie James Wilcher – a veteran of World War II – on January 7th 1950.
On her baptism certificate are the words: Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a Crown of Life.
More than faithful unto death, she was faithful to herself and to all and no matter what adversity she faced, she continued on, treading gently forward with a quiet courage as selfless as it was strong.
One of my most vivid memories of her is from my childhood. She was walking me home from school one day when we came across a dove with an injured wing. With quiet reverence and gentle courting, she coaxed the quivering bird into her care, picked it up and with measured urgency, carried it home to where she tended its wing and nursed it back to health. Little did I know then how much in time I would come to wish I could have nursed her back to health as she had nursed the dove. I would have gladly suffered her every illness to grant her but one clear day of perfect health and return to her in greater portion some warranty by which she could remain safe. Her love, respect and rapport with animals was life-long. If we as human beings could exercise but a tenth of the courtesies and considerations, compassion and charity she bestowed on our feathered and furry friends, the world would be a much kinder place. To this day, the doves she fed still frequent our yard but in ever increasing numbers. I feed them every morning in honor of her. Once, in the exact place where I had left them their grain, they left me a nest – a small wonder from some wider realm by which I now know, as she knew well, that if you talk to the world, it invariably talks back.
Her medical history was long: she had first undergone surgery back in the 1950’s to have part of her thyroid removed. In the early 1970’s she underwent a hysterectomy. Ten years later, she lost a kidney to cancer. Then crept up on her the slow debilitating plod of Parkinson’s disease with its other crippling companion, Osteoporosis. In 2004 she lost her other kidney to cancer and then finally in 2005 her life to multiple tumors in her liver and lungs. I remember her faints and falls through the sudden drop in blood pressure due to the dialysis exchanges and the accompanying seizure-like spasms. I remember the look of fear behind her blank stare. I remember my fear. I remember too the sound – the awful non-reverberating sound as her frail frame hit the tiled kitchen floor as she fell. Cradling her in my arms, blood spilling forth from torn lips, five teeth shattered and her child-like face swollen from where it had bumped the kitchen’s bench top as she fell , she simply said: I’m alright, truly I am! and reached for my arm to comfort me as I cried. Only the gentle are ever strong.
There were moments when she was secretly afraid – you just knew it. Any prognosis of any one of her illnesses was always in the extreme: there was never any hope. But eventually her fear gave way to an inner strength and undying faith in family, pets and friends and she won out every time. Believe me, the last illness that finally claimed her had a battle on its hands to do so, and although her physical self has devolved and left its “last pure earthly mansion”, no illness, no matter how cruel or debilitating, could take from her that gentle strength of being.
Throughout her life, even with such a long medical history, not once did I hear her ask for anything for herself, nor did I ever hear her complain. Until her last operation she enjoyed an active life taking in as much exercise as possible. She could easily out-ride me on any exercise bike. Indeed, just weeks before she died, she insisted on making my father a cup of tea. So physically weak was she, I had to support her at the elbow as she made it – so weak but yet so strong!
During her final fortnight when her life was winding down to open out into eternity she tilted her aching head to one side and whispered to me from her bed: Just how sick am I?
It is no small testament to her inner strength and courage that so many people who knew her knew so little of her fragile health and medical history. She had about her a child-like innocence which I believe gave her the strength to carry on.
Together we shared a sense of fantasy and refinement which during her last days helped me to believe in some finer place – a place the writer Paul Monette referred to as the last undiscovered country – and a force far greater and beyond the world we know. Two nights before she lapsed into a voicelessness I never thought I would ever hear – silence can be the loudest of sounds! - she told me that she had seen this “undiscovered country” she was about to leave us for and that it was very beautiful: I’m going to be very happy! Then, at 7.30 am on the morning of June 21st, 2005, she slipped away. It was an articulate surrender and timely close to her most delicately sketched of days.
On the day of her passing Christine Edwards, the daughter of Miriam Hyde who had passed away just several months before, when her own grief was still fresh, penned me the following beautiful and very real thoughts :
Although this is “the shortest day of the year”, it has probably been one of the longest for you, and for sometime you will be oscillating between belief and disbelief at your mother’s passing.
As a child, one takes it for granted that a parent is always there, and will continue to be a part of one’s life. When we become adults, we know this is not realistic, but the sense of belonging is so natural and embedded, that it is easy to retain the child’s viewpoint.
I am sure you were all thankful that your mother was able to stay at home most of the time when she needed care, and while it has been very time-consuming and with a high level of responsibility, you would not have wished it otherwise, and the team effort has brought you all closer together, and has highlighted the need to give and express love as the spirit moves.
You will be enveloped by your mother’s spirit, not only in the house, but wherever you are.
And so it is…….
If ever a soul was deserving of the Crown of Life and a life reborn to the caress of a cloud, it is that of my most extraordinary mother, Naomi Joy Wilcher.
It is the most articulate of hours,
when half-whispered surrender
cedes fresh grace
to that timely close
of the most delicately sketched day.
It is the hour awaiting,
Of soundlessness and sleep,
that last ineffable favour,
When clay to cloud is given over
And to none but the Spirit we speak.