Saturday, June 6, 2015
This One is About Annie
That was my friend, Annie Endris. I just met her in April of 2014; she was a leader of the retreat I reluctantly went on that spring (as if I didn't love my friend, Lori, enough, I will always be thankful to her for urging me to attend).
That retreat was so meaningful to me, I actually looked forward to going again this year, despite the whole "camp" thing. You know -- hard beds, 20+ snoring women in a cabin, uphill-all-the-way hikes in Brown County. But there were things to return for, as well -- wonderful meals, thoughtful discussion with great women, prayerful meditation in beautiful surroundings and uphill-all-the-way hikes in Brown County.
And there was Annie.
Annie, who welcomed us as if we were all her very best long-lost friends.
Annie, whose smile illuminated the joy in her heart.
Annie, who shared her stories, her books, her music.
Annie, who just seemed so happy to be at camp, to be at retreat, to be alive.
And then she died.
That first year at retreat, we went to Mass at St. Agnes, Annie's parish. During the petitions, when Sister Eileen was naming the sick to pray for, she said, "Annie Endris."
My new BFF (of less than 24 hours) was sick? I was very uneasy through the rest of Mass, the bus ride back to camp and supper, and then, at our evening session, Annie shared with us that she had been diagnosed with cancer.
Wait wait wait wait wait.
I spent the next year praying for her, because thanks to her encouragement, I was praying again. And miraculously, when we went to retreat this April, there she was. A little slower, a little tired, but she brought her joy with her. We prayed with her, and laughed with her, and we all thought it was adorable when she slipped away up to the lake Saturday evening with her husband to celebrate the anniversary of their first kiss. We gave her small stones on which we had written our concerns; she was going to pitch them far into Lake Michigan the next day when she went up to the Cancer Treatment Center of America for her appointment.
But when she got there, they told her there was nothing else they could do. And all we could do was pray for her. A short few weeks later, she died at the beach with her sweet family at her side.
Although I panicked all the way there, I went to her funeral. Lori and I sat in the back and watched the people fill the church -- I told Lori that this was what I wanted at my funeral: sweet music, lots of priests, a few celebrities and the need for extra chairs. Apparently, I wasn't the only one Annie influenced (!) -- her many years as a spiritual director had allowed her to touch the lives of hundreds of people, from regular folks like me to TV anchorwomen.
I could have spent years sitting with Annie, happily soaking up her joy, peace and wisdom. (I think this is what heaven might be -- sitting around with those you love soaking up joy.) But because she gave her all to us in those few short days we had together, I know that her joy, peace and wisdom will always be with me.
So here are my top Annie lessons:
1) Our lives have seasons. Some seasons we adore, some seasons we endure.
2) Accept the gifts you are given, both from God and from others. Rejoice in those gifts and say thanks. (Why, oh why is this so hard for me?)
3) Outdoors is the best place to be with God.
4) Inner peace is hard work. The world keeps messing with it.
5) Carrie Newcomer. Annie used her song "Leaves Don't Drop" as the theme for our first retreat, and I've become a Carrie Groupie.
6) Prayer is powerful. Community is vital.
7) It's not about me. This was Annie's husband's theme for his eulogy, something he told us Annie said often. I am still processing that, and growing from it, and maybe I will write a big blog post about that in the future. For now, just know those words are peace-giving.
7) Smiles sometimes say more than words. Sweet or sassy.
8) Now and then, you just have to say Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
I'm probably not done with this post yet. Because I'm sure there are things about Annie that I will remember, then come back and add. Because I'll always remember.
Will I go back to retreat next year?
Of course. Annie won't be there, but her spirit will always be at camp. And I know she would want me to go -- to laugh and sing and endure the snoring and hike and pray.