If her old friends had trouble keeping faith, Ruthie drew closer to two new confidantes in the chemo room, fellow cancer patients who knew exactly what she was going through. She became especially close to Stephanie Lemoine, a Baton Rouge mom. An elderly woman they knew as Miss Joyce completed their trio.
“We called our times together a chemo party,” Stephanie remembers. “Miss Joyce was so cute, in her little wig. We laughed and talked and had a good time together. Whenever we had chemo we would always hold seats for each other, so we all three could sit together. We just loved being together.”
Stephanie began going to the chemo room after her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She saw Ruthie walking around the room, and because Ruthie was so young Stephanie figured her for a breast cancer patient. One Wednesday they sat next to each other as they waited for blood work.
Stephanie smiled at her. “I guess you’re a Wednesday girl too, huh?” she said.
“Sure am!” said Ruthie, grinning. And off they went, into their friendship.
When Ruthie came home from the hospital that afternoon, she told Hannah it had been a great day. “I’m so happy,” she said. “I made the best friend at chemo today. She’s just like me.”
At Ruthie’s funeral:
Stephanie Lemoine came up from Baton Rouge, hoping to claim a seat in the back. She had arrived early, to have a word with Mike as he stood once again by Ruthie’s coffin. Because her cancer was in remission, Stephanie, with her survivor’s guilt, worried about how she would be received, but as soon as Mike saw her, he broke into a fresh round of tears, looked directly into her eyes, and said the only word he could muster in the moment: “You.”
“Ruthie loved you so much,” Mike said. “She talked about you all the time. You have no way of knowing what a blessing you were to her.”
… “Come on, you are like family,” Mike said with a finality that made Stephanie believe it was true.
Stephanie Lemoine died this morning, from cancer.
I got the phone call a few minutes ago, from my mother. I should have known something was going on. I had just awakened from an emotional dream, in which I met Ruthie outside the church for the funeral of someone, I didn’t know who. We sat on a bench together, my arm around her, and we sobbed. My mother hovered around us, but walked away when she saw how intense our grief was. When I woke up, I was very close to tears.
Ten minutes later, she phoned with the news.
I am grateful to God that He showed Stephanie the mercy of death. She fought so hard, for so long, to beat this cancer. She has been in hospice care for the past few weeks. Stephanie was such a devout Christian. In January of 2012, I went to visit her at her home in Baton Rouge, and wrote this:
S. is a prayerful Catholic. For the past 10 days, she’s had in her house a Rosa Mystica statue of the Virgin Mary. It’s about 18 inches tall, and she has it on her coffee table. I had never heard of this particular devotion, even during my Catholic years, but S. says this is one of two (I think) such statues in south Louisiana. Both are passed around among Catholics who are very ill or otherwise in distress. S. told me that she and others sometimes see moisture forming in the eyes of the statue during prayer. She showed me a couple of images on her iPhone purporting to document this, as well as other eerie alterations on the statue’s face during and immediately following prayer. We were sitting right next to the statue the whole time. I didn’t notice anything unusual about it.
We talked for a while about how her cancer treatment was going, and things that have been on her mind. After a while, she asked me if I had time to stay and pray her daily rosary with her. Sure, I said. We knelt down to pray, and I could see at the bottom of the statue’s right eyelid moisture forming. It was strange. It was definitely not there when I first saw the statue, and I had not moved more than two feet from it the whole visit. Nobody ever touched it. We prayed the rosary together, and asked God’s help and blessing for the sick, and others in need of mercy. When we had finished, S. said, “Do you see that?”
Yes, I did see that. There were two small beads of liquid appearing on the lower lid of the statue’s right eye. They had been there since we started to pray. I took the photo above with my iPhone camera.
Make of that what you will. I know better than to try to say what that was, or what it meant. I believe this kind of thing can and does happen, miraculously. All I’m willing to say about this particular incident is that these “tears” weren’t there when I first examined the statue — and I examined it from a number of angles, both before and after this incident. Nobody touched the statue while I was there. The liquid appeared to have emerged as we knelt to pray.
In any case, I don’t really care whether this was a small miracle, an optical illusion, or what have you. I used to be really into this sort of thing, but not so much anymore. I mean, I believe it can be authentic, but I don’t think much about this stuff anymore. It’s not the important thing. The important thing that happened today was my visit with S., and the great encouragement I received from being with S., who is so strong and full of faith, despite her dire situation with cancer. It was so great to pray with her. I’m not one who prays easily with people outside of a liturgical setting, but this was wonderful. S. sat through so much suffering with my sister, and, well, it’s good to be with her and to talk about Ruthie. As I left, she gave me three white roses from a vase next to the statue — one for my sister’s family, one for my mom and dad, and one for my family. They looked fresh, but S. said they have been in that vase since the day the statue was brought to her house. They haven’t decayed.
I took the photo at the top of this entry, the portrait of Stephanie, on the day this happened. We went to the chapel at the nearby prayer center founded by Sister Dulce Maria, a Catholic nun who is believed by her followers to have a charismatic gift of healing. The portrait was taken inside the chapel at the center, on the pew where Ruthie and Stephanie sat together on Ruthie’s last night on this earth. They were at a healing prayer service. Twelve hours later, Ruthie was dead.
It pains me to write this, but I feel that I must, especially given that I wrote about Sister Dulce and the comforting role she played in my sister’s life in Little Way. Ruthie went to see Sister Dulce two or three times, but Stephanie was intensely devoted to her. Every time I saw or spoke to Stephanie, she was full of news about what Sister Dulce had told her most recently. It was always hopeful, and Stephanie clung to the nun’s words as tightly as someone swinging over an abyss would grip a lifeline. They kept her going, no matter how bad the news from doctors, no matter how sick she became.
The thing is, the most meaningful thing Sister Dulce told Stephanie was not general words of encouragement and exhortations to faith, but repeating a specific prophecy: “You will live to see your grandchildren.” Stephanie told me over and over again that Sister said she got that from God. And Stephanie, she absolutely believed it. Absolutely. When I first heard this from Stephanie, I mentioned to my wife that Sister Dulce had better be right, because it is cruel to give Stephanie false hope. Again, every time — every single time — I spoke with Stephanie over the last year and a half, she talked about Sister’s prophecy, and how it had to be true, it just had to be. Sister talks to God; Sister knows these things.
It wasn’t true. That it wasn’t true doesn’t make me angry. It makes me sad, because I would have loved for it to have been true. What makes me angry about it is that the nun made a bold, specific prediction to a dying wife and mother, who built her fight against lymphoma around the promise God had given her through Sister Dulce, according to Sister Dulce.
I don’t know if Stephanie’s last year and a half would have been better or worse had she not held on to this prophecy like a drowning woman holding on to a life preserver. Maybe she lived longer because she believed it, and if so, we have to be grateful for that, I guess. But when I imagine the emotional pain and confusion Stephanie must have felt in the cancer hospital in Houston, when that final transplant failed — she had told me before heading over there that this was bound to work, because Sister Dulce kept promising that she would see her grandchildren — I cannot set aside my anger.
Stephanie repeatedly tried to get me an interview with Sister Dulce for Little Way, but the nun refused to talk to me. That struck me as suspicious, but I didn’t think much about it, aside from being careful about how I wrote about Sister Dulce in the book, e.g., she “is said to have a mystical healing gift”; “she claimed to have had a vision”; “the nun believes that God sometimes heals through her touch.” Ruthie really was greatly encouraged and strengthened by the nun’s prayers and words — but then, Sister had not told Ruthie she would live. Like I said, I don’t like to write about this on the morning of Stephanie’s death, but I believe I owe it to Little Way readers to be honest about this, lest anyone is misled.
Please pray for Stephanie Lemoine and her husband and children. She is free now, thanks not to the promise of a false prophet, but to the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.