Anna’s Passing

On Monday, March 2, 2015, at 3:45pm, Anna Page Lucas, (nee, Mary Ellen McNelly) my beloved partner of 35 years, died peacefully, at Madrone Hospice House in Yreka, California. For the past 14 years, Anna made her home in Mt. Shasta, California, training with the Buddhist monks of Shasta Abbey, a Soto Zen monastery founded by Jiyu Kennet. Though Anna was never well enough to become a monk, she lived her Zen at home. The monks honored and supported her sincere aspirations and sustained her both spiritually and materially in her final months. At her death, they offered the traditional private ceremony performed at a monk’s death, a promise that helped her through her long siege with terminal breast cancer.

For five days before her passing, I kept vigil at a nearby motel. Minutes after she died, Hospice called and I went to wait with Anna for her monks. Five who had been close to her came to offer final rites. They included me in the ceremonial washing of the body, then dressed her in a priest’s white silk under-robe and performed the ordination. The chants were in English and I found them deeply moving and comforting. She received her dharma name, “Noble Aspirant,” and lineage papers were placed in her folded hands. Her face had naturally smoothed into an expression of transcendent peace and joy. More than one marveled at her beauty, its outlines so familiar and dear to me but transformed now into something new.

After the monks left, I sat with her for a time, waiting for the transport to Mt. Shasta, where she would be cremated.

The next day, returning to the Hospice House to deliver my thanks for their loving care, the charge nurse said the staff were in mourning; “She leaves a great gap in our lives.” Many told me what she meant to them, personally, the love she gave and the love she inspired in others. All kept using the word, “special” and I knew the feeling, how few words we have for such souls, for what happens to us in their presence.

I felt light of heart after this beautiful farewell, and full of gratitude for the gift of Anna in my life. Also beyond grateful to my son, Steven. When he heard my distress at not knowing how to get to her (I had to admit I couldn’t safely make that drive alone any longer — last time I did it, I was 60 — now a shaky 75, I lost courage), he broke in. “Mom.  I’ll take you.”  It was wonderful driving up together. He returned to drive me home on Wednesday, the 4th.  He will also drive me up and back once more, for Anna’s memorial at Shasta Abbey, on Friday, March 20, at 10:30a.m. At Anna’s request, the monks arranged the schedule to be sure I could be there.

Now of course, the grieving begins in earnest, but unshadowed by regrets it becomes simply a heart-opening sorrow. Something one does learn how to feel. May all beings be so blessed in their loves, and in the Guiding Grace that leads us on such unexpected paths to fulfillment.

love to all of you, my friends.

Catharine

 

ANNA PAGE LUCAS died peacefully on March 2, 2015 at the Madrone Hospice in Yreka (CA).  The traditional private funeral ceremony was performed by monks from Shasta Abbey. A public funeral will be held for congregation members and friends on Friday, March 20 at 10:30 a.m. at Shasta Abbey, 3724 Summit Drive, Mount Shasta. A Tea for all in attendance will be held after the ceremony.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Shasta Abbey.

Anna was born June 8, 1935, as Mary Ellen McNelly, daughter of Roscoe and Frieda McNelly, of Oakmont, Ohio. A child prodigy, she gave dramatic recitations on stage from age 4. She graduated in 1951 from Oakmont High School, where she later taught before moving to California in the early sixties.

At Los Gatos (CA) High School, she enjoyed a long career as a brilliant and beloved educator, a friend and mentor to students and an inspiration to colleagues. A chronic illness forced her to retire in 1985.

Anna moved to Mount Shasta in 2001 to deepen her commitment to her Buddhist practice.  She was an active and beloved member of the Shasta Abbey Sangha and a lay disciple of Rev. Jisho Perry.

Anna leaves a life-partner, Catharine Lucas, with whom she was married under the care of Berkeley Friends Meeting in 1988.

Anna’s quiet presence and gentle wisdom were gifts to many. Her deep love of all species, especially dogs, created animal and human friendships that sustained her. Creatures of all kinds were drawn to her and happy in her presence. She is greatly missed.

 

Additional notes for Rev. Jisho: The little albums I’m bringing will show Anna among neighborhood children, who loved her. Having none of her own, she became the neighborhood grandma, dressing up as a witch on Halloween and hosting side-walk chalk parties on our front porch. Her hand-carved crèche at Christmas was a marvel that drew children from around the block.

From earliest childhood she had a mystical bent, sometimes entering trances that yielded amazing poems. She told me she once prayed to “Heaven” that if she had sins to atone for (karma?), and if she had a choice, please let it be her body that suffered while allowing her mind to find peace and clarity and clearing her heart for love.

Growing up being made to feel ashamed for being gay, she longed for and actively sought full membership in communities of all ages and all callings, rather than limiting herself to friendships with closeted lesbians, some of whom saw her wider embrace of the world as a betrayal.

Her deep love of all species, especially dogs, created animal and human friendships that sustained her. Creatures of all kinds were drawn to her and happy in her presence. She told me once she could never be lonely.

 

Anna was a bit of a trail-blazer – professionally and in her personal life:

  1. (1979 – 1985) As an early Fellow of the Bay Area Writing Project, Anna modeled the new approaches to the teaching of writing for classroom teachers in workshops across the country.
  2. (1988) Her marriage to Catharine “under the care of Berkeley Friends Meeting” was the third of its kind among Quakers, nationwide. It required great courage on Anna’s part and inspired many gay and lesbian couples to look for acceptance and recognition in their religious communities.

One Response to Anna’s Passing

  1. Catharine,
    I send my love to you, and in honor of Anna’s wide and deep heart, which I remember so well. This is belated. I am glad to see your clear and original writing voice here through your blog and poetry, one indeed reaching a broader audience.

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