Several days ago, I found a box taped up when we moved here seven years ago and never opened since. Amongst the knickknacks, costume jewelry, and small-appliance instructions I found there was this photo. Two friends hamming it up in over-the-top seasonal regalia sweaters before ugly Christmas sweaters became de rigueur. They had just come back from caroling–the one day their conservative Episcopal parish bent the Advent rule of contemplative preparation. They were waiting for cookies and mulled cider and more pre-Christmas jollity when I snapped this photo, preserved this moment in time. I expect you can see from the glow on both their faces their joy in the season, their love of life, the merriment they could barely keep in check.
What you can’t see is that beneath their Santa Claus hats, both of these smiling women were bald. This picture was taken during Advent 2004, when my friends Belinda and Lynn were both undergoing chemotherapy for particularly virulent malignancies (ovarian and metastatic breast cancer). But they still had the time and the energy–and the will–to sing “Joy to the World” and “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” to their homebound fellow parishioners.
I told their stories to my husband, Pavel, himself a survivor of several cancers beginning in 1989 and continuing through his stem-cell transplant January 20, 2015. They were joyful women, Belinda and Lynn, sure in their faith and thus serene as they awaited whatever God had in store for them. As a coda to their stories, I dragged out the October 2005 edition of “The Voice,” the parish newsletter I somewhat faithfully produced for seven years. I read him the tribute I paid to Lynn when she died the following year, and Pavel suggested that I include it in my blog. Today, the last day of waiting before we join voices across the world to sing our own “Joy to the World” at midnight mass, seemed like the appropriate time to share this photo and these words with which I attempted to pay homage to Lynn Mehollin. Sadly, I did not write for Belinda when she died five years later.
Lynn: In Memoriam MRSLAMIII
As only a weekend journalist wannabe, I have never faced the responsibility of writing an obituary–and I am not going to attempt one now. I have no vital statistics to share, don’t know year of birth, high school attended, community service, positions of employment. I have accepted, instead, the task of painting an impressionist picture in words of a woman whose life touched mine deeply. Like any other portraitist, I can present only my own subjective few–a few momentary images captured with pen and paper. And all the images I have to share portray a woman of passion–many passions, strong passions, lasting passions.
In my first view of Lynn Mehollin, she is sitting in the back pew on the left side of the church, breastfeeding the infant child who became in such a brief time the 7-year-old Phyllis. One of the passions that fueled Lynn’s fire was her advocacy of breastfeeding. As an ardent member of La Leche League. she boycotted Nestlé because the company donates infant formula to Third World countries. She was likewise passionate about abortion, childhood immunizations, and circumcision (opposed to them all). She insisted that her family abstain from beef to avoid mad cow disease. She sent out an endless stream of emails from MRSLAMIII@aol.com in support of her favorite social and political causes. In short, she made a lot of people squirm.
Mostly, however, all those causes were born of one–Lynn’s passion for her children. She was created to be the mother of Sonny, Audrey, Brandt, and Phyllis. An in-your-face stay-at-home mom, Lynn directed all her energies toward rearing the family she loved. She clearly believed that her nurturing presence was more valuable than expensive gewgaws she might buy for the children if she had a job. And of course she was right.
As I review the pictures in my head, I see more clearly how Lynn’s passions for motherhood informed all the rest of her life, For example, she participated eagerly in our ministry to the farmworker camp of Los Güerros–not only because she came to love those men as part of her larger family, but also because she knew that active participation would teach her children about love and respect for others. She joined our Spanish-for-beginners class, sharing hearty belly laughs while learning a few phrases to try out on trips to the camp. I believe it was no accident that the most Lynn ever learned to say was “yo tengo dos hijos y dos hijas.” I have two sons and two daughters.
Lynn’s last and greatest passion–also informed by and informing all the others–was her passion for the Lord. She moved from the back pew at the 8:00 service to the front pew at 10:30. She attended Sunday school and studied scripture, joined a house church and went to Third Thursday Prayer and Praise, participated in Alpha and attended Cursillo. She even learned to see her rôle as mother in an entirely new light when she began to understand that the children were not hers, but were gifts from God.
She learned that lesson after she became ill. So many lessons she learned and taught after she became ill. Faith. Trust. Joy. Resting in God’s grace.
The last picture I see is the best. Because of my unique vantage point behind the keyboard, aided by the unique architecture of St. Christopher’s, I often looked straight across at Lynn as we sang. The sun from the skylight made a halo of the peach fuzz on her scalp. Hands raised to heaven, eyes closed, and a beatific smile on her face: That vision taught me all I ever need to know about how to worship God. I could feel the touch of angel’s wings. I saw glory on her face. Surely the presence of the Lord was and is and will always be in that place.
Lynn Mehollin died in the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 4, 2005, surrounded by her four children and the rest of her extended family.