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“The kindom of God is like a buried treasure found in a field.  The one who discovered it hid it again, and, rejoicing at the discovery…”

We believe that our community is like a buried treasure.  As I mentioned in the introduction to today’s liturgy, we have experienced two seminal moments in Sophia – first the passing of Mary Ann, our foundress and then the events of the absence of Claire and Ginny from liturgy and the subsequent events that followed.   Here is the story of Claire and Ginny and the community’s response.

It is important that those who have joined our community since 2018 know this story.

It was February 2018 and we were still meeting in-person for liturgy.  We gathered as we normally did each week.  We set up the tables and chairs, made the coffee and tea.  The delicious cakes and cookies were brought into the room.  The small table (supplied from Bobbi and Bernie’s son) was prepared to serve as the table for our liturgical meal.

People gathered as the morning progressed.  As we reached 9:45 AM some of us grew a bit uneasy as we had not heard from Claire.  Claire would always call us when she and Ginny would not be able to join our liturgy.  They traveled a great distance and sometimes the weather where they lived was very different from the weather where we met for liturgy.

At 10:00 AM, when Claire and Ginny did not arrive there was a heightened concern.  We placed phone calls to Claire asking if she was okay.  There was no response.  We waited a few minutes and decided to start the liturgy.  Perhaps we prayed for Claire and Ginny.  Liturgy ended and there was no return call from Claire.  This was so unlike Claire.  We all had a strong sense that something was wrong.

Over the next days we placed phone calls to police departments and hospitals. One member went to Claire’s house and looked around.  Ginny’s house was right next door.  No signs of anyone.  The member placed a business card in each door with a brief note asking for a return phone call.

We found out that Claire was in Englewood Hospital but was then transported to Hackensack Medical Center.  We could not find out any details.  We did not know the whereabouts of Ginny.

In response to the business card left at Claire’s home we received a phone call from Claire’s sister Pauline and were given the details of what happened. 

On Tuesdays, Claire would take Ginny to meet with friends at The Guild in Englewood Cliffs.  On the Tuesday before our liturgy Claire and Ginny went to the Guild.  Claire then went for a hike.  It appears that Claire fell on a patch of ice and hit her head.  Attempting to get up, Claire fell again and hit her head again.  She was unconscious when found and transported to Englewood Hospital and then transferred to Hackensack.

I was able to visit her as her pastor and somehow, we got Janet and Joe to go as well.  The nurse told us that there was very little hope of recovery.

At the same time that we found Claire, the community found Ginny in a Nursing Home.  Ginny was taken to the Nursing home by members of the Guild since she could not care for herself.  Community members visited Ginny.  We made the decision to tell Ginny the truth about Claire’s condition.  Ginny wanted to say goodbye to Claire.  Members of the community took Ginny to see Claire to say goodbye.  It was a very moving and powerful experience.  These two women had known one another for all other their adult lives.

The nursing home was of poor standards and community members began to seek out a better place for Ginny to reside.  This took much research and great organization. 

It must be noted that other than Pauline, both the families of Claire and Ginny were passive during this period of time.  Sophia was a great support to Pauline throughout this entire experience.

One Sunday morning at 5:00 AM Pauline made a phone call.  Claire was not going to last much longer.  Some members of the community traveled in a driving rainstorm to Hackensack to be with Pauline and, I believe, Claire’s Spiritual Director.  These community members were with Claire, Pauline and her Spiritual Director as Claire passed from this world.

This is just the beginning of how the community came together as one.  As the community continued to care for Ginny and seek to find her a better place to live, the community stepped up to assist Pauline with cleaning out both houses.

Here are some memories of community members of that time.

My memory bank is filled with emotions and images, a few facts and figures.

I was drawn to Ginny when she first started attending Sophia Sunday liturgies with Claire. There was a wide-open sweetness about her and a genuine spirit of community as she shared her trademark sign of peace,

“Peace be with you and all your loved ones”. 

I admired the relationship between her and Claire – one of pure caring and respect. I observed many moments between them, especially around Claire’s ordinations and Liturgies. Truly they supported one another each in their very own valuable way.

With the discovery that Claire had died tragically, shock waves went throughout the Sophia family. Everyone looked for what they could do. All hearts went out to Ginny, suddenly left without her primary or one and only caregiver. I only remember one phone call from Marie saying that I was the member living in Bergen County and perhaps I could help. Ginny was temporarily in a CARE ONE facility a few miles from me, on her own and really needed an advocate and some friendly support.  Of course, I said yes.  I wish I could remember more of the details of her stay in CARE One. I know the care was less than satisfactory and I had no trouble marching to the nurses station to say she needed to get back in bed or to have her bell answered more quickly. I hated leaving her there and popped in as often as I could. Ginny was open about her likes and dislikes and so I soon knew what kinds of snacks or treats I could bring to help cheer her up. Often while visiting I realized that she was still kind of in shock about her new circumstances. I remember walking in once when she was asleep in her chair and realizing how pale and frail she looked. That may be the moment I fully adopted her as a family member. When people asked if I was her daughter, I’d say, “kind of” or “adopted”. That always made her smile. 

 I did go up to the houses in Ringwood to help there but Janet, Colleen and others seemed to have that under control. What a huge job they undertook – sorting through and making decisions about these two women’s collected belongings. No one was counting the hours or the number of bags or boxes but both were probably immeasurable. One clear memory is of the day someone found a small rifle under Claire’s bed. What an interesting and mysterious woman she was!! The police were called and gave us information on how to get rid of the gun. 

I also remember traveling with Marie and Ginny to visit nursing facilities and assisted living centers looking for the ideal new home for Ginny. This all had to be so traumatic for Virginia but she was an amazing trooper throughout it. She had complete faculties about her so discussing each option was important and she was fully involved. Marie was incredible throughout this process – doing all the research, making all the phone calls & appointments. I would drive Ginny and meet her at each facility. After a few visits it became clear that she was a good fit for The Sisters of Charity facility in Cedar Grove. Again, Marie arranged the details of the move. 

LOTS OF SOPHIA MEMBERS visited Ginny both at the Care One and later when she settled in Cedar Grove. I think we tried to coordinate & space out the visits when we could.  As far as I could see, she grew sharper as time went on and remembered each person who visited, for the most part. 

A true highlight of her time there was when a relative, a niece, nephew or cousin would come to visit. Again, Marie had taken Ginny’s precious address book and reached out to the relatives and friends listed there. One by one, some of them came to NJ for a visit. None was ready to take any real responsibility but all were naturally amazed and appreciative of all the Sophia Community had done. Ginny greeted each with pure love, no expectations and had little stories to share about each one as they were growing up. She had been and still was a devoted loving aunt. The more time I spent with her and the more people from her life circle I met, the more attached and dedicated I got to Virginia. Did I mention that my mother’s name was also Virginia??

Ginny joined most of Sophia at Tom & my wedding that November and 

Marie and others planned a nice 90th birthday luncheon for Ginny that January.

I found a nearby restaurant, several of her relatives came and many members of Sophia celebrated with us. We were absolutely her family now!

One of the first things I remember is the Sunday morning Claire did not show up for liturgy. Your concern was enormous and whoever had Claire’s and Ginny’s phone numbers began to call. In my mind, that was when the community started to come together in love & concern. 

After Claire’s passing the amount of work and time that Joanne and Janet put in cleaning out the house was incredible. Also, Joanne and Tom visited Ginny so often in the nursing home.

I was able to find a home for Claire’s cat who is still alive and having a wonderful life. Actually, she pretty much rules the house. I also visited Ginny several times for both Spiritual Direction and just friendship.

Those are the first memories that come to mind. 

I worked with Marie for several days. Helping her to clean out and organize Ginny’s place.  Also, Margaret, Leila, and I came for a day or two to take out what was needed to be thrown away or given away.  I and Leila also spent several times helping to clean out Claire’s along with Janet.

AFTER Claire’s passing and when we located Ginny in Care One, Leila, Margaret, Trish, and I went to visit her and at that time we obtained some information from Ginny as to any family she had, checked that she had her ss card as well as her license and insurance info. I was able to get a phone number of her sister and brother-in-law that, I believe, were in Alabama.  Her sister was not able to speak to me but I told her brother-in-law what had happened and what the status was regarding Ginny.  I had several other phone calls to and from her brother-in-law to let him know what was happening to Ginny. 

When Ginny was placed in her final rest home, Leila, Trish, Margaret, and I visited her a number of times.

A little memory regarding Ginny in the nursing home. Kevin and I went to visit Ginny a few times and Kevin sang Frank Sinatra songs to her at her bedside when he was done doing his entertainment program. She grinned ear to ear as she sang along. Sweet and fond memories!

I remember spending the day at Claire’s with Margaret, Lois, and Jan. It was an overwhelming job to be done and the others did more than I did and made it happen by sheer love and determination.

I remember visiting Ginny with Lois, Margaret and Trish and sitting on her bed and singing old songs with her.  I do believe she enjoyed herself (even though we couldn’t carry a note in a wheelbarrow).  It was uplifting and fun seeing that beautiful smile on Ginny’s face. 

I was primarily involved with cleaning out Claire’s house.  We met over a period of a few weeks, I believe.  It was an emotionally difficult process as I felt I was invading Claire’s privacy and had no right to be going through her personal things.

 I know we wanted to give away as much as possible to those in need.  I took many trunks full of clothing to a donation spot.  Hopefully, they went to many people in need.   After a few weeks we got the house cleaned out and ready to be sold.

Here’s what I remember about some of the women of Sophia helping Ginny after Claire died:

Legal Attorney Related Stuff:

Jeanne and I accompanied Ginny to a meeting with their attorney shortly after Claire died.  When he asked who we were, Ginny said that we were their best friends, which was a big surprise to us.

I advocated for Ginny as her new will was written.

I became Ginny’s #1 Healthcare POA and Joanne became #2.

I became Ginny’s advocate with her attorney and was usually present any time Ginny needed to sign documents.  I read the documents and explained them to Ginny before she signed them.

I took on the job of paying Ginny’s bills, using her checking account.  The attorney deposited funds into this account as needed.

I met the attorney when we made a site visit to the houses that he was going to need to sell.

Finding a place for Ginny to live

I researched places for Ginny to live and found a few possibilities.  Jeanne, Joanne and I took Ginny to visit Arbor Glen in Newton and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Center in Cedar Grove.  As you know, Ginny decided on the facility in Cedar Grove, probably because she heard they had daily Mass and a single blue room near the chapel available, which became her home until she died.

I made arrangements with a moving company to move Ginny’s recliner, her TV and a special lamp to her room in Cedar Grove.

I along with Joanne and Pat Lynch advocated for Ginny with nursing home staff, requesting and participating in care management meetings.

Cleaning out the two houses

I took the lead on cleaning out Ginny’s home, meeting with a niece and nephew there to hand over some things, packing other things to ship UPS to Sandy McGarry in Colorado and sending Ginny’s full length mink coat to a niece in Boston.  Lois and Janet helped me clean out Ginny’s home.

I think Janet worked with Pauline more than anyone else cleaning out Claire’s home.

Leila and Margaret helped pack things up to be given away and maybe taking donations where they needed to go.

Contacting Ginny’s family

Lois, Leila, Margaret, and Trish visited Ginny at Care One in Bergen County.  While there, they phoned one of Ginny’s relatives  so that Ginny could let her family know what was going on related to both Claire and Ginny.

Sandy McGarry

Jeanne contacted a few Sisters of Charity who knew Sandy to get Sandy’s phone number so that we could let Sandy know what happened to Claire and where Ginny was.

While Ginny was in the nursing home

I worked with the admissions coordinator to do what was needed for Ginny to move into St. Joseph’s HealthCare Center.

I think Janet was the one who took the lead in setting up Ginny’s room at the nursing home.

I remember the room having Ginny’s things in place when Jeanne and I brought Ginny there.

Joanne visited Ginny much more frequently than any of the rest of us.

Joanne took the lead in planning Ginny’s 90th birthday party and inviting Ginny’s relatives from New York.

I shopped for Ginny for clothes, personal care products not provided by the nursing home, and for two wheelchairs for her – her own personal in house wheelchair and a smaller travel wheelchair.

I arranged for Ginny to meet monthly with a Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse who specializes in mental health for the elderly.

Shortly before Ginny died, she was not feeling well and she had a high fever.  I talked with Ginny about her wishes: did she want to go to the hospital or stay in her room at the nursing home?  Ginny made it very clear that she wanted to stay.  The medical director honored Ginny’s wishes.  Ginny died that evening in what had been her home since Claire died.

I was on my way to spend the night with Ginny when I got a call from Joanne that Ginny had died.  I continued to drive to there to say my good-byes to Ginny, call the funeral home and sign some paperwork.  In the morning I called the attorney.

The day we buried Ginny’s ashes, I met a representative from the attorney’s firm to hand over Ginny’s checkbook, her VISA card, related bank statements and I can’t remember what else in terms of paperwork.  I did not hear from the attorney again.

End of remembrances.

Our community came together during this time as one.  Whatever needed to be done was done.  It did not matter what role a person played.  From the greatest to the least, we all did whatever we could as a community to serve.

It is because of these events that the bond we share is unbreakable.  It is because of what we lived through and loved through we are united in ways we could never dream of in our lives.

I am always so proud to be a member of this community.