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Jessica MacMaster Danson: 1916-2006
by Tessa Bielecki


Portraits of Jessica Danson, from the mid 80s until autumn 2005, including Tessa Bielecki and Fr. Dave Denny

May the example of Jessica Danson’s holy death in these reflections strengthen you, whether you are near the threshold of death yourself, or close to someone who is.

Monday, January 2

It feels as if a hole is tearing open in the depths of my soul, and the bottom
is falling out of my life. I feel groundless and bereft. Then I remember:
Jessica is dying. That's why the cruise control is set on 80 and I am passing
all the semi-trucks on I-40 through the desert of New Mexico and northern
Arizona. I must get to Sedona in time to see Jess alive and tell her "good-
bye" and "I love you, dearest of friends."

Last year at this time we celebrated a lavish Middle Eastern feast on the Persian rugs in Jessica's bedroom. This year Jessica is on her way to another celebration. "So, our Epiphany feast wasn't good enough last year?" I teased her, "and this year you need to feast at the heavenly banquet?" "It would be hard to top last year," she replied. "Only in heaven...."

Fr. Dave celebrated Mass at her bedside as soon as we arrived after the ten-hour drive. I asked her if she wanted the Epiphany liturgy, but she chose the Transfiguration. (Her grandmother had died on Transfiguration.) I sang "My soul is longing for your peace" at Communion. After Mass Jessica asked for another song, and Jan suggested St. Teresa's prayer, "Let nothing disturb you."

Afterwards, nothing was planned, but the most exquisite farewell ritual unfolded spontaneously. Jan made the first move and kissed her mother good-bye, then Ted, Jess's sister Eileen (age 91), granddaughters Kate and Katrina, then all the rest of us. And then more spontaneity as Jan spoke about how "oned" we were, as Jessica so deeply desired. Ted shared vulnerably about how he felt experiencing such intense reality at his mother's deathbed and then such flatness away from it.

Jessica asked me to explain the meaning of the Transfiguration. I began with Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." We don't always see it, but in the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Jesus reveals the mystery to us, as he shimmers in all his glory. Peter can't handle so much dazzling light, so he wants to build a tent to manage, control, and contain the mystery.

I thanked Jessica for being such a great example, transfiguring the world around her with such joy and love, peace and beauty, even now, as she lies dying, gathering us together, enfolding us all in her love, and uniting us with one another on ever deepening levels. She is dying as she lived.

Joyce said she was glad Jessica was going to the happiness of heaven, but that we would all weep after she was gone. I agreed and said that I would miss her in the flesh so much, despite how I treasure life in the spirit. Jessica responded by telling everyone that she used to live too much in the realm of spirit until her encounter with Nada and with me, which helped ground her in the sacredness of the earth and the body.

I also told her I envied her going to heaven and meeting my mother, St. Teresa, and Tate, our Sedona cat (who died at age 22). Her grandson Eric piped up, "And Grampy singing 'Oh what a beautiful morning!'"

There were more expressions of love, gratitude and awe, and more tears, in an atmosphere of incredible intimacy. Then we let Jessica rest as we enjoyed one of Joanna's fine dinners together around the table, with more sharing.

After dinner Jan showed me the notebook they were compiling of Jessica's last words: profound, funny, other-centered, showing how grounded in the real Jessica is, peaceful and happy about dying, and very ready: "I won't sleep well at night until God comes for me." "I've prepared all my life for dying.""When you think of the hugeness I am facing, I can't believe it. I am excited!" One of the more touching things is that she dictated a letter to Fr. William on New Year's Day: "Dear Fr. William, I have neglected you. I will take you into heaven with me. Doctors say I am dying and I hope I will be in peace soon. All my love, Jessica."

Fr. Dave and I left quietly after kissing her good night, thinking we might not see her again.

Next Journal Entry || Fr. Dave Denny's Reflections on Jessica

 

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