Remembering Stephanie

Cliff Williams
Department of Philosophy
Wheaton College
Wheaton, Illinois 60187
 

A tear trickled down my cheek as I waited for Stephanie's funeral to begin. I recalled the first time I met her. I was eating lunch in the cafeteria, sitting near the milk machine, when she flitted by, exclaiming, "I didn't do it! I didn't do it!"

"Didn't do what?" I asked, a bit nonplused.

"Didn't take Pooh," she replied.

"Oh, I see," I said. "And who are you?"

"Stephanie Iatesta."

"Oh, hello." And then, because I had heard that she had a possibly fatal disease, I asked, "Are you the person who has to have an operation this summer that you might die from?"

"Yes."

"How does that feel? I mean, how does it feel to know you might die in a few months?"

Without a moment's hesitation, she replied, "I say with Paul, 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith!'"

Now she was dead. She lay in a shiny casket in front of the room at the funeral parlor, her picture on top of the casket, lovingly placed there by her parents. She had undergone the operation two years later than originally expected, had pulled through marvelously, but had succumbed to pneumonia and other complications that had developed. She died on August 20, 1988.

I remembered the times Steph had stopped by my office to talk. We talked about a variety of things, mostly of the everyday sort, but once in a while of life and death. I was intrigued by the fact that impending death for her was a real possibility. Her brother had died seven years earlier from the same disease.

After she had visited me several times, the question popped into my mind. Should I be treating Steph differently, knowing she might die the coming summer? Should I be extra nice? Should I send her a note every now and then? Should I talk about eternal matters, or just talk about nothing in particular?

It occurred to me that Stephanie would not want me to treat her any differently. It also occurred to me that in a way everyone was in her predicament. Sooner or later everyone I came into contact with would die. Should I be treating them differently, knowing they would die someday?

I resolved not to treat her differently.

The funeral ended and we moved to the cemetery. Stephanie was placed over the gaping hole next to a mound of dirt which had been covered by a soothing green carpet. The sun shone brightly on her casket as the minister read from I Corinthians 15. After the prayer, people slowly departed. One person moved the part of the carpet that had hidden the gravestone of Stephanie's brother. The inscription read, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith!", the same verse Steph had quoted to me two and a half years earlier in the cafeteria.

If Stephanie could come back for just a minute, I might say to her, "Thanks for your cheery smiles, the Pooh Party Book (I haven't played Musical Pooh Pillows yet), and the notes you wrote on my office door. Do you remember the time you rented the Pooh movie and we watched it with several others? I saw you stealing a glance at me to see if I liked it. (I did.) And thanks for the lesson. (I never told you about the question.) Good-bye. No, make that 'See you later.'"