Living with deliberate intent: lessons from a loss and a blessing

donna marie downing anderson mdYesterday reminded me of how suddenly life can end. Rich and I attended the funeral of his cousin Donna who was killed suddenly in a car crash. Gone, just like that. She had just returned to Minnesota from Connecticut, having spent the weekend with her parents. Her mother was brought home from rehab after several weeks away; Donna and her sisters helped to settle their mother back into her routine.

Donna was a doctor, having first served in a pediatric practice for fifteen years, followed by time spent in an army hospital and then in clinics on Indian reservations. She was well aware of all that was going on with her parents and was able to contribute her expertise. She also contributed her special brand of humor and consolation to her mother, father and sisters. Donna was a healer who was very passionate about life. Her spirit was adventurous and free, her life lived with deliberate intent.

It therefore seemed exceedingly unfair that this woman in her prime should suddenly be taken from this life while traveling home from the airport after having called her mother to tell her she was “alright.” Unfair to her mother who is still quite frail. Unfair to her father, devastated at the loss of his little girl, the youngest of the sisters. Unfair to her sisters who depended upon Donna’s gift of life.

Like all of us who attended yesterday’s funeral, I was in need of consolation. Whenever I feel that need, I attend mass at Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA. While I love my own parish of St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, there is something special about Holy Family; being there consoles me. It was where I received my healing of my singing voice. St. Luke’s former pastoral associate, Fr. Steven LaBaire, is pastor of this magnificent cathedral:


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This morning at mass, I saw something else that reminded me of the need to live with deliberate intent. I remembered clearly the first time I witnessed it; I wept openly because I was so moved. I now want to share it with you:

Father Steve is breaking the bread which Catholics believe is the body of Christ. He then takes a piece and drops it in the chalice containing the wine which is the blood of Christ.

This is what I mean by deliberate intent.

Notice how the ritual and each little motion is done slowly, reverently, with love. By the deliberate intent of his motions, Father Steve allows us time to contemplate the mystery of the bread and wine. The breaking of that bread reminds us of Christ’s broken body on the cross and the mingling of the body with the blood which Catholics then receive as the eucharist during communion.

Christ shares himself with us through such humble means as bread and wine and in the most intimate way possible: by entering our bodies as food. This is what Catholics believe; it is what I believe.

Father Steve demonstrates living with deliberate intent by the way he celebrates this ritual which he has done endless times but never without thought.

Donna lived with deliberate intent, chasing her passions for medicine, helping others and wildlife photography while never forgetting her family. I’m told by my mother-in-law that Donna called her mother three days each day to check in.

Now she is gone but she leaves behind a legacy, not just of her love or her good works or her beautiful pictures. She leaves behind a legacy of living life with deliberate intent.

Father Steve reminded me of that today in his celebration of the mass, the most sacred of rituals.

Do we think about what we are doing? Do we pour every bit of ourselves into the present moment or do we waste time living in the past or anticipating the future?

What is our intention as we life each day?

Obituary for Donna Marie  Downing Anderson, M. D.

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