Margaret Enns, 1933-2011

Above:  Elaine and her mother at La Fonda restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  We took Elaine’s parents on a tour of the Four Corners area in 2002, just 2 years before her father passed away and her mother sunk into Alzheimers.   
Early Christmas Eve morning, Margaret Hertha Toews Enns, Elaine’s beloved mother, slipped quietly into the next world as Elaine slept next to her bedside.  Her final, labored breaths brought a blessed end to a marathon journey of Alzheimers, which had kept her locked up for more than 8 years in a mysterious, private (and for us frustrating) world. 
The last leg of Marg’s journey commenced when a series of strokes signaled that the time had finally arrived for hospice.  Elaine, her three siblings, their spouses and nine of Marg’s grandchildren commenced an around the clock vigil for more than a week at the Mennonite Nursing Home in the small town of Rosthern, Saskatchewan.   Amidst the duties, conversation and visits, there were many holy moments.  Sometimes the room was full of all 18 family members, singing old German hymns, eating home-cooked food brought in by friends, and spinning stories woven in laughter and tears.  Other times it was just one or two of us, rotating shifts, praying to the rhythm of Marg’s slow, labored breathing.  
A few residents of the home, in various states of mental and physical deterioration, would occasionally join the ebbing and flowing “party” in Marg’s room.  So did members of the nursing home’s amazing staff, whose care was exceptionally compassionate and exemplary, and who tolerated our invasion with grace and hospitality.  I’ll not forget an elderly cousin of Marg’s who lives in the independent living wing of the home; he visited daily, his rheumy eyes often glistening as he quietly related little-known family stories.  Kind and gentle, he’d lost his wife to Alzheimers just weeks before, and was visibly in pain.  The day before Marg passed he couldn’t quite say his final farewell; he kept sighing and muttering phrases in low German, turning to leave and turning back, blinking back tears.  For me he was a poignant mediator of the sorrowful, accompanying God who is so profoundly present in such liminal times.
It was instructive and edifying to observe and participate in this vigil with the Enns family.  Prairie Mennonite culture, though increasingly suburbanized here, is still basically communal.  No one is too directive, everything is understated, and decisionmaking, like speech, is slow.  These are modern, “drinking and dancing” Mennonites; no coverings or horses here (though two of Elaine’s sibs live on farms).  Yet they are still deeply tradition-infused, especially at times like this. 
As I write we are amidst preparations for the memorial service at Elaine’s brother’s farm.  The young adult and teenage kids are busily scanning in pictures from the ubiquitous family photo albums for a Powerpoint slide show; the women are cooking and serving waves of food; the sibs are planning the service and a green burial.  Their home church pastors and the mortuary director, like the staff of the nursing home, are each extraordinarily patient and kind, Mennonites all.  The ability of extended family and church folk to pull together feasts and organize gatherings—all without any apparent coordination—is truly amazing.  Like flocks of shorebirds in California, they move gracefully together in concert.  This isn’t just small town culture; it’s village culture, clan culture. 
However much their slow moving overdeliberation grates on my traditionless, individualist, loud, workaholic southern Californian socialization, Elaine’s clan is far closer to how human beings should be together in community.  There was a reason my mentor Ladon Sheats, when he was in Saskatoon for our 1999 wedding, said of them, without hint of exaggeration: “I’ve never been around so much human goodness.”
We are grateful for Marg’s release at last from the prison of this awful disease, something we’ve prayed for daily for years.  And we are confident that early this morning she was swept up into the arms of her beloved husband Beno in a dance into the other side.  It is a privilege to be part of the family that accompanied her to the edge of the Jordan.