My aunt, Samantha Stein, was taken to our Lord this past Saturday, April 23rd. Originally from Michigan, she spent most of her life in upstate New York, living in East Ridge, a rural community alongside the Delaware river that divides New York & Pennsylvania. The community started out as a 1960’s commune, but later evolved into a Christian Community that served as a rehabilitation center for all types of addicts, integrating the 12-step program into the rhythm of their lives.
Coming from an upscale suburban community, this lifestyle was completely foreign to me, but the simplicity of it always called to my soul. I only have had a handful of brief opportunities during the 47 years God has kept me in this world to know this part of my family, and to experience their chosen way of life. It wasn’t one without its problems, brokenness, drama, and heartaches. In fact, the families, lives and stories of East Ridge might have rich material for a potential best-selling novel.
While my interaction with Sammy and her family occurred maybe once a decade, each brief experience was deeply sublime, and much of that was due to my aunt. Most recently she came to Michigan as my father was dying. She didn’t have to, but she made the trip and poured herself out to help my mother (her half-sister) and our family in any way she could. Always gentle, always smiling, always willing to help. Despite many challenges and heartaches, Sammy always found a way to smile. I saw her as a tireless servant to her children and this community that sought to help others. She gave until she had no more to give. She loved even when the love was not returned. It was only in the past few months that she discovered she had stage four cancer, in part because she made little effort to acknowledge the pain in her own body. Despite her own suffering she had been caring for another friend, when the cancer quickly turned the tables on her.
Her sister, Michelle, took on Sammy’s example and sacrificed a month of her life to care for her as the cancer slowly broke down the rest of her body. Sammy continued to suffer much like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, expressing more concern for her caregivers than her own needs.
Having referred many addicts to East Ridge, the Missionaries of Charity (Blessed Mother Theresa’s order) in the Bronx, made a special 2 hr trip to console Sammy in her final hours. This video of the sister’s angelic voices, in this great act of mercy, resonated deeply within my soul. How much these dear nuns live out the true mission of the Church. Sammy died a day later with 4 of her 5 children at her side. The one who couldn’t be there was restrained by a prison cell due to bad choices, and a justice system that shows no mercy to those who confess their sins (only through Christ does one receive that mercy!). I know Sammy kept this sorrow close to her heart like the Blessed Mother, and that she has taken this petition with her to our Lord in heaven.
Her suffering is over, yet her example discipleship continues in the hearts of those she touched. I pray that God will give us all the grace to be more like her… more selfless, more giving, more loving and more joyful.