Fiat Lux

April 1, 2014

You know how a baby’s smile lights up a room? It’s as if there’s some vast light source hidden behind a screen, and that little round face is a tiny window letting a smidgeon of the billions of gigawatts out there spill into the room we’re occupying.

You don’t have to be an infant to let that light spill out. Adults do it too — at least to the extent they retain enough of their baby selves intact.

This weekend Ana’s mother, Sylvia, slipped out of the room forever and escaped back out to that illuminated space behind the screen.

She left a great deal of light behind.

During her stay at the nearby nursing home over the past four years, Sylvia was eventually promoted to a room at the front of the building with a large bedside window with full sunlight access. (The nursing-home equivalent of the top executive’s coveted corner office.) Every day when we would go to visit her, we would walk by that window on the way into the building and peek in. Most days we would be rewarded with her beaming face and an enthusiastic wave of the hand. There was as much sunlight streaming out of that window as there was going in.

Sylvia’s roommate’s husband used to visit every day. After his wife died, he kept right on visiting. How could he not? Sylvia was a beacon that prevented many a ship from foundering upon the rocks of loneliness. One nurse’s aide had a visit not long ago from her out-of-state daughter. In the twenty-four hours they had together, what did she do? She brought her daughter in to visit Sylvia.

And this was on her day off.

My job over the past few years was to bring Sylvia fresh hot coffee in a thermos (“Ah, the good stuff”), sit and visit, spill the news about my latest book project, and tell her how much I loved her daughter. Easiest job I ever had.

The day she died, a torrential rain came gushing out of the sky. When the man from the funeral home gently covered her body and rolled it out the side door on a gurney, Ana burst out the door to hug her mom for the last time. When she turned back, she saw nine or ten nurses and staff lined up by the door weeping.

But the weeping was for ourselves and our loss — not for her. She’s busy lighting up her new digs.

When someone dies people say “Rest in peace.”

I’m not so sure that’s how it works.

I have the feeling Sylvia is kicking up her heels right now in that light-world beyond the curtain, doing a whole lot less resting and a whole lot more radiating.

Meanwhile, for you and me she has left this lesson behind:

Let your light shine.

Let it spill out into the room. It’s the reason you’re here.


  1. Ana

    Beautiful. Thank you my sweet Mann.

  2. Adrienne L.

    What a lovely and inspiring tribute. Thank you so much for this blessing.

  3. jdmann

    Thanks, Adrienne. And thank *you*, sweetheart! 🙂

  4. Josephine

    Love it, so good and true and beautiful.
    We are blessed beyond measure to know this.
    Shine on, Ana and John!

  5. Niki

    John and Ana,
    To know her through your words and stories is to love her. Thank you for sharing Sylvia. Her gigawatts are still spilling out there. Bless both of you. My sincere condolences for your loss.

  6. jdmann

    Thank you, Josephine! And you, Niki! We so appreciate you both!

  7. jdmann

    A few of you have asked, What does “Fiat lux” mean?

    It’s the very first thing God is recorded as saying in the Hebrew Bible. Hebrew: יְהִי אוֹר. Greek: γενηθήτω φῶς. English: “Light—be!” (Or, as King James puts it: “Let there be light.”)

  8. Dixie

    There will indeed always be light, because the light she shared while physically present touched thousands of crystals which continue to spread it around.

  9. Patricia Petty Munns

    Thank you, John, for this beautiful expression of remembrance for Sylvia. I am so happy to see a picture of her. Nearly the way I always felt her in my mind.

  10. Margret McBride

    Dearest Ana and John,
    Sylvia was a remarkable person and that she was loved by two remarkable people who appreciated her to the extent you did was also remarkable. Watching from afar the lengths you went to be by her side was unlike anything I’ve ever known of. Not having been there, but knowing the two of you it’s easier to surmise that part of her glow, was in no small part from the appreciation for the attention she received from you both. Maybe others know this kind of devotion and love, but I think it’s rare. Thank you for sharing Sylvia through your loving words. We all, now, have a real sense of how fabulous she was. Thank you, for this, Margret

  11. Bob Burg

    My heart breaks for you, Ana and everyone whose life was touched as a result of meeting Lovely Sylvia. What a wonderful and magnificent tribute to a wonderful and magnificent woman. I met her only once and, indeed, I’ll never forget that. She was exactly as you described in your article. Again, prayers and best wishes to you, Ana and Family.

  12. Linda Ryan

    What a beautiful picture you paint with your words, John. What a bright light Sylvia still is. My morning literally got brighter while reading this. Shine (rather than rest) in peace Sylvia. Love to you and Ana

  13. Mary Jo Hughes

    So beautiful and descriptive. I will pray for the family that they will be comforted at this time of loss. But memories are so wonderful and I know that you will share many great and funny things, remembering the wonderful light that Sylvia’s life gave to the family.
    Love you both

  14. Linda Roe

    How lovely and what beautiful words about a beautiful woman. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know her. Blessings to you and Ana.

  15. Beverly Bellmore

    John, your beautiful and sensitive tribute to Sylvia really took me back in time. As I read your words about her smile and the light that shone through her, I was transported back to her kitchen in Massachusetts, all warm and cozy on a cool day. Ana and I were very young, or so it seems now, and she was introducing me to her Mom for the first time. Her smile is exactly what I remembered about her. That sparkle and warmth and regard she had for knowing who I was. I felt instantly accepted. Thinking about way back then, I started to tear up, wishing there were more time to get to know people really well, in general and Sylvia in particular. My little poodle was sitting in my lap and twisted her head all the way around to press her face to my chest and look up at me lovingly as if to say, “Yes, it’s true. we need to spend time with each other while we can”. Then I thought of Ana again and thought how much her smile is like Sylvia’s. The sparkly blue eyes that are always sincere and interested in what you are saying. The twinkle that makes you wonder if there is a secret or a joke of some kind. The joy of life. So, Sylvia lives on in Ana’s eyes and in the memory of all our shared moments in time. Thank you for your excellent words about Ana’s Mom. I am sure you were a treasure to her as well. Love and Blessings, Bev

    • jdmann

      Thanks, Bev, I so appreciate your stopping by to comment. There’s nothing quite like a friendship cured by the passage of many years. I’m so glad you are still in our lives!

  16. James

    Thanks so much, John, for sharing this inspiring story. Reminded me of my mom, who created similar “enlightened” effects in the hospital where she spent her last few months.


    • jdmann

      Thanks, James — always great to see your voice here! Thanks for your inspiring example — you showed me that writing CAN be a career.

  17. Connie Field

    What a wonderful tribute you wrote about Sylvia, John. How thankful you and Ana must be for all the moments and time you were able to spend with her over the years and especially these last 4 years. She has left a lasting legacy that will continue to shine. Thanks so much for sharing. May you both continue to sense God’s peace and comfort. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    • jdmann

      Thank you, Connie ~ you are so right. We thought we’d lost her at the end of ’09 — these last four years have been a total bonus round!

    • jdmann

      Thanks, Kai ~ nice to see you here! I think Sylvia loved you more than anyone in the whole wide world. (No, change that ~ not “loved”: “loves.”)

  18. Adrian

    What a beautiful picture of Sylvia. While she was with us, I had only her name. Now that she’s gone, I see her as she was. There are so many ironies of our existence! Clearly she did not hide her light under a basket in this life. Thank you Sylvia for being an inspiration, even to those of us who never met you…

    • jdmann

      Thanks, A! I’m so happy so you stopped in to share your thoughts, really nice to have your presence here.


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