By The Rt. Rev. Keith L Ackerman
Tonight I cannot sleep because I look at my wife of nearly 50 years lying next to me in bed, and for once in our nearly 50 years of marriage – 54 years of “going steady” – I do not have the words to console her over the loss of one who was “more than a sister” to her – Fabienne Johnson Brush was, simply put, a part of Jo’s heart. Upon learning of Fabi’s inevitable death, Jo entered a state of disbelief coupled with prayer, and upon learning of her dear friend’s death, she manifested biopsychophysiological expressions which could be given medical names, but were in fact a broken heart paired with the incredible joy of knowing that her friend had received a Nativity call to be at Home with the Lord before the call upon her own fragile life – as a cancer survivor and heart attack survivor. As Jo said to the Nurse Practitioner who examined her, “God has a plan.” “I see Fabi smiling at Jesus, and I see Jesus reaching out to Fabi as He receives her.” This can be said by one who has lost someone who was more than a sister to her.
To say that Fabi was a Saint or an extraordinary person. would be to understate the facts. As I sat with Jo today at her Cardiologist’s office I heard Jo say, haltingly with tears – “she was the best woman I have ever known.” “There is no woman I have ever admired more.” Jo’s Angina that expressed itself on Saturday was and is simply a broken heart, and while I have been asked by Fabi’s priest to sit in the pews and then step forward to share some words, I find myself as a minor part of a great event. Rather than being invited as a Bishop to Pontificate, or Celebrate at a Requiem Mass, I find myself being asked to be a friend to the family and support to my wife who has lost her friend. In spite of my role as “family chaplain” including Weddings, Confirmations, and Baptisms, I find myself, perhaps not inappropriately sitting with my wife and with the family of my wife’s dear friend as a support and encourager.
Fabi was born to two of the most remarkable people I have ever known, who were staunch in their Orthodox Faith and Belief. As true leaders in the Diocese of Quincy – where I had the privilege of being their Bishop – 15 years as Diocesan and now 8 years as Bishop Vicar – Colonel Bob and Giugi graced the Diocese, and each in their own way shared their own treasures: children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – but their daughter, Fabi, was a crown Jewel in the Johnson crown for my wife.
Being a Bishop’s wife can be very lonely. Maybe the movie was popular, with David Niven and Loretta Young, but the day to day life of a Bishop’s wife involves not only occasional unrealistic expectations, but distancing, due to preconceived notions. One may well say the same about the wive’s of Colonels and Commanding Officers, and both Giugi and Fabi understood. In no time at all – all of the natural connections – from being Italian to being married to a leader became connecting points – Jo and Fabi looked liked sister and they acted like sisters. The “Polly Bond Award” for outstanding work by a Diocesan Newsletter became an obvious award for the “sisters” and upon acquiring “The Parish Press” Publishing Company- a book and a well distributed series regarding “Our Anglican Heritage” became obvious offerings that have captivated many.
And so, like so very many people from various part of the world, Jo celebrates Fabi’s life and mourns her own loss of one who would daily brighten up her day in Peoria when they met to plan another Diocesan newsletter, or another Diocesan event. I sincerely hope that a great deal of our remaining years will involve reminding Fabi’s family and friends of what they already know – that this was a remarkable woman – a saint – a dynamic force – who could enter a room and make it bright. This was and is our Fabi – my wife’s so very precious friend.