Jane Loptson passed away just after Christmas, in her 60th year. Photo courtesy of Herman Goodden

Jane found peace in the Catholic Church

  • January 26, 2014

LONDON, ONT. - My friend Jane Loptson died in the hallway outside of her subsidized apartment in the early afternoon of Dec. 27.

She was on her way out to buy some groceries following a rough Christmas when she’d had more than her usual difficulty breathing. Jane would have turned 60 this April, though no one expected her to make old bones, saddled as she was for nearly 30 years with multiple sclerosis which incrementally wasted her body away (the 1980s would’ve been the last time she weighed more than 100 pounds) and impaired one physical faculty after another.

There was a major scare about four years ago when Jane was hospitalized with collapsed lungs. The doctors managed to (as she described it) kind of re-inflate one of them and glue it back to the inner wall of her chest. But she was always weaker thereafter. She had to haul an oxygen tank with her wherever she went and wear one of those nose clips that shoot oxygen straight into the nostrils.

A friend and I took her to see Of Gods and Men at a London theatre and from inside her backpack about every 20 seconds or so her oxygen tank would make a little gushing noise that was only noticeable during quiet passages — of which that film, set in a monastery, had many.

I last visited her in late October after Sunday morning Mass, helping to fix her incredibly wholesome lunch of salad, tea and a no-nonsense muffin, and then cleaning up afterwards. She seemed in pretty good shape that day, jubilantly showing off a new treadmill that her neighbours had set up in her bedroom. This meant that no matter how much it snowed in the months ahead, she wouldn’t have to struggle with her walker to navigate clogged and slippery sidewalks to keep up her exercise regimen.

The first hint I had that everything might not be hunky dory was after the mail came on Christmas Eve and I noticed that her Christmas card hadn’t. Jane’s cards were always on time and, as the most religiously fervent of all my friends, featured unapologetically Christian art and messages. I made a mental note to check in with her early in the New Year and see how she was doing.

Then I got the awful phone call 72 hours later.

We attended high school in the late ’60s/early ’70s but I first got to know Jane well in the autumn of my 18th year when her boyfriend (and my best friend) headed off to India and asked that I drop in on her from time to time. She had a large circle of friends at that time and was heavily involved in various musical undertakings. She played piano well and guitar passably and even worked up some compositions of her own.

Somewhere around ’73 or ’74 Jane went to England to live and work, imbibing as much music and theatre as she could, as well as other stimulants popular at that time, and got more than a little strung out. She would disappear from her flat for days at a stretch and come back to her roommate with tales of meeting the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung on a bus and in a cemetery. Jane was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and struggled mightily with that for the next 20 or so years.

Every fall as the anniversary of her father’s 1976 death came around the hallucinations and voices would get particularly bad. She would try to shut them out and adhere to reality as best she could discern it, but it became too much and she’d check back into the hospital for two or three weeks to ride out the worst of the storm.

Late one Labour Day evening she was driving me to my job and our car was passed by a bunch of high school kids decked out in grotesque masks. They were hanging out the front and back windows and gesticulating to people in the other cars. Jane’s eyes darted to the left and she didn’t say a word; just shifted them back to the road ahead and continued to drive as if nothing was out of the ordinary until I said, “It’s okay, Jane. They really are there.”

As someone who could bring such willpower to the very act of perception, Jane had a formidable work ethic and studied music theory and composition at university through the very worst period of her psychological turmoil. She graduated in 1982 and worked as a piano teacher at a London conservatory and privately, as well as continuing to write her own music.

She eventually produced two CDs worth of original music, including two string quartets, works for smaller chamber ensembles and songs for which she set favourite psalms and religious poems. I wrote the liner notes for these albums, which sold dozens upon dozens of copies (sigh). She cackled with delight when she wanted to refer to one of them during a visit to my house and I pointed to the shelf and said, “I think you’ll find yourself situated north of Franz Liszt and south of Gustav Mahler.”

Like myself, Jane was always drawn to God and the Church. She regularly attended London’s largest United Church in the early ’80s and, naturally, sang in the choir. Her deepest desire was to join the Catholic Church but she couldn’t stick with the happy-clappy, one-year preparation course that was demanded. It was Jane who first persuaded me to check out a Catholic Mass one summer Sunday night in 1983 at our big downtown cathedral. I think she was a little miffed when I signed up for instruction that night and joined the Church the following Easter. She followed me in a few years later (I was her sponsor) after the late Msgr. John O’Donnell let her forgo the classes and consulted with her one on one.

Once in, Jane became a super Catholic, far outstripping me in devotion and commitment, praying daily with the Sisters of the Precious Blood and joining the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order. She found such peace of mind in the Catholic Church that she never again had to check herself into hospital for psychiatric care and never succumbed to despair or self-pity when Multiple Sclerosis was added to her woes.

I occasionally found her a little judgmental and was ticked off when she refused to attend the reception after my dad’s funeral because we held it in a pub. But my rancour melted away when I discovered that she’d arranged for the Sisters at the monastery to add my father to their prayers for the dead.

About an hour after I got back from her funeral on Jan. 3 — a thoroughly Catholic affair, as it should have been, but in which I struggled to get a sense of the person I missed — Jane’s Christmas card showed up in that day’s mail. So there she was after all.

(Goodden is a writer in London, Ont. His latest book is No Continuing City.)

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