On October 8, 2019, according to my daughter Kimmy, “The earth lost another angel.” This blog is my eulogy for that angel, Ani O’Conner.
Kimmy knew Ani well, having babysat for her children and attended the church her husband, J.P., pastored in Philadelphia. Kimmy and her sister Alison had also grown up with J.P. O’Conner who, many years before, visited our house frequently as a young Christian looking for love and support. J.P. had sought his fortunes on Broadway in New York City, coming back to his home town in Connecticut discouraged. We lived nearby at the time, attending a local church that embraced this talented young man and loved him to Jesus.
J.P.’s singing voice was one of those freaks of nature. For all its strength, it had no apparent ceiling. I urged him to get out of his home town and see what music school had to offer him. He ended up attending Atlantic Union College on a voice scholarship, studying theology as well. That’s where he met Ani, another singing phenomenon with a ceiling-less, bright soprano voice. They married and began a ministry path that took them to several pastorates in the northeast until they landed in our church in Philadelphia, to where we’d moved. It’s a small world.
I could ramble on about how the O’Conner’s singing and J.P.’s preaching and leadership revolutionized our church, and it would all be true. Christmas cantatas became regular fare, always ending with a breath-stopping duet of Oh Holy Night. The church revved up energy-wise because of the inspiring power couple at the lead. But this blog is about dear, warm, funny, friendly, sunshiney, not-a-mean-bone-in-her body Ani.
Have you ever asked why the good die young? Have you wondered at the unfairness of life? Have you bled inside for brokenhearted spouses and children left behind when someone was so good so as to be missed not only for the space they held, but for the extraordinary way they held it? Have you ever wished secretly some grumpier, more selfish person could have died instead? All those wonderments and questions are admissible in Ani’s case.
Ani. She’d lost her leg as a teen in a van accident in the Dominican Republic where she grew up, so wore a prosthesis and limped a bit. She’d get “phantom pains” at times. But what she’d lost in body God had given back fourfold in spirit. She stood on the tall side, with raven black hair falling around a beaming and beautiful face that more often than not flashed a dazzling smile. She loved a good party, good food, and fun times all laced with her musical laughter. When Ani sang, the reality of her devotion to God became inescapable. She loved him, her family, and her friends with all her heart and it showed.
Ani contracted an aggressive form of cancer several years ago. The many who loved her fought mightily for her life and seemed for a while to have won. But the special treatments only bought months and years, not the decades she needed to die a timely death. And so, dear Ani O’Conner fell asleep this October as the wind began to blow cold. Kimmy said it well—the earth lost an angel.
Don’t settle for earth, though. Life here is unfair, incomplete, and insufficient. How can there not be a heaven? The love we hold for each other is too big for this meager, brief, shadow of a life. Come to Jesus and let Him prepare you for the world to come where we will see, among other things, my friend Ani.