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Readers can move an author’s hand to further flesh out a significant character depicted in one of her books. This happened to Heather Morris in her historical novel, The Tattooist at Auschwitz (2018). Within the wake of this New York Times Best Seller, millions of emails asked about Cilka, a close friend of Gita, another Slovakian Jew in the Nazi death camp.

Subsequent research afforded minimal information about Cilka Klein (1926-2004), fluent in six languages, outstanding for her physical beauty, and wise beyond her sixteen years. Not only did she survive nightly rapes by two senior commandants, not only was she responsible for the women in Hut 25 before being gassed, she survived until the camp’s 1945 liberation by the Soviet Army. However, her new interrogators judged her a collaborator and sentenced her to fifteen years of hard labor at the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia.

 Here, Cilka’s Journey (2019), the novel begins, embellished by Morris’s secondhand research. Sparse prose engages her readers’ involvement as we follow Cilka, hardened to the core, her senses jaundiced, bereft of any vestige of the feminine. Yet, she adjusts, carefully, among her new captors and hut mates. Despite starvation diets, ragged clothing, long and brutal winters, despite death claiming overworked victims, Cilka’s presence empowers those around her to feel, even smile. Years pass. Occasional laughter trips the nightly gloom in their hut while crocheting threads torn from bed sheets into wall decorations.

Central to Cilka’s psychic transformation are a woman doctor, Yelena Georgiyevna, and Alexandr, another inmate. Through them, Cilka envisions a personal future that softens her into the loving woman she was destined to become.

Cilka’s Journey is a significant read for those involved in the Sacred work of transformation, one day at a time.



Each morning I show up for another sick day of my terminal illness as differentiated from actively dying in Dr. Singh’s book The Grace in Dying. Still handling my ADLs, I fill the hours with blogging, praying, reading, phone and email contacts, resting, and CPA meetings. The little blue pill still supports my functioning. Weekly visits with the hospice nurse and occasional ones from the social worker continue; the chaplain, on medical leave. Time seems to careen like gymnasts hurtling the vault.

Two days ago, however, I was diverted from my routine.

On my bookshelf lay the paperback The Room on Rue Amelie (2018), by Kristin Harmel, which a friend had dropped by months ago. I picked up the novel and scanned the reviews. A kernel of fact held it together: During World War II the Paris resistance developed Comet, an escape route into Spain for Allied pilots shot down over Germany and Nazi-occupied France.

Although the novel afforded me a respite from my usual routine, it was a thin read: Too many characters, too many coincidences, too many clichés, too many gaps in the story line. Withal, the author’s ambition misshaped her story. Yet, I completed the novel, surprised by my critique. The experience prompted my return to studying books with depth, with artistry, with life-lessons. Despite my limits, my imagination still needs feeding.

I could be sick for a long while and life’s fullness still abounds with glimpses of the Sacred.



“After I told her goodbye and was preparing to leave her bedside, I felt her gaze and turned around. It was her eyes—always a lovely blue—but these were different—never have I seen the like,” so said her old friend, her voice quivering. “She was a blessing, both for herself and for me.”

A member of the teaching community of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, she had devoted the last five years of her life preparing for her dying and self-publishing her findings in the booklet, When Threads Wear Thin–Souls Stirring of an Octogenarian (2019). Written with humility and simplicity, it reflects her passion for her God with whom she had spent her vowed life, often in positions of leadership. Especially was this true in the wake of the Vatican II reforms that stressed all religious communities to the max.

The bibliography also reflects her interest in like-minded seekers, especially Dr. Singh’s insights that she internalizes within her own process. She probably spent little time in the Chaos phase and moved on to Surrender and Transcendence.

But to return to her glittering blue eyes, as I call them—a manifesto of her psychospiritual transformation before death. It seems like she was practicing the moment of “Free Fall” into Cosmic Love, her sense of the dying process as found in her journals.

Her name was Sister Carol Ann Collins, SSND. We miss her.


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