This adjective, more than any other, describes you best. Unassuming, gentle, unpretentious, unpresuming, free from pride, without arrogance, peaceable, tolerant.
I learned more about being kind-hearted from a lesbian who drank Miller Lite everyday than I ever did from church folk. I suppose it was all of the above that made the difference– those hidden-away qualities rooted deeply in the heart that God, himself searches for and holds dear.
Even when the rest of the world judges you.
I remember how much you loved your job working for the city and one day I asked you what it was that made you love it so much.
God lets me be in the right place at the right time. One day, I found an old man who’d fallen in his yard and couldn’t get himself up. I got to help him to his feet and get him into his house. Sometimes I see dogs that don’t have homes. I bring them food.
I remember when my man was deployed and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. You invited me and my little ones over so you could play funny songs for them on your computer. All you wanted to do was to make them laugh– to make life a little sweeter if only for a tiny piece of time.
But those tiny pieces of reality become the memories they carry with them forever.
You know how sometimes we see a familiar face but we aren’t quite sure where it was that we saw that face? There’s usually a feeling attached to the vision, good or bad. Rarely neutral. We may not remember where we know them from but we always remember how they made us feel.
Everywhere we went, people knew you. I’d watch their eyes light with positive recognition. They were always happy to see you because you always made people feel good.
I moved into your hospital room on a Wednesday. I got you settled back at home late Friday night. In between, they determined that not only was cancer in your breast– but also in your lungs, your brain, your liver, and your bones.
The female doctor who was always with those two guys I wanted to drop-kick who told me you were too weak to go home…she came back in to see you one more time, head held high, eyes filled with tears that she somehow kept from spilling. I’m glad you’re going home. I don’t blame you. I can see you have friends who love you. It was so nice to meet you, Terry.
You were sitting upright, dangling your feet over the edge of the bed, taking your eyes off the clock only long enough to look into hers. You had a smile in your eye, thankful that someone had caught on to what you had known all along.
Only a few friends stopped by that Friday night when we got you home. It really was late. There was Doris, the Hospice nurse. Phyllis joined us after her bartending shift to spend the night. I slept while the two of you visited. She went home in the morning to get some sleep. I answered the door all day Saturday for the friends who came to visit you.
It made you tired. Too tired. So tired you became frustrated. Downright grouchy. Because of that, I decided to be selective. Tough.
On Sunday, a man and a younger man I’d never seen before rang the doorbell. I tried to tell them you were resting. Then I saw the sorrow in their eyes. I couldn’t keep them from you. I just couldn’t.
I brought them in and they sat with you on the couch. You listened as the older of the two told you his troubles. I’ll never forget what you said to him.
When I feel the way you feel, I close my eyes and I thank God. I just thank him and I praise him.
When that man left, there was no more sorrow in his eyes.
You had given him hope.
On your deathbed.
You asked me to put in your Elton John CD, Songs from the West Coast, so I did. And because you thought you had hurt my feelings the day before when you were so very tired, you asked me to sit beside you on the couch. You scratched my upper back with your fingernails– a side-to-side repetative, horizontal motion– loving on me, making me feel so relaxed I could have melted right into the upholstery. No words spoken.
There were no more visitors that day. Just you and me and my teenage son, Heath. Phyllis joined us when she got off work, all of us in our places. Heath dozing on your antique Federal Sofa, you and Phyllis talking into the wee hours on the couch…and me on the floor, just below…catching a few hours of sleep so I could hold down the fort in the day.
The act of dying no longer frightened me. With your dignity restored, you called the shots. No more oxygen tank. You wanted your friends to have the freedom to smoke. To be themselves. To visit like they’d always done before. No restrictions. This was your house.
You knew that an oxygen tank was not going to increase your days.
Outside of the hospital, our own system had fallen right into place like tiny pieces of an intricate puzzle that were always meant to be.