The Best Gift Ever

24910097_1677760535622078_6615890065848693126_nI’ve always had my own ideas about religion and politics. I’m an independent renegade when it comes to both, but I still believe in those institutions even though I am quick to critique them whenever I see problems. Thus it was a great surprise to me when I was asked to head the religious education program for pre-schoolers and elementary students at my church many years ago. It was to be the first time that lay people would fill such positions because the sweet nuns who were beloved by the parish were moving away and there were no religious replacements.

Since I am loathe to shy away from challenges I accepted the job and learned that my partner in the endeavor was as feisty as I was. Ours was a collaboration made in heaven if you will. A staff of assistants already existed and the two of them agreed to stay to help us after the good sisters had left. Judy Maskel would be our secretary and all around font of knowledge. Much as it is with outstanding office personnel she had been essentially running the place for several years, and she would prove to be a strong foundation on which we would build a new way of doing things. It didn’t take us long to realize that without Judy we would have been running for cover within weeks. Instead she was an unflinching ally to our cause who somehow managed to very quietly gloss over our mistakes and help us to feel competent even when we were struggling with the task. Over time Judy became far more than someone who kept us from appearing to be fools. She became a good friend, a person whom we loved for her unending patience and sincerely sweet demeanor.

Judy was a beautiful woman with a shock of ginger colored hair and the fair complexion of someone of Scandinavian decent. Nothing was quite as important to her as her faith in God and her beautiful family. She was devoted to her husband and her lovely children and they returned her love. It seemed as though Judy had discovered the secret to balancing life’s demands so seamlessly that she maintained a kind of calmness and perfection in everything that she did. Being around her was an exercise in relaxation. She had a way of soothing even the most tempestuous situation and I grew to truly adore her.

Eventually our parishioners accepted the reality that we would never again have nuns to educate the children in the tenets of our faith. The transition was successful in no small part due to the support of wonderful people like Judy Maskel. She was so admired by those who knew her that folks began to feel that if she liked us, then perhaps they should as well. We pioneered a change that would not have gone so well without Judy.

In the meantime I had finally finished my degree and earned my certification as a teacher. Although I had loved my work at the church I wanted to move into the next phase of my career as an educator, and so I left for a position teaching mathematics. Nonetheless, I had grown so attached to Judy and the others who had been my daily companions in our endeavors that I was determined to continue our relationship.

As so often happens life took hold of all of us. We were busy with our jobs and our families and getting together proved to be more difficult than we had expected, so I began the tradition of gathering with the group at Christmas time each year. In the beginning there were five of us who met on an evening in December to sample goodies and talk for hours about our children and the events that had occupied us since our last rendezvous. It was always a glorious time and I began to laughingly refer to our little group as “the church ladies.” At some point we decided to bring little gifts for one another and it was always fun to exchange the goodies that we had either created or purchased. One of our members made homemade jams and breads that were always the hit of the season. Judy liked to bake little cookies and such now and again depending on how crazy her own schedule had been. Always she came with her smile and a laugh that looked at life from a vantage point of unadulterated happiness and optimism.

The years seemed to go by so quickly. Our children grew into adults and we rejoiced in becoming grandmothers. One by one we began to retire from jobs that had occupied us for decades. Judy had faithfully continued working at the church, watching over the children and the teachers and the directors with the same compassion that she gave so generously and effortlessly. Somehow she always felt like an anchor to everything that is most important in this world, so the annual celebrations with her had a very uplifting effect on me. Whenever December rolled around I simply could not wait for the day when I would get to see the ladies who had meant so much to me, and to enjoy that twinkle of mischievousness in Judy’s bright blue eyes that always brought a smile to my own face.

As we grew older our conversations began to be punctuated with stories of health problems that we were experiencing. One of our members developed cancer and ultimately lost her battle with that disease. Somehow her spirit always seemed to continue to be with us whenever we met, even as the years began to mount along with our own troubles.

Judy had been diagnosed with a rare disease that runs in the DNA of Scandinavians. At first her symptoms came in small doses and she was able to come to our gatherings with her old hopefulness and sense of humor. Over time the illness progressed, and even though she complained very little we were able to see her decline. She became quite thin and there were signs of worry in her blue eyes that twinkled less and less. She seemed preoccupied with her thoughts and her pain, but she was determined to hang in with us and to show us a brave front.

Last year she spent time in a rehabilitation facility. When two of us went to visit her she was struggling with her fate. It was apparent that the disease was overtaking her in spite of her courage and determination. She wanted to reassure us, but she no longer had the energy to protect us from the truth of what was happening. When she recuperated and returned home we were overjoyed and hopeful that she would somehow overcome what had seemed to be her ultimate demise. Even when she was unable to be with us at our luncheon we all managed to laugh and rejoice in what appeared to be her recovery.

As we began to plan for this year’s reunion we learned that Judy was in a nursing home in League City. A kind of pall came over those of us left in the group when we realized that she had become so sick. We were planning to visit her when we learned that she had died. Somehow it was shocking even though she had often explained the ultimate effects of the disease that had overtaken her. In a strange twist I found myself experiencing the same calmness that she had always provided me even as I felt the pangs of sadness. I smiled at the thought that she had truly become an angel in heaven.

That same night our city filled with a lovely dusting of snow. Our first sight upon awakening the next morning was heavenly and peaceful, and I immediately thought of Judy Maskel. It would have been so like her to find a way to ease our sadness. I wondered if perhaps she had been somehow responsible for requesting that God send us a little gift to make us smile. It’s certainly something that she might have done. She was always so thoughtful and giving like that.

There are only three of us left from our original group. We have plans to meet later this month. We will miss Judy because she represented the very best of us. Hers was a beautiful soul that always lit up the room with her unconditional love and patience. She quietly impacted everyone who ever knew her. She was a helpmate and a font of wisdom. The most remarkable gift that she gave us was herself, and that was the best gift ever.

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The Things We Own

Internet-of-things-data-digitalWe are not defined by our possessions. At least we shouldn’t be, and yet when someone dies we find ourselves remembering moments shared with them when we see the artifacts that belonged to them. A ring, a book, a plate, a tool, a painting, an article of clothing may spark recollections that bring a person back to life in the mind of the beholder.

When my father died I found comfort in seeing his clothes and shoes lying in the closet where he had left them when he went out on a summer evening drive. Somehow as long as they were there I felt as though a part of him was still with us. When my mother finally had one of my aunts remove his things the reality of his death sank into my brain. From then on my memories of him were found in the books that he had so treasured. They spoke to me of his love of reading and told me that he had been a man of many different interests and talents.

Since my mother had lived with me in the last year of her life the duty of disposing of her clothing became my responsibility. My daughters helped me and each of them chose one item to remember her by. One of them decided to take Mama’s warm fuzzy robe. She wears it to this very day and says that it makes her feel as though she is getting a hug from her grandmother. She swears that even with multiple cleanings it still has my mother’s scent locked in the fibers. In a strange way it is like having a tiny bit of her essence still intact,

Last week my husband and I helped the daughter of a very dear friend drive his RV to a consignment lot where it will eventually be sold. He had died quite suddenly last month to the shock of all of us. Driving my truck behind the RV as we rode in a caravan reminded me of the camping trips that we had taken with him. They always took place in the fall and we had great fun talking and hiking and visiting museums. Just as had happened with my father’s things the reality of Bill’s death struck me full force during that drive. He loved the big meals that I cooked and we laughed and told stories while we broke bread at the tiny table that seemed so bountiful on those wonderful occasions. I felt a deep sadness because I knew how much joy that RV had brought him. In fact, he had once told us that it had saved his life after the death of his beloved wife. The trips that he took provided him with a reawakening of his sense of adventure and a reason to arise each day. It appeared from the interior of the RV that he had been in the process of planning another excursion just before he died. I suppose that I feel some comfort in knowing that he was probably happy as he contemplated the fun that he was going to have.

After our friend died his daughter gave me some of the things from his house. I have a stained glass butterfly and a set of wind chimes that had been chosen by his wife, my very good friend as well. The blue glass figurine was so much like her. She loved butterflies and the the indigo and turquoise colors that decorated so many corners of her home. I smile now when I see the lovely items that speak of her whimsy and remind me of her laughter. She enjoyed having what she called rainbow days and as the sun shines through the colored glass I see little rainbows dancing on my ceiling as though she is actually urging me to embrace life and have fun.

When I opened the boxes that hold my Christmas decorations I found a Viking nutcracker. It once belonged to our friend, Egon, a German fellow whose ancestry included a Norwegian mother. He loved Norway and its people and spent most of his summers at a family hut in the mountains. He often told us tales of those halcyon days with his parents and aunts and uncles. He made the place that they called Hovden sound as though it was a slice of heaven. We had always planned to one day go there with him but it was not to be. I can almost hear the strains of Finlandia and see the little red house at the top of a hill where so much of Egon’s spirit had been forged on those vacations with his kin when I look at the stalwart Viking with the funny mouth strong enough to crack nuts. Egon was so much like the delightful little character.

I purchase nuts and apples and tangerines for Christmas every year because my Grandma Ulrich always set out huge enamel bowls of such treats for her holiday celebrations. I have one of the enamelware containers that she used. Each year I fill it with the fruits and the nuts that we all so enjoyed when we were children at her house. I almost feel as though I am back in her crowded living room with my aunts and uncles and cousins when I release the aroma of citrus as I peel one of the juicy tangerines. Recreating the festivities in a bowl that once belonged to her has become one of my most cherished traditions.

Like my father, both of my grandfathers loved to read, and they accumulated books like some people collect stamps or coins. I was able to gather a couple of them and add them to my own collection, and from one of my uncles I have a number of old 45 rpm records with selections from jazz greats like Louie Armstrong. I have to admit that I never realized what great taste in music my uncle had until I was grown. His recordings make me think of the nineteen forties when the world was at war and the future seemed so uncertain. The music provided a ray of hope in a world that seemed overrun by evil. I like to listen to the crackling of the needle on the vinyl and imagine my uncle as a young man.

My house is filled with the items that I use for living and those that I have gathered in travels and from my hobbies and interests. I can’t help wondering what among them might one day remind my friends and relations of me. Will it be my books or my dishes or the art work that I so cherish? What will spark a feeling or a memory? If I knew I would set those things aside for them, but I’m not so sure that anything that I own represents me in any particular way. I have never been attached to things as much as to people, and so there are few items that I would be so important to me that I would feel sad if they were lost or destroyed.

I have a special book that my grandfather gave me when I graduated from junior high. I cherish an antique pitcher that belonged to my great grandmother. I guard the discharge documents that terminated my great grandfather’s enlistment in the Union Army at the end of the Civil War. I have several books of poems and fairytales from which my father read to me when I was a little girl. I would want to save the lamp that my mother used on her dressing table and the china that my brothers bought for me as a wedding gift. Of course there is also my wedding ring that I have worn on my left hand for almost fifty years.

I suppose that I might be able to pack all of that into a small carrying case. I did in fact move those items to the second floor of my home when the waters were rising in my city last August. As it happened they were never in danger, but I would not have wanted to lose them. Still I wonder if they will mean anything to my children and grandchildren. Sometimes I suspect that only my brothers and I understand their importance in my history. One day they may sit forlornly in a box destined for the Salvation Army or some other donation center. I guess that by then it won’t really matter anymore because as I said before, none of the things that we have define us, and yet I wonder if that it really true. Somehow the little trinkets that we bring into our lives tell small stories of who we are. They are clues about what we think is important. They are little biographies that only those who know us will understand. They are the things we carry in our souls.

Christmas Treasures

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I love decorating my home for the holidays, but it is always a somewhat bittersweet time. I don’t do coordinated colors and high fashion. Instead my Christmas ornaments come from a varied collection that dates back to a time even before my children were born. This year I have three trees in different rooms of the house. Each of them is filled with memories more than loveliness. They include trinkets made by my children and elegant china and crystal pieces. I have things that I purchased on vacations and at least twenty years of Hallmark ornaments that have tickled my fancy. Friends and family members who have gone to heaven gave me a number of the things that hang on the green limbs of my trees and I recall the times that we shared each time that I take the treasures out of the seven boxes that store them for eleven months out of the year. I shed a little tear here and there as I think back over the people and the years that each piece represents. Setting up my trees is a nostalgic time that requires just the right music or Christmas movie running in the background while I work to place each ornament just so.

I laughed this year as I hung the proof of my longtime loyalty to the Houston Astros front and center on the big tree in my great room. I have two ornaments celebrating the team that I purchased so long ago that I can’t recall exactly when or where I came upon them. Other teams are represented as well. Of course I have one from the University of Houston, but I also boast a little sled from Purdue and a bauble from Oklahoma State University that I purchased on the occasion of my brother’s graduation on a bitterly cold December day. Perhaps my most unusual team decoration is a Houston Oiler blue football player made out of yarn emblazoned with the number of the kicker Tony Fritsch. I bought that one at a craft sale long before the Oilers had moved to Tennessee and changed their name. Perhaps it’s time for me to find a J.J. Watt.

My first Hallmark ornament was a replica of Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie. It portrays him whistling and steering his ship so contentedly that I smile every single time I see it. To this day it remains my favorite among all of the members of my now extensive collection. I have an obvious preference for all things Mickey or Minnie. Various renditions of them dominate my selections. This year I added a metal lunchbox with Mickey’s image that even includes a tiny thermos inside. That one takes me back to my youth and the warm milk that I drank along with sandwiches that were always a bit stale after sitting in my locker for several hours. I can almost smell the aroma of all of the homemade lunches that my classmates brought and I hear the clink of the lids at they clattered open on the long tables where we sat never dreaming that we would one day grow old.

I also have a thing for Snoopy and Charlie brown. I can’t seem to get enough of those delightful characters. My favorite in the mix shows the whole gang singing in front of a scraggly tree. It makes me think of some of the fresh trees that we had when I was a child. It took a bit of work and a great deal of tinsel to transform them, but when they were finished they were so lovely. I used to lie on the floor gazing above at the lights and the shimmering icicles. Our mother gave us very serious lessons on how to distribute the silver slivers so that they hung just right. I haven’t seen any of those of late and wonder if they are even made anymore. They were almost as messy as the needles that fell from the limbs of the trees, but they were enchanting as they reflected in the glimmer of the colored lights.

For several years now I have purchased the annual Swarovski crystal ornament, a tradition that I began in 2005 after visiting the factory in Austria. Each year is celebrated with a different snowflake crafted in beautiful glass and marked with a tiny silver date plate. They hang so delicately and catch the light in their gorgeous facets. I have made it a yearly ritual to purchase the newest one around the time of my November birthday. I suspect that the lovely creations will one day become heirlooms along with the china gingerbread men that I collected for many years.

When I was still working I signed up to purchase a set of Victorian houses that came to my house once a month for at least two years. They are quite delightful to me and represent the kind of home that I often dreamed of owning, but was never quite able to do. They remind me of the structures in the Houston Heights, a neighborhood where my grandparents lived when I was very young, and where my father-in-law now resides. They literally speak of Christmas to me and the gatherings that we shared each year when my daughters were growing up. We always drove to my in-law’s house so excitedly in anticipation of a great feast and lots of love and laughter. My mother-in-law eventually passed the holiday tradition down to me when she found the efforts needed to cook for so many to be too taxing. Even though I have done my best to create a new tradition, I suspect that everyone who once went to her home misses the feel of that old house and her special touch as much as I do.

I’ve got Harry Potter and Cinderella, golden aspen leaves and glittering pine cones, marshmallow men and gnomes, angels and nativity scenes. The story of my Christmas life fills the trees, telling of fun and friendships and memories. Tying all of it together is Santa Claus who laughs and smiles and glitters with glee. I’m a sucker for anything prtraying the jolly old man. I so vividly recall the magic of his visits when I was young. I can still feel the excitement of trying to sleep on Christmas Eve so that his sleigh might land on our roof to deliver toys for me and my brothers. I never quite understood how Santa did all of the wondrous things that he did each year, but I believed with all of my heart, and I still do. Christmas is truly a time for family and friendships and love and maybe even a miracle or two.

It’s been a tough year for so many in Texas, Florida, California and Puerto Rico. Many of us  have lost loved ones and worried over those who are very sick. I suspect that we need Christmas a bit more than ever. It seems as though we are rushing it here in Houston, but I understand why. Our trauma has been great and we are still reeling and recovering from the floods. Things appear to be back to normal, but there are many who are not yet back in their homes. They may be spending Christmas in a hotel, an apartment or in a room in someone else’s house. Many of their own Christmas treasures washed away in the waters. I thought of them even as I gazed at my own collection that made it through unharmed. My tears of joy and nostalgia were tinged with a touch of sadness for all that has been lost. Still, the real message of Christmas is one of hope. The reason for the season is still about a baby born in a humble manger who came to provide us with the promise that we are never alone. Perhaps this year it is more important than ever to remember what our celebrations should be all about. It doesn’t really matter what our religious beliefs may be, but that Christmas is all about love.

Changing Lives

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Again and again I am reminded by experts that my brothers and I are not supposed to be doing as well as we are. On a recent offering on NPR I learned that the odds of making it out of the cycle of poverty while growing up in a single family household are daunting, and yet my siblings and I not only managed to break a cycle that had haunted our ancestors for generations, but we also managed to be emotionally healthy as well. At the end of a glorious Thanksgiving Day that we shared together the three of us sat back and attempted to analyze the factors that had been important in bringing us to our current state of happiness and success.

We all agreed that it would have been impossible for any of us to make it as adults had it not been for our mother. She was at the center of our upbringing, a task that she took perhaps even more seriously than most. She understood that from day to day she played the role of both mom and dad. Every major obligation was placed squarely on her shoulders, and her start after my father’s death could not have been more difficult. We had no car, no home of our own, no money in the bank, no life insurance pay out, and she had no job. Things were so financially grim that I caught on to the direness of our situation even though I was only eight years old. I had enough sense to rightly interpret the whispered concerns that I heard my aunts and uncles voicing as they worried about what would become of us. Somehow my dear mother would manage time and again through thrift and intellect to weave gold out of straw, and keep us afloat as a family without ever burdening us with her troubles, but she never would have been able to manage all alone.

I suspect that had our mother been virtually on her own the enormity of her task might have broken her far sooner than it ultimately did, but she was surrounded by people who continually supported her and me and my brothers. I found great comfort in the knowledge that we had guardian angels who always showed up when we most needed help. Their efforts on our behalf began on the day of my father’s death when our house filled to the bursting with members of our extended family, long time friends, and people from our temporary neighborhood and church. That trend would continue for all of our days as children and it would provide reassurances to us that someone would be there to catch us if we suddenly began to fall.

I still remember my Uncle Jack taking us to purchase a car after Daddy’s wreck with the funds that Mama had received from the car insurance policy. Even though the automobile that he was driving at the time of the crash had been virtually brand new and fully loaded with all the bells and whistles of the day, the check barely paid the balance of what was owed on the car that had been destroyed, and left only a pittance for a down payment on a new vehicle. Uncle Jack, who was a worldly wise and frugal man, counseled my mother to purchase a replacement that was within her means. He found a stripped down Ford with a standard transmission, rubber floor mats and a color that nobody would have chosen on purpose, that was advertised for an amazingly low price. He brokered a deal with the salesman by appealing to his sense of decency. Still my mother gazed at the ugly car and insisted that it was hardly the kind of model that my father would have chosen. It was Uncle Jack who insisted that she was going to have to learn how to make do with what she had. We drove away and used that “Charlie Brown” car for the rest of my childhood. It took us wherever we wanted or needed to go, but mostly it represented possibilities and the strength of individuals like my uncle who would take care of all of us for years to come.

It was the same Uncle Jack who guided us to the home where all three of us would grow into adults. It was a far more modest place than the ones that we had been viewing with my father. Most importantly, though, was the fact that the neighborhood where it stood was filled with incredibly good people who would become the steadying force that my brothers and I needed. Over the years we shed all of our fears and came to feel infinitely secure because of our neighbors who always seemed to be teaching us things and helping our mother with household repairs. It was a wholesome and safe environment that was made even better when Mama was wise enough to center our world on the nearby church and the school where we would make lifelong friends and build the happiest of memories. Everyone knew of our tenuous situation, and while they never openly discussed their sympathy for our plight, they quietly made extra efforts for us. There was a generous spirit that followed us and kept us from harm. We mostly took all of the people for granted as children are wont to do, but deep in our hearts we understood how important they were in helping to shape us into confident adults. We learned from everyone that with a bit of hard work and imagination we would ultimately be just fine.

We were admittedly more fortunate than most children who struggle with poverty. We had a huge village of adults who took us into their hearts and never let go. With our mom encouraging us to use our natural gifts and talents wisely, and a great deal of motivation from teachers and mentors we were able to break the chains of economic hardship. Today few would ever imagine that our life stories might have made us just a few more statistics had it not been for the love and wisdom that surrounded us when we most needed those things. We know that it is never impossible to rise above even the most challenging circumstances which is why I suspect that we have in turn spent much of our lives attempting to help others just as we were so magnanimously assisted. Our altruism was born in the knowledge that each of us has an opportunity to help our fellow human beings and to touch hearts in ways that alter the trajectory of lives.

It saddens me to know that we still have so many young children who are feeling broken, alone, afraid and powerless, but I regularly see the same kind of good people as those who helped my family by stepping up to make a difference. In this season that is often defined by plenty and excess each of us has the power of reshaping destiny. Even the very smallest of attempts that we make to share the wealth of our good fortune, talents and love with those who have less may create the very spark that sets a soul on fire. I was the recipient of all that I needed to redefine my life, and my gratitude for the many souls who made my rise possible will be eternally boundless. Go forth and seek out the suffering. Listen to their cries. Embrace them and you will change the world.

She’s A Good Woman

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She’s a good woman with a very difficult life. She doesn’t complain, but it is apparent that she is tired. The stress in her life only seems to grow in spite of her efforts to keep things running smoothly. She makes the best of a bad situation. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. She’s adventurous and thought she would be having fun at this moment in her story. Instead life dealt her an unexpected curve to which she has responded with her usual aplomb. She’s a good woman, but one who has been pushed to the limit.

She saw an opportunity to really enjoy life with her man and they decided to grab the possibilities with gusto. They found a way to live out their retirement years in the mountains of Panama. They were healthy and hearty and would be around other expatriates, all for little or no cost compared to what they were paying in the states. They sold their house, their car, all but the most basic of their belongings and they were on their way to an exciting future with the well wishes of friends who understood that they were not ordinary souls.

They found a lovely place to live that came with a caretaker and a housekeeper who visited once a week as part of the rent. Their property was filled with exotic plants and animals and colors of every hue. They enjoyed the fruit that they were able to pick fresh from the trees and vines. They took long walks enjoying the vistas and the rarely changing mild temperatures that kept them feeling comfortable without a need for either air conditioning or heat. They enrolled in Spanish immersion classes even though most of the people around them spoke English. They wanted to totally experience the culture of their new home. It was all as wonderful as they had hoped. They had found paradise.

They met others like themselves, retirees who wanted to experience something a bit different from what they had known all of their lives. They would join their new friends for dinners and parties and game nights. They were an interesting lot with stories to tell of lives spent doing wondrous things. It seemed as though they had all found a tiny slice of heaven on earth and it was so good, at least until the unthinkable happened.

One day only six months into the move he had a stroke. It left him with difficulties that gravely limited his ability to do the things that they had so enjoyed. She immediately set to work helping him to recuperate because it is in her nature to do such things. She’s after all a good woman. Before long he was moving around the property with a walker. His appetite returned and she created healthy foods for him to eat. She worked with him to exercise his limbs and made the best of the unexpected situation. She kept his mind from drifting to dark places. She was devoted to his care and he was growing stronger by the day.

In spite of her efforts to save the remnants of the new and glorious lifestyle that they had created together it became apparent that he needed to be closer to his doctors. The long journeys into to town were tiring and took far too much time. She worried that another emergency might arise. They both agreed that it would be best to return to the states, and so they began to plan again. This time they wanted to try a small town instead of a big city like the one that they had initially left. Their research lead them to a college town in Georgia, the original capitol of the state. It appeared to have everything they might need. There would be doctors and a hospital nearby, an interesting history, a slow pace, and a reasonable cost of living. Perhaps he would even regain most of his health and they would be able to travel again, make new friends. It would be fun.

They packed their things taking mostly memories this time along with their clothing and the boxes of Christmas decorations that always followed them even when they left other items behind. They were excited about the prospects for the future as they boarded the plane but once again their hopes and dreams turned out differently than they had imagined. He had another stroke that left him more incapacitated than ever. For a time she spent most of her days with him in a hospital, preparing their new home in the evenings. He was bedridden, an invalid unable to even feed himself at times, but she’s a good woman and became more determined than ever to provide him with comfort and love. She took him home and has cared for him day after challenging day.

The weeks went by and then the months and the years. Her life is centered on his needs. She prepares the foods that he likes, changes his diapers, gives him his medications. She sleeps in another room but never soundly. She listens for his voice or signs of trouble. The home healthcare workers who come several times each week provide her with brief interludes during which she shops for groceries and sometimes even does something for herself. Now and again one of them becomes a friend.

She’s a good woman, but her life has become ever more difficult. She is far away from family and old friends. She finds new acquaintances at the grocery store or the resale shop where she finds gently used household items for her home. Now and again she meets someone at the apartment project where she lives, but they almost always eventually move away, and she has to start over again and again. She recently fell and broke her hip. It was one of the few times that her optimism began to falter. He had to go to a nursing home until she had recovered enough to care for him, but she was back on her feet in record time. She felt that she had to ignore her own needs because she saw him deteriorating at a rapid pace without her. She needed to get him home where she might shower him with her comfort and love. She worked hard at rehabilitating herself and sooner than anyone expected he was back with her again.

He’s very sick these days. He is plagued by infections. She is too weak to lift him as she once did. She feeds him and changes him and talks with him even though he is no longer able to communicate with her as in times of old when they talked long into the night. She makes the best of a very tough situation.

A few people from nearby churches try to help her. She celebrated Thanksgiving with one of the caretakers who comes each week to work with her husband. She calls old friends to have a lifeline outside of her tiny world of routines. She tries to stay positive but there is a hint of resignation in her voice. She is weary and worried, and every new challenge makes her a bit less steady in her resolve. Those of us who know her silently wonder how much more she will be able to handle. We know that she has always been a tower of strength, a survivor, and a very good woman. Still we want more than anything for her to finally get a break. God knows that she deserves it so.

She’s a good woman who has taught those of us who are her friends how to be so. She has shown us what sacrifice and dedication look like in action. We admire her, but also want to see her enjoying life without so many challenges. She’s a good woman who has certainly earned her angel wings, but we pray that she may also enjoy better times here on earth as well. If ever there was someone who deserves a run of good fortune it is this woman. My prayer is that better times are coming her way.