Ever had an experience you knew must be immortalized? Like the hearing the violinist who played amidst the destruction of a bomb. Or glimpsing a flower stretching to the sunlight in a garbage dump.
Maybe my moment wasn’t quite as dramatic as a concert in the aftermath of war, but its beauty haunts me six weeks later. I still hear the sweet lilt of her ninety-five-year-old voice. See the tenderness in her eyes.
For a few months Jerry’s mom was in a nursing home. It was a difficult but necessary choice, and the whole family was relieved to remove her back to her home and to hospice at the end.
We visited Fencine there last August. I’m sure the care-givers did their best in that place. But the needs in those situations are often greater than the finances for staffing. I’m also convinced there are other bright spots in what felt like a gloomy situation. But this one blossom of love brightening the corridors of the care center is what I find worthy of remembrance.
Fencine’s beloved sister Catherine lives at the other end.
At ninety-five Catherine’s mind is still clear and quick. She continues to carry herself with the gentle grace that earned her respect as the wife of the small town’s doctor. Uncle Doc long ago entered his rest, but in his days of earthly productivity he helped establish small apartments for the elderly to enjoy a measure of independence when the time came for help with meals or daily maintenance, but not full nursing home care. It is here we visited with Auntie Kay.
She sat upright on her chair to ease the pain in her back. Her elegant sofa made a good landing place for Jerry and me, and a small smile tugged a my lips as I surveyed the elegance Auntie Kay had brought to her living space. We’d stepped from the hallway of a care facility into the proper environment of a genteel woman. The pearls about her neck were a fitting match for the beauty of her rooms.
Auntie Kay wanted to talk about her sister. She shared observations worthy of a long-term, small town doctor’s wife, things she’d noted in her daily journey through the locked doors that separated her world from Fencine’s, down the long hall to the other end of the facility where her beloved sister resided.
Later Auntie Kay accompanied us to Fencine. Showed us how to navigate the locks, journeyed the stretching space to her sister. And that’s where the moment happened. The memory forever etched in my mind.
Seated in the dining room, Fencine’s eyes held the distant look of one plagued by dementia. While we believe she knew all of us and understood much of what happened around her, communication had become difficult for her. The vibrant, active woman we love sat frail and largely unreachable before us. Jerry spoke gently to her. Her gaze shifted his direction.
Catherine stopped behind Fencine, their snowy hair almost touching, forming halos around the precious faces. Big sister, now 95. Little sister, 89. “This brings her comfort,” Auntie Kay’s voice, laced with love and tenderness, drifted to us through the fog of our pain. Then that ninety-five-year-old woman began massaging her sister’s back and arms, her touch feather-light. Gentle motions, rubbing the length of those long arms that had held four children, those biceps that had known hard work. Those shoulders that had carried much, both literally and figuratively.
And I knew I would never forget this moment. That I would be forever impacted by the love shared between these siblings, these strong women now frail who’d outlived spouses and brothers and sisters and whose age I will likely never reach.
I’ll always remember.
Because the years had not diminished big sister’s need to comfort her baby sister. Because little sister still relaxed under the gentle care offered. The same big sister hands that held little Fencine safe as they ran through the fields of their childhood now ministered strength as they navigated the corridors of age.
I am weeping now.
And loving my own baby brother so much it aches.