Yesterday was a domestic kind of day. I cleaned my kitchen. Paid bills. Organized a stack of paperwork and resolved again to scan it all one of these days and get rid of the clutter. Cooked up some Swiss steak, using my all -time favorite recipe. The house smelled great by dinnertime.
I didn’t eat the Swiss steak though. Instead, I packed slices of meat and thick tomato sauce into a container, along with rice and fresh sliced zucchini. I loaded everything into a bag and headed out to Vicky’s house.
Vicky is about my age – just a little younger. She is the second of eight children; her parents had four, adopted four, and have fostered 250. She has the kind of flawless skin I admire. Like me, she loves music, especially the blues and Etta James. She lives out in the country, and adores the backyard “critters,” as she calls them. (To be honest, I wondered if that included Florida bobcats and panthers.) She keeps track of where the cardinals are spotted each day. She has a sharp intellect and uses words thoughtfully, with precision.
I’d never met Vicky before.
In April, Vicky was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It started simply enough, with some vision problems, and migraines. Now, just eight weeks later, she has lost her sight almost completely and she can no longer feed herself. Her words sometimes slur. Sentences occasionally trail off before the end. She cannot walk on her own. When she wants a drink of water, her mom gently tips the bottle to her waiting lips.
I knew she was sick, and that things were moving fast. But when she entered the kitchen, I was shocked.
Not by her appearance. I know what a very sick person looks like.
What shocked me were the first words out of her mouth.
“Thank you, God, for this beautiful day.”
I knew then that I could learn a thing or two from Vicky. As her mom prepared her plate, Vicky asked that I call her Aira…the name she says God gave to her.
And I have no doubt in the world that He did.
Vicky’s mom said grace before she fed her, a tiny spoonful at a time. She gave thanks for the food, for Vicky, and for the tumor that was teaching their family some important lessons.
For dessert, Vicky opted for four raspberries with banana slices. Ovaltine is her favorite beverage, but she only drank a sip or two.
After dinner, she helped her mom document her evening medications for the Hospice nurses. Vicky recalled what each medication was for (controlling swelling in her brain, controlling seizures, keeping on an “even keel”) and her dosage. She got most things right, but missed a few. Her mom knew, then, how her memory was doing that day.
We headed into the living room and talked for a while. Vicky and her mom spoke about the progression of her disease. When Vicky said something that didn’t make sense, her mom said that the remark “came from the tumor, not from your heart.” Vicky sometimes talks with her Aunt Janet, who passed away years ago. She told me about the times that the separation between her earthly life and her eternal life is very thin, indeed. And she accepts that without a glimmer of fear or trepidation.
When it was time to leave, Vicky stretched out her arms to hug me. It was a big hug. She didn’t let go for a long time, and she whispered, “You are an angel of God.” She kissed me. Twice.
And then she said, “I’ll see you on the other side.”
I hope she does, but the truth is that before that time, I’d like to sit with Vicky and listen to a little Etta James.