I noticed the halls didn’t smell like green beans and urine like most other nursing homes I’d known. People smiled here. (Except for the secretary who yelled at us through the glass that the code was 1080, and that we’d have to let the cook know we wanted to share lunch with Ms. Louise, because they hadn’t planned on my coming with Dad. I hadn’t either.)
We found her sitting with her head against the hallway wall, wrapped in a blanket.
“Ms. Louise?” Dad asked, and all her face wrinkles rose.
“What a nice surprise,” she said, “and your daughter? Why, I remember when you were this tall!” She held a hand out at waist level. Dad said we came to share lunch with her. She apologized that she felt nauseous and wouldn’t be eating, but said Yes, please pray for her.
She was pretty, hunkered in her chair, lips in a smile, eyes set on me. I held her warm, white hand. Dad prayed, and she watched him instead of shutting her eyes. She watched me, too, and asked me to come again, though she couldn’t stand the thought of us missing lunch and tried to shoo us off. Thank you for visiting an old lady like me, she said, and Please come again.
I promised and meant to keep it, but I didn’t know better. I’d never heard of the virus.
We stood and she repeated herself to Come again. Then she had a thought: “That is, unless Jesus takes me first, and then smile!” she did as she said it, rolling her eyes up to the ceiling, “I’ll be with him!”
We keyed in 1080 and walked to the van through ice and rain, October’s colors blunt.
Winter brought a virus and spring locked the doors, and maybe I could have visited again this new year, but when I heard she’d passed away yesterday, I was alright. Jesus had taken her first, I’d imagined her smiling, and I smiled too.
“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
– Isaiah 35:10