Because She Cared

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world; for indeed, that’s all who ever have.”- Margaret Mead

The writing I do is largely about my vision of how attentive care impacts within the school system. Yet in my awareness of care that I ascribe to, I truly believe care is fundamental to everything I do. If I care as a teacher, I will care as a human being in all the capacities in which I serve. I write so as to give example to a more innovative way of perceiving care as the foundation to living and learning. It has been my utmost desire to live my life according to these principles.

I wish to share with you a story, and it is a tender one for me to tell. It is a story about my grandmother and her selfless life of service. Her gift of caring for others is the legacy she leaves to me, her granddaughter. She was once a student herself, a young scholar sitting daily in a one-room schoolhouse. Perhaps there was a teacher at some point in her life who was the guiding light leading her forward. Whether this is the situation or not (I cannot ask, as she has already passed from this life to the next), she has been for me a beacon of hope. She has lived out her faith based on the following biblical principle: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (NIV, 1Cor. 10: 24). Here is her story.

Born on October 3, 1920, in Cody’s New Brunswick, she was one of fourteen children. But rather than fade into the background, a face amidst the throng, she made a name for herself as being a favorite sister. A confidant, friend and caregiver. A kind soul. That care-giving would come in handy later on as she went on to be a nanny, most famously for the movie star Donald Sutherland. This experience (along with a photograph of her famous client) was her sole claim to fame. But certainly her most meaningful care-giving was saved for her own three children, one of whom—a son, was born with Down Syndrome. Little did she realize, her widespread commitment to care-giving had only just begun with tiny Eldon Berry’s birth in 1956.

For on a cold December day, thirty-six years into her vibrant life, my eight-months pregnant Aunt Jeannie— my grandmother’s oldest daughter, was driving home from her day job as a civil servant with the Government of Canada where she worked with Indian Affairs. It was a clear evening, but snow lay on the ground. She had a little economy car and visibility was quite possibly low. The doctor said later if she had have moved her head an inch to the right she would have avoided that truck’s plow which smashed through her windshield, slicing cleanly through her skull and brain. That inch— it wasn’t meant to be. Neither for her, nor for her baby. And from that moment thirty two and a half years ago, (a time when Jeannie was just about the age I am now), until she finally left this life, my aunt lived the life of an invalid. Unmoving, un-speaking, unable. She was robbed of everything save the compassionate care she would live to receive throughout the remaining days of her life.

Her primary caregiver, my grandmother, gave her life in service to my aunt’s care. She spent thirty-one years daily making trips to the various establishments (hospitals, manors, long-term care facilities) where my aunt was located over the duration of her illness. My Grammie spent thirty-one years holding her daughter’s hand, stroking her hair, wiping the crumbs from her face. Spent thirty-one years advocating for her—both within the various medical establishments and beyond. Spent thirty-one years acting as her accountant, conducting her financial business up until the age of eighty-nine years old. She spent thirty-one years of her life solely dedicated to her daughter’s well-being. My aunt received the best care of anyone in the province of New Brunswick, I am sure of it, and there are several experts to vouch for this fact. After thirty-one years of living her life shut up inside a building—living life shut up inside her head, my aunt’s body released her spirit and let it sail home. Less than one year later, my grandmother said her own farewells to this life and she flew away to join her.

My grandmother is an inspiration to me. She is one of many, but she is certainly among those I consider most influential. She wasn’t perfect- far from that ideal. But she was admirable in her own way. I hold her in the highest esteem in terms of her ability to care for those needful ones in her life. I have watched her carry out her life’s work and calling from the time I was eight years old. We spent many a day as her grandchildren walking the sterile halls of silent manors, the reverie broken by a moan or a cry from one of the residents. We spent many hours bedside, watching our grandmother hover and fuss. And in watching this unfaltering champion of her own beloved child—an unsung hero during her time here on earth, I was given an example from one of the best after which to model my own life and practice.

The life of my grandmother is a shining example of Jean Vanier’s (1998) concept of ‘becoming human’, with regards to being a care-giver; perhaps she is one of the best I might ever find. For I believe in paying tribute to those who have gone on before, we are reminded anew of why we must continue to carry the torch onwards, until at last we ourselves reach the fading light of day. We care so as to carry on the legacy. We care because the future depends on this decision. We care because we must. We care. And this care is part of what it means to become human: to compassionately extend ourselves both for the benefit of our own personal growth as well as for the betterment of others. To care both for ourselves as well as for the world and its inhabitants therein is the mandate of our heart.

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Giving Christmas Away This Year

For the past few weeks, my two youngest children have been talking about what they want for Christmas. The lists began to form about mid-November, a modest collection of this and that. Nothing that would break the bank or Santa’s aching back as he pulls that sack up and of his sleigh. And of course, it’s fun to think about the magic of Christmas at this time of year- writing letters to Santa, browsing through dog-eared copies of the Sear’s Wishbook.

But it is all too easy to get caught up in that holiday hullabaloo- shopping, ticking things off our list. Compiling our lists of wants and needs.

I have been struck this year by the fact that there are people- adults and children the world over, who sadly know that this is their last Christmas spent here on earth. Their last Christmas ever. And with that in mind, I have started to shift my focus to a few of these stories.

Meet Addie Fausett- she’s a little girl much like my own MaryAnne or the little ones I teach in my kindergarten classroom. Except Addie is dying- this is her last Christmas. Due to an unknown illness, she stopped growing when she was 3 and she now weighs all of 23 pounds. Doctors told her Mom last month that she will not last more than the coming year. With that in mind, her family wants to make this Christmas one of the most meaningful ones they have ever had. Because all Addie really wants materialistically this year as a gift is some Christmas cards from all of her friends. There has been a world-wide appeal for Christmas cards for her, as this would be one of the more meaningful gifts a child spending their last Christmas might like to receive.

If you would be interested in sending her a card, here is her address:

Addie Fausett
c/o Tami Fausett
Box 162, Fountain Green, Utah, USA 84632

Meet Cali Griggs- a little girl from Glendale, Arizona. She’s two years-old, and she has terminal cancer. A couple of weeks ago, the doctors gave her one to three months to live, but her parents intuitively believe she won’t even make it until Christmas. All Cali wants this year is to experience Christmas- the lights, the glow, the paper-wrapping, the smells and sounds. The snow. Her community came together in mid-November to create a winter wonderland for her outside her home. “She just wanted to get out and play with everything. She was so happy. And I had to fight it, I was about to cry,” said Greg Griggs, Cali’s father.

And if these stories are not enough to break our hearts, meet Aimee Willett who is 26. She’s a mommy to two precious little boys. She had her first ever, routine PAP test this past year and in June, doctors told her there was cancer and it was inoperable. Doctors have told her that she is unlikely to survive until 2016. This will be her last Christmas

I ask myself: is there something I can do? However small that something might be. Something I can do even within the community in which I live. The school in which I teach. Is there something I can do- both for these precious families as well as for the others who are unknown and living out countless stories much like these three I have shared above?

Don’t we all play a part in making this Christmas an unforgettable one for the people we encounter around us?

I write this piece not to make anyone feel guilty or pressured- only so as to broaden hearts and give us all a deeper awareness of the world around us. I write so as to remind myself and others that this Christmas: we can make it the most meaningful one ever both for ourselves and for others by choosing to think outside our comfort zone- outside our private lives. We can make it meaningful by choosing to extend our love- our care and concern, to the multitude of others in the world around us.

We can GIVE Christmas away this year.

Our lasting hope, our consolation

My dear friend- buried Monday on a beautiful November afternoon. Snow softly falling as if to quell the pain. The hour prior, friends and family crowded into a small country church, four hundred strong to say last goodbyes. To sing and pay tribute to the woman they loved while honoring the God she adored. To bring humble offerings before the One who had held her through it all- knowing that same Dear One stood in God’s very presence even as we mourned. Her beloved family there, lining the rows. Clutching Kleenex in hand, heads bowed in sorrow even as they said final earthly goodbyes to a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt and kindred spirit. Not a dry eye in the place.

What if your blessings come through rain drops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

This life- it is never time enough for those of us who love. We always crave for more. More time, more moments, more memories, more laughter, more hugs, more touch. More opportunity. And when time is up and eternity claims the ones we hold the closest, we wonder: where is the good in all of this? How can good come from so much sorrow?

When friends betray us When darkness seems to win We know that pain reminds this heart That this is not, This is not our home It’s not our home

And this life- it is so hard. So much to bear. I talk to another precious woman, listening as she shares her story of a broken marriage, a baby lost and the hope of any other future babies gone with a medical complication not of her own doing. I talk to others, even as I think back over this past week’s events and wonder: how can we carry on? A colleague killed crossing the road, another three-car pile-up, a mother left to carry the burden of her sister’s accident, a father and mother-in-law struggling with the ravages of Parkinson’s. A father taken, a mother. Disease and death surround us at every turn. And that is just my story- my precious friends with their own stories of sadness to share. It is all too much. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the misery that this life brings. Our own dear family- both immediate and extended- a testament to this truth. So much suffering. So much pain. And I have to wonder, how is all the misery of this life able to become a blessing?

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace Comfort for family, protection while we sleep We pray for healing, for prosperity We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

We pray for the realization of all that we believe would give us joy: an end to cancer, an end to disease. An end to brokenness of any sort. We pray for restoration in marriage, for lengthy lives lived until the grey hairs crown our heads in glory. We pray for an end to all suffering. We pray for inner peace, familial peace, relational peace, world peace. An end to poverty, famine, war and pestilence. We pray for an end to our misery and trouble. We pray.

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love As if every promise from Your word is not enough

And we wonder: where is God? Where is God in all of this? I come across a beautiful message in my Facebook feed from this same dear friend whom I am mourning the loss, a note written to me six years earlier. Who would have known that this message would come back into my present reality and speak to me- as if they were words given to me in my time of sorrow from God Himself. Words offering comfort and hope.She writes:

Hi Lori, I know things are going to work out for all of you, time is a healer and GOD is all powerful, nothing happens without a reason…the healing can start…. Time will bring everything back to where it should be!! …you are a wonderful person, God is not finished with any of us yet, and he is doing a wonderful work in you, it may be a very DIFFICULT time right now, but look how close you have come to God in all of it!! GOD is using you in many ways, some you are not even aware of, HOW EXCITING!!! Just let go and let GOD, he is carrying you and he will never let you go. I was thinking of that song today, it is my favorite and my prayer when I am down, “Draw me close to you, never let me go” I pray that you feel so close to GOD, I love you guys, and am still praying for you all!! Good night my friend! and GOD BLESS YOU.

And all the while, You hear each spoken need Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

What if the heartache of this life was the pathway to understanding? What if the insight we gained, the perspective we were offered- was the open door? What if the purpose of all this pain and sorrow in life was not for it all to end, but for us to endure so as to find the beauty within the pain? What if beauty could truly come through ashes? Joy through mourning? What if every-day, private miracles were just as necessary as public sensations? What if the little moments of victory were our true pursuit? And what if the moments whereby inner strength was gained were as valuable as those moments we derived the sustaining ability necessary to climb physical mountains?

What if life was less about the mountain-top and more about the climb?

And all the while, You hear each desperate plea And long that we’d have faith to believe

I take a walk the day after, last goodbyes already having been spoken; and the brilliant sunset brings me to tears. It is not that I see my precious friend or even Heaven in this earthly vision so much as I see hope. It makes me long for another time, another place. I think of Heaven and Wendy and others who are there. I think of Jesus and I long for home. Long for an end to the aching of this life. A brand new beginning.

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy What if trials of this life The rain, the storms, the hardest nights Are your mercies in disguise

And this is our lasting hope, our consolation: eternity. Forever is such a very long time.

The Pursuit of a Joyful Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is hard to understand, to fully comprehend: how someone who brought so much joy to other peoples’ lives could himself be eluded by that same joy and wonder. And yet, here we are on a Tuesday night, grieving the loss of a beautiful life- grief those of us who loved his work feel in some form or fashion.

Another light has been extinguished. You are already greatly missed, Robin Williams.

I just came from a funeral home myself an hour ago- a loving father and husband lain to rest, his family sorrowing the loss. As I slip into the restroom to refresh, I overhear a conversation referring back to another deceased, sharing another room in the funeral parlor adjacent to the one I have come to bid adieu.

“I am so sorry for the loss of your father.”
“He would have been 93,” comes the reply. “He lived a good life, though.”
“Yes, but it is still hard,” says the first woman. “One is never ready to lose parent- it is never time.”

So too it is with the family I have come to give my deepest sympathies. It is never easy to say goodbye to those we love. Emotions strain to find the right words, the right sentiments at times like this. Saying goodbye is never easy.

It is never time.

And as thoughts drift again to the recent death of adored actor Robin Williams, comedian extraordinaire- I can’t help but wonder if his greatest legacy was that he lived as a father. His daughter Zelda leaves the following words written by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as a lasting tribute to her father’s legacy:

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

I write often of care- specifically the care of Significant Others in our lives, and particularly as it concerns children and students. But without an understanding of the role that self-care plays as a first step in the process, we cannot truly understand the impact of care in our lives and in society. I often think of the airline rule to first affix one’s own gas mask before attempting to help one’s dependents. Is this not also true of everyday life at times? If we have not given our own bodies and souls attention and replenishing, are we really of much assistance and benefit to others? We must remember that we cannot run ourselves into the ground, depleting our own resources and ignoring our own needs and requirements to the extreme that we are of no earthly good to anyone else around us. Is it worth our while contributing to the world at large at the extreme expense of losing ourselves? These are tough questions to ask and perhaps the answers will differ depending on who is answering. One thing remains- without care given to ourselves, we eventually run down. We diminish. And the cycle of care cannot be continued without more care invested from either without or within.

Since the only dependable source is from within, that is where our greatest efforts must be concentrated.

Nel Noddings writes about caring for self in terms of meeting the physical, spiritual, occupational, recreational, emotional and intellectual needs of all human beings. If I had to pick one to focus on primarily (acknowledging, of course that the basic needs of the body must be met), it is my beleif that the spiritual needs are the most significant. For without an inner purpose and greater meaning to act as our guide, where are we headed? What direction do we choose? And what benefit is everything else going to be? We must decide what truly matters in this life; for me, I have found purpose, meaning and significance in the person of Jesus Christ.

2000 years ago, I believe that very Person willingly chose to lay down His life for me. And it wasn’t a suicide pact or mental illness that compelled Him to the cross. It was love. And because of that Love, I too am free to love. Free to care. Free to give my life in service to the Call. Free to give my love with generous abandon. Free to live- free to really live.

I am free.

And even though I know that death will one day call, I daily make it a priority to care enough for myself to ensure that when that time comes, I am ready to die. No stone unturned. Living my life as if today might even be my very last (we never can know). Living each moment, each day with joy, passion, wonder and care. Living with a healthy appreciation for the fact that Death is part of life. Even as I focus on living my life to the fullest.

Even as I live this brief expanse of time that we call life with a wild and beautiful pursuit- the pursuit of a joyful life.

Blessings come through tears

We have a new baby kitten, so precious and sweet. The girls are enamored yet feel completely responsible for this little bundle of love. The other day, M.A. said to Husband with a sigh, “I am soooo tired of looking after this kitten” to which Hubs responded it was not her responsibility to do so: it was the mother cat who had that job.

Nevertheless, she feels it is.

Last summer, we had five little kittens born and raised on our property. One summer evening, the mother introduced them to us, calling them out from a Spirea shrub one-by one. They danced around our feet in the twilight much to the delighted squeals and giggles of our girls. We were taken by these little beings- they quickly wrapped themselves around our hearts.

One busy Sunday morning we were heading for church in a rush when Brian backed the van up quickly. One of the little kittens was situated under the tire, as they all found the warmth of our vehicle comforting. With a sickening feeling, Brian knowing he had backed over it, got out of the van without the children knowing and found the kitten. Still without telling them as he knew it would completely upset them at that moment, he moved the little lifeless body and carried on, feeling sick about the unfortunate event.

Even the life of a kitten has meaning and significance.

This summer, I have been watching this new mama cat as she cares for her single kitten and I have been struck with the fact that although she can do much as a mother, she cannot prepare her baby for the inevitable: its death. It is contrary to our normal inclination to think of death upon the emergence of new life, but the inevitability that life is followed always by death is something we cannot avoid. We as humans have the ability to be aware of our existence, something cats, in all their amazing capability cannot be.

Sadly, we as humans are not always aware that we are born to one day die.   Yet thankfully, we are reminded throughout life that it is the living that is sandwiched in between the entry and exit that makes all the difference.

I have been thinking of how we as parents- how we as the adults can prepare children for death. We know not how long any life has been given, know not the number of our days nor any one elses, for that matter. How do we live life while facing death? How do we prepare for this fact? Even with my own assurance of heaven, there is still the very real aspect of separation in death that we as humans must face. Death causes separation, even if but for a time. No one truly wants to leave behind those they love and adore.

In my extended family, we have had several premature deaths- two to infants and one to a teenager on her graduation night. In all three cases, it has been hard to make sense of the fact that these were not elderly people facing death after a long, fulfilling life. These were babies, these were children. How does one make sense of this? How is it that a child is as susceptible to their mortality as one who lives to be one hundred? But it is the very nature of our humanness to be so fragile- we are but a vapour, a breath- transfixed between the present and eternity with only our next lungful of air as a separating veil.

Is this life we live, as fleeting as it might appear to be, a blessing?

I talked to a dear friend recently about that word ‘blessing’- a beautiful word to describe life when things are going well, but a puzzling one when things are not. Is life a blessing? All life?

The night my aunt was taken, she who was then eighteen years of age and a brand-new high school graduate- that night, two officers came to my grandparents door in the wee hours of the morning. Came there to deliver the inevitable news- news no paret ever wishes to receive.   That an accident had occurred and their beloved baby girl had been the casualty.  Words could not express the emotions that would overcome a parent hearing such a fateful interruption during what would have been prior a peaceful night’s sleep. What images would run through the mind? What visions? Our sole desire as parents is to keep our children safe- and when we cannot, have not been able to keep this sacred oath, what must that do to a parental psyche? Where would one go to find solace?

My grandfather’s devout faith and trust in a loving God- in a God who blesses us even with showers that fall fast and furious at times, pelting us with their intensity. My grandfather said this: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the scriptures, Lord connotates a title of respect for one deemed in a position of honor, much the same as the word Rabbi is used to refer to a teacher. For my grandfather, he did not hesitate to acknowledge that the One he trusted most- the One who had proved faithful to him time and time again, would still prove faithful even in this storm.  And he used the word “blessed” to ascribe meaning- even to the taking of that dear one whom he held most precious.

How could this be?
Was this tremendous loss a blessing? For our family, we suffered the passing of a beloved daughter, sister, friend. Down through the years, we grandchildren have been told stories that honor my Aunt MaryAnne’s life. We have seen her legacy- and my own daughter is her namesake.  While death will never be celebrated as a blessing, for death is not lauded in the same way that we cherish life, the blessing was the life. She has never been forgotten, her life not rendered as history. Because through story, her memory lives on. Her life, however brief it may have been- was a blessing to those whom she met. There was not a soul who crossed her path that didn’t love her- she was that kind of girl. Years later, I still find people who talk of her genuine sweetness and purity of spirit. She was gentle and loving- and the world is a richer place because her life was in it.

We often say that we have been blessed with good health, good fortune, good genes, good luck. When the weather is nice we count it a blessing. But I would counter that life, no matter how short, how seemingly insignificant- is precious. Our lives are precious. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. It is a blessing to have been given the chance to breath in air, to feel sun rays’ gentle warmth on our upturned faces, to know what it is to have felt the rain. My grandmother of 92 sits day after day inside a manor in Fredericton and while it can seem to be a curse to live that long and no longer have the wherewithal to get up and move, the people in her life are a blessing to her. It is a blessing for her to be cared for by people who genuinely love her.

And while I even think of the people in this world who have not been blessed with love and care, I feel the challenge is left up to those of us who know this blessing well to then extend it outwards. So that everyone the world over can feel the touch of love, especially those who need it most. Acclaimed writer and critical theorist bell hooks said this about the blessing of love: “Imagine how different our lives would be if all the individuals who claim to be Christians, or who claim to be religious, were setting an example for everyone by being loving” (hooks, 2000, p. 74). Were this to be true, how much more would we then understand the meaning of that little word blessing?

The challenge is left to us.

Our lives are not for naught. They are precious, meaningful, purposed for a greater plan. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. A blessing to love, to have loved. And a blessing to have the opportunity to share this eternal love we know so well with the others in our lives.

Rage against the dying of the light

We tread side-by-side at dusk, rain still shimmering on summer leaves while sun fades fast behind heavy clouds. He divulges to me the secrets we both keep hidden away through daylight hours from Little Ears, sacred documents of the heart that must be locked away. As I walk the inside track, closest to the gully that leads down to the prolific birch trees spreading helter-skelter towards the field, he tells me this. Doctors have given very little hope, very little promise.

“What about that treatment?” I ask.

“It won’t prolong life,” the resigned response. And then he says to me, “I keep thinking of that Dylan Thomas poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

“I am resigned to the fact that the doctors know best,” he then offers uncertainly.

I cannot think of anything profound to say to that. But I think to myself: I would rage.

I would rage.

If radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged (hooks, 1994, p. 8), then radical care vows no sacred Presence goes uncared for. Radical care upholds the individual’s right to love, compassion, empathy, concern and kindness. And when the need necessitates, the individual’s right to be cared for in radical ways.

I think of my little Sianna* of the just-finished kindergarten class from this past year. I think of the fears expressed to me by her parents and my inner vow to fight for this child. To be that advocate for her parents that they seemed to need. I remember the ways I fought for her right to be medically cared for- how I contacted the public health nurse numerous times to arrange for the appointments with an Audiologist. How I advocated for her parents’ right to a second chance at such an opportunity.

I think too of the assisted speech technology that I raced against time for- buying an i-pad for Jake* at a moment’s notice- literally. Then the race against the clock to meet a deadline with a man. A man who held the keys to open a door leading to a world of words for that same little boy, who had so few words at his disposal. I think of the sweat that broke as I ran, as I ran– just so as to obtain a program I could otherwise not afford installed on that same i-pad I had just bought: so that a little boy could somehow communicate with me. So that he could somehow find his voice therein. And I think of the tears that fell freely as I got there just in time. The sheer relief in knowing, this was really going to happen.

Radical care allows for the impossible to occur. But the challenge is first to initiate the care process, giving attention and acknowledgement to the presence of another human being. Through awareness of the people with whom we share our communities, be those groupings of a familial nature, a learning community or a neighborhood- we start by acknowledgement. And we move forward from there.

Husband and I head back, on the homestretch now. The sky is darkening and night time presses in, enveloping. But I do not go gentle into the thickening darkness.

I press on as one who sees the light.

******************************************************

Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Taken from this URL: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night

Something Beautiful

They were something beautiful.

Her nails- bright red and perfectly painted with a shiny lacquer. Making her long slender fingers look like they belonged on a movie star. It’s what I noticed first- what I made a point of looking at before anything else, when I saw her for the very last time.

She was dying, and my mother called an esthetician to come. We often hear of doctors being called, but how many women have the bittersweet joy of being treated to a massage and manicure the day before the die? She wasn’t responding as much anymore, although her eyes were open. She could still see. She could hear. And I believe she knew what was going on around her.

But she was dying, and dying quickly.

Mom wanted her to be comfortable, but she also wanted her to be touched. To be touched is to be treated humanely. To be treated tenderly. To be recognized as being alive. As living. When we are not touched, we begin to curl inward. We retract. My mother wanted to keep her close, so she constantly held her hands. And she brought those in to her bedside who were not afraid of touching. Not afraid of death.

The esthetician massaged her arms and shoulders and she massaged her scalp- something that always brought great pleasure to my aunt when she had been able to express such. And when the young woman had finished the massage, she painted her nails in the most vivid colour she could find. Red. Something warm and cheery, to show the world that there was still light and colour in her life. Even in death.

It was something beautiful to behold.

Those nails were the first thing I noticed when I saw her lying there peacefully in the casket. The fact her nails were painted brought me courage. Because we are alive as long as we are living. We are human as long as there is breath. We can’t believe otherwise. Even those we keep locked away inside those brick-faced institutions- they are living. They are story, they are song. Their life- a work of artistic splendor, brushstrokes painted by a master storyteller’s hands.  Their story told in myriad ways, counts for something beautiful.

Their life, it is beautiful even up to the very last breath.

For thirty-one long years she lived life paralyzed and motionless. Virtually mute and unexpressive. And while she lived in the various manors and hospitals, she waited. We stood by and watched, wondering if she would ever come back to us. Wondering if she would ever be healed. I am forty now, but I was eight years old when that pick-up truck plowed into her little car, leaving her motionless.  The spark in her eye snuffed out. Emotions snatched away.  A fateful trip home on a snowy night which left her to sit and wait all those many years, left her only able to moan out the occasional word. A few repetitious verses and phrases retained from childhood her daily mantra.  Left constantly rubbing at her crusted eye, often swollen shut from irritation.  Her lifeless hands and legs. No animated gestures to light up a room.  They were nearly all but gone, but for the sudden reflexive movement.

There were times in those years when one could see it in her face- a knowing. A deeper sense. There was more to the story than we would ever know.  The way she sometimes looked at you, as if she understood.  And in that knowing was where we found the deepest wounding – that was where proverbial knife meets flesh and gouges.  It cut to the heart.  And as she sat year after year after senseless year in that chair by the occasional window, looking outward, we all wondered.  Do thoughts of everyday miracles ever fleetingly pass through her mind?  Does she know?  Does she ever question why?  And does God care?  Is He with even her, there in the dark recesses of her mind?

It’s what I really wanted to know for sure.

Sometimes what we really want to know, but are afraid to voice in more than merely a whisper, is our craving- our desire for a miracle.  Our desire for a sign, for an indication of hope.  A sense that there is a God who truly does care.  That He is truly with us.  That He’s not dead- that He’s alive.  That His voice can still be heard over the bellow of our everyday noise. Heard in the dead of night when the only sound is the lone cry of a newborn, a doting mother’s gentle lullaby heard softly in the still of a quiet summer night.  Heard and believed. Because God is with us- truly here among the people.  In the messy, complicated jumble we call living.  He is present.  Right beside us in the here and now.  This is our miracle.  For that is all we truly ever need know in the stark reality of everyday living.

To know that we are not alone. That there is a God and He is with us.

It is truly something beautiful.

But so very easy to forget the truth of this promise when faced with the pain of loss- when faced with the pain of separation. When facing death.  And while it is easy to forget such when in the midst of great trouble that is marked by betrayal and rejection, marked by the tragedy of disease and unexpected loss of both minor and grave proportions.  While it is easy to forget when those harsh realities so peculiar and perplexing to as human beings are forced upon us.  We know: that there is One who stands among us in our midst, even in the midst of all that trouble and distress.

And we can find something beautiful even in the brokenness. We can cling to something beautiful, as beautiful as is the promise of forever. Even in the desolation. Even through the hurt. We can find something beautiful.

For even pain brings beauty for the living to behold.  There is something beautiful for our hearts to uncover, even then.

Even then.