TITLE: And Then There Was Mary 4/4/2014
By Valerie Van Selous
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And then there was Mary. When you spend two months in a rehabilitation center a lot more is going on than therapy, you are likely to interact with a kaleidoscope of characters that will change the way you look at the world. That’s what happened to me, and that’s how I met dear Mary, the sweet sage wearing a flowered house dress.
Before Mary, I first met Cookie, the head nurse. Cookie had a swarm of jet black hair, that she tried to keep off her face, but her hair wouldn't cooperate. It flew in all sorts of crazy directions and so did Cookie. As she welcomed me to the rehab center with a quick wink and winning smile, she attached a plastic tag to the handle of my wheelchair that held a white card. She held the tag up to my face to take a look at:
Having no idea what to expect at a rehab center, I had little idea of what it meant, but Cookie didn't seem to notice.
“Your schedule begins tomorrow”, she began, “It may be a bit complicated at first, but you will get the hang of it and I am always here to answer any questions, but let’s meet your roommate now.” She took the handles of my wheelchair, spun me around and off we went down the hallway with Cooke yelling out places of interest as we went: Nurses Station, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, the Rec Room, your room and roommate, Robin.
I was shocked to look into the eyes of someone my own age! Robin had an oval face with freckles and shoulder-length brown stringy hair. She reminded me of Peppermint Patty from the Peanuts, only in a wheel chair. She wore a blue-plaid flannel shirt and wide grin on her face. Her side of the room had posters of rock-stars on the walls and a window-sill of colorful plants and cards. Books and magazines that were strewn haphazardly on her bed stand and had slipped onto her bed and blended in with her white hospital sheets, multi-colored quilt and pile of stuffed animals.
I found out that Robin was sent to the rehabilitation center after a flare-up of her MS. My understanding of her condition was vague, as was most of what I knew about my situation and everyone else’s. Sometimes those admitted into rehab centers don’t get a lot of explanations. I didn't. Not because it was a secret, but I had been sick. I had just come out of a coma. No one knew what I could comprehend. What I came to realize, is that the details didn't really matter. We knew that we were in wheelchairs and that we needed healing. We had no choice but to take things days by day. Robin and I were instant friends.
We talked, played cards, listened to music, ate meals and roamed the halls. That’s how we met Mary. We wheeled into her room one day and introduced ourselves. She was an older woman with a puff of white-silver hair and peaceful, knowing eyes. Her heart-shaped face was wrinkled, yet kind. She wore a flowered ankle-length house dress. Mary stood by the window looking out. She held onto her walker with one hand and with the other she held a small book. Her lips were moving and I realized that she was in prayer, in fact her whole body was in the prayer. Her eyes were closed, she swayed back and forth and her head gently nodded. She must have sensed visitors as her eyes slowly opened and she whispered, in a quiet and welcoming voice, “hello”.
I felt like my grandmother had come down from heaven. She was as close to an angel I had ever seen. We talked for a while and found out that she really wanted to go home and was praying about it. We didn't know what home she meant, we just came to know that she stood by that window every day in exactly the same, with only the color of her flowers dress changing.
Mary became my chapel. Her faith centered me. I didn't know it, but I ached for her peace and quiet conviction that even during these times of unknowns, her prayers were being listened to and would be answered. She became the face of faith for me. I knew most every day I could roll past her bedroom and she would be there clutching her prayer book, eyes looking thoughtfully out the window. One day I rolled into Mary’s room and she was gone. No explanations, just an empty, freshly made bed. That’s an awkward part of life in the rehab center, people come and go. We’re forced to move on, yet Mary’s memory has lingered in my heart for years. Mary prayed every day to go home and I believe that is where she went.
Years later, though the kaleidoscope of my life has since turned, Robin, Cookie, the other patients I met, and of course Mary, are precious gems that have shaped how I view my world; just as I am a gem that shaped theirs. We are all spinning together, but also bound together by our faith, our prayers and our love for one another.
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