It has always been easy to remember her age. She was born in January of 1900. I visited her in 1999, five months before her hundredth birthday. She was still spry, though she used a walker. We had a delightful day dining out and reminiscing. She asked about family members and friends. She had forgotten that my mother had died three years before. I brought colorful pictures of my daughter’s wedding, which she very much enjoyed. I wondered as we parted if it would be for the last time.
I saw her next during the summer of 2003. She recognized me as soon as I stepped into her room. She had a wheelchair. Holding onto the handles, she walked behind it, giving her chubby handbag a ride. We went to market night. With streets closed to traffic yet open to pedestrians, vendors and their wares were abundant. I begged her to take a chair ride and just enjoy the streets’ sights and sounds, but she adamantly refused. She walked over two miles, shopping without making a purchase. The only time she agreed to sit still was when she swallowed a hot dog in four bites and drank freshly squeezed lemonade. I wondered as we parted if it would be for the last time and expected that it was. She stood in the driveway of the retirement community and waved until my car disappeared from view.
Last year I saw her again. At 104, she knew me after her caregiver explained who I was. We went out for lunch. She ate vegetable soup, drank black coffee, and sipped half and half from its tiny container. I wondered as we parted if it would be for the last time. I was fairly certain it would be.
Two weeks ago, I received a phone call. “Your aunt is failing…declining rapidly… legally blind… hears little. Her back and head hurt. She needs hospice care to relieve the pain. She says she is lonely. Please, please come…”
Today my plane ticket is reserved. I leave on Wednesday. My luggage is ready. Since she lives near the desert, it is hot. I am taking along typical summer attire, enough for six days. There should be no rain.
This will be the last time… I feel sure of it.
I have packed a second suitcase for her. No…for both of us. The first keepsake it holds is a photo of her childhood home where she lived for more than seventy-five years. Many memories linger. I loved her backyard with its ancient, spreading mulberry tree. Family picnics were a great joy with food, lawn games, and laughter abounding.
Next, I have enclosed a dollar bill to help her recollect the bank where she worked for over a half century. She retired on Friday and returned on Monday for another ten years.
Because travel has always been her great friend, a skate is packed to remind her of the time we went to see the Ice Follies. In contrast, a grass skirt, folded not too neatly, holds thoughts of a trip to Hawaii we took together when she was a mere eighty-seven.
I have remembered the newspaper article, “Storybook Romance Comes True for Local Pair.” At age seventy-six, she married for the first and only time. Her husband’s picture should recall the sweet decade they spent together.
Last of all, a thank you note is written with the envelope sealed. She has given me many gifts: wisdom, laughter, determination, generosity, adventure, and the ability to adapt to life’s changes.
I am ready to go, but I wonder if anything has been forgotten. Both bags are full, the second one almost to the brim. There is a small space left…
I retrieve my Bible from the nightstand and place it in the second suitcase; the one holding her memories…remembrances spanning more than a century of earthly life. Yet, my dear aunt is still unsure where she will spend eternity, though she knows it beckons. Heaven is God’s gift to her. I pray that she will receive it this one last time.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name- ” John 1:12 KJV
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