I will never forget that Sunday morning. Ever.
Never will I forget.
The text came early that morning as I was getting ready for church. In the middle of straightening my hair my phone dingled indicating I received a text. I opened it. Read it and reread it.
The text was from Olivia. Requesting something of me—her mother.
I took a deep breath. Mostly as a prayer. Mostly as a fortification.
For the past several months Olivia filled her days caring for Nanny—
Nanny, actually Nancy Louder, was the grandmother of one of our dearest friends and our minister, Dave Scalf. We called her Nanny, and I’m not sure we ever asked for permission to call her Nanny; the name just came naturally.
Hospice informed Dave and Amy Nanny was moving into her last hours. Grieving they began the round-the-clock vigil. They asked Olivia to sit with Nanny during church; she asked me to come and sit with her during this time. That’s when I took the deep breaths.
Abby went with me.
I could tell you all about Nanny. I could tell you she was a strong-willed, feisty and a sharp-tongued woman. I could tell you she had a twinkle in her eye and witty comment on her lips. I could tell you that she wanted to know what was going on, wanted to know the ins and outs and the comings and goings. (Some would say she was nosy). I could tell you she had a soft spot for Dave and an even softer one for her great grandchildren. She did.
I drove to the house. I tapped on the front door. We let ourselves in and tiptoed down the stairs.
I walked down into the hush of Nanny’s basement. I heard Nanny’s labored breathing before I even turned the corner. And I prayed. Just breaths.
The breath prayers fortified me. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been prepared.
Nanny lay tucked in a hospital bed. Blankets layered. The TV rolled and voices were an undercurrent hum. Lights were low, windows shaded to keep the light from glaring on Nanny’s face.
I couldn’t really see Nanny at first. Olivia stood by her bedside with her back to us—her dark hair brushing her shoulders and her sweater hanging softly down her back. I could see the blue glove on her hand. And the edge of her boots brushing her calf. She turned to us.
And her face.
Her sweet and beautiful face tore a hole right through the fabric of my heart. This mother’s heart broke to see the quiet sorrow in Olivia’s face. Can pain be beautiful? Can it shadow the eyes and line the face and create beauty instead of ugliness?
Yes, it can.
I saw it that day. Saw what the pain of compassion can do. Saw what the power of empathy can do. Saw what love does.
That brief moment I saw God’s face in Olivia’s.
The face Jesus must have worn when he reached out and touched the leper, when he turned and raised the widow of Nain’s son, when he chased the demons away and when he held Martha’s hand at Lazarus’ tomb.
In that brief moment I saw Olivia’s face transfigured.
She turned away from me back to Nanny.
I stood then transfixed by Nanny’s sweet face slack in a sleep I had never known. Her once stout and strong body was brittle and bony. Her flesh now almost gone, consumed by years of living. Worn away by time and love and pain and sorrow and joy.
And I watched my daughter, this Olivia of mine, minister in a way I have never seen anyone minister.
She swabbed Nanny’s mouth with water using a blue sponge sucker. I kept thinking and wondering how the sponge could be soft enough for the thin skin of Nanny’s lips and mouth? But Olivia’s touch was light and gentle washing away the residue of hard breaths and thick saliva too hard to swallow. Over and over she did this gesture. She would toss one sponge sucker only to get another.
Olivia moved through these motions like a shadow, so very careful to not disturb Nanny. Every movement was slow and efficient—choreographed. Timed. Rhythmic. Graceful.
She lifted Nanny’s body, turning and situating. Olivia lifted feet and slid on fuzzy socks, sliding them over ninety-six years of callouses and heels that were hard and crusty. But she held those feet easy, cupped them in the young skin of her own hands and Abby asked her why the socks?
Olivia explained, “Because Nanny’s feet get cold, and she doesn’t like for them to be cold. And I don’t like that her heels are getting bruised from all the rubbing against the bed and the pillows.”
The tears puddled in my eyes. I knew they were going to spill over and run down on my face. I didn’t think I could stop them. But I did because I so wanted to see what God was doing in this place.
Olivia finished with her morning routine with Nanny. Then she took the blankets off one by one and refolded them and laid them over Nanny. One after another. I started to ask why so many blankets, but I knew the answer. Then Olivia rearranged the blankets on the rail of the hospital bed put there for extra padding for Nanny. She cleaned up all the papers and towels and clothes.
Then she sat down with us.
We watched YouTube videos of crazy comedians and laughed. We talked and teased each other.
I kept thinking Nanny was going to snap at us and tell us we were disturbing her sleep, but she didn’t. And I kept looking over at her, watching the rise and fall of her chest. Listening to the air move in and out of her lungs. And I prayed. Prayed for Nanny. Prayed for Dave and Amy. Prayed for the six children who lived in this house with Nanny.
I kept thinking about Dave, the shepherd, teaching about Jesus a few miles away. Teaching about what Love Does. Knowing that he could be there because Olivia was here doing what love does.
I’m sure Nanny taught many people to do many things in her lifetime. I’m sure she scolded and realigned and corrected. I’m sure she was an example of living through hard things with dignity and independence.
But perhaps, the greatest teaching moment of Nanny’s long life came at the very end—when she couldn’t talk, and couldn’t instruct and couldn’t do for herself.
That Sunday morning I watched the dance of a lifetime. Two unlikely people paired together. One young. One old. One strong. One weak. One robust. One frail. One beginning. One ending.
|Nanny and Olivia|
Nanny and Olivia showed me the raw and gritty reality of love does.
I looked at the clock and knew it was time for me to go. I had been reluctant to come, but now I was far more reluctant to go.
I stood and walked over to Nanny’s bed. And in that moment I wanted to be like Olivia. I wanted to emulate the compassion she offered. I took Nanny’s hand. It was warm. I wrapped her fingers in mine; I held them.
Then I prayed. Out loud. Hoping she could hear. Hoping somehow she knew how God was using her to teach me. I didn’t want to let go of her hand. I didn’t want to walk away.
Olivia hugged me and whispered, “Thanks, Mama.”
Her gratefulness tore another little place in my heart.
I should have thanked Nanny and her.
And I do.
And I thank God.
|In memory of Nancy Louder--Nanny. Love you.|