This morning I am visiting my sister, Carol, in Columbiana, OH, at the assisted living facility where she lives. Carol is my oldest sister and I arrived on the scene one week ahead of her 10th birthday. As was common practice in those days, Mom and I spent a week in the hospital before coming home. The big deal on her birthday was not a birthday party with her friends, but a baby who got all of the attention. I am sure that must have been challenging for her. Things apparently went downhill from there when she tried to change my diaper and one of the pins pricked me. I wonder to this day if that is why she never wanted, or had, children.
Carol has Alzheimer’s disease, and when her husband died unexpectedly three years ago, I became her durable power of attorney. It has been challenging due to the distance, and our changing roles. It isn’t unusual for her to put her hands on her hips and say, “Anne, you aren’t the boss of me.” And on my part, I’ve needed to allow some of the trigger phrases Carol uses about me from childhood to simply roll off my back so as to stay in my “adult” self. In the midst of uncomfortable moments, we have become closer in the years after she retired from work. In the last three years we’ve spent more time together since she left home at age 22 when she got married. I admire and love her.
Due to COVID-19, I have not been able to visit her in person since January. There was a brief time in June when 30-minute outdoor visits were possible. The 10-hour round trip drive seemed like a long way to go for such a brief visit. I thought (wrongly) that things would open up in the near future and I might be able to have a longer visit, maybe even get to go into her small apartment which no doubt could use some sisterly attention. Two COVID cases, each occurring about 4 weeks apart at the assisted living facility, followed by a decision by the governor of Ohio to ban visits from other states to such facilities, put a wrench in those plans. Finally, a little over a week ago, the out-of-state restrictions decision were lifted. I immediately got on the schedule to visit Carol.
I am both grateful and anxious. I am grateful for the chance to lay eyes on her, to see her in the flesh. I am grateful to deliver a few of her favorite snacks: Oreos, salty pretzels, M & M’s (Red, White, and Blue in honor of my flag-waving patriotic sister). I am grateful to give her a wristwatch to replace the one I sent her in June that she can’t find. I am grateful to share photos of all her nieces and nephews and their children. I am grateful for any time we have together. I am grateful to tell her I love her and so does God. I am grateful to pray for her if she wishes.
And I am anxious. I am anxious about seeing the reality of her mental and physical decline, which has qualified her for hospice care. I am anxious that she might not know who I am. I am anxious that this could be the last time I see her this side of eternity. I am anxious that I will not be able to restrain myself from hugging her. And I am anxious about the grief we will experience in the midst of the joy of being together.
I am not alone. These are the common, shared experiences of many of us, especially in this time and season. These experiences are not limited by any of the categories or labels we use for each other. In a very real sense, these experiences unite us even in these divisive times. What might happen if we could but see the hurt, the pain, the loneliness, the isolation, the fear, the humanity of each other?
One of my favorite passages says, “God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3 The Message).
As I am with my sister, I pray that all of our hard times are held by the One who is Love, the One who gives birth to mercy and abides in all consolation. ~ Anne