Sometimes, depending on whether we are on the giving or the receiving end of a thoughtful action, it can determine whether we see the deed as something small or something great, beyond measure. I was on the receiving end of someone’s selfless gesture this last month, and it stirred my emotions and brought tears I couldn’t control. I consider it a rare “touch from heaven.”
Although the completion of the story occurred less than thirty days ago, the curtain went up 41 years ago in a small hospital in the middle of Nebraska. I was a young nurse in the midst of being transplanted from the large six floor hospital I had trained at to a small twenty bed hospital. In the rear view mirror I waved goodbye to Lincoln, Nebraska and through the windshield said “hello” to Cozad. The green and white sign on the edge of town announced a population of 4225.
Cozad Community Hospital sat in the center of town. As is usually the case for newly hired RN’s in a small facility, I was given a job on the night shift. It was here that I met Marilyn, one of two aides that consistently worked the 11pm-7am shift. I knew from the first moment I met her that we would become friends. She had a sweet, welcoming smile and warm, friendly eyes. She seemed to sense the fear I felt being the only RN in the building, so unlike my job at Bryan Memorial where several consulting nurses could be found on any floor. I don’t remember the words she said, but I remember what I heard: All will be fine. We’ll help you.
Marilyn wore her hair in small, tight curls. Hints of gray protruded around the edges. Her complexion, however, was smooth and clear, making it difficult to estimate her age. It was only this month that I learned she was five years younger than my mother. I also discovered for the first time that we shared the same middle name – Ruth. I supposed we had talked about everything on long, endless night shifts, but Marilyn was a quiet person and a doer. She not only answered call lights, but she also straightened the linen closets, scrubbed the chart racks, and made the best lettuce salads. (The night shift differential consisted of the rights to the kitchen key and whatever we could find in the refrigerator.)
In 1984, eight years after our arrival in Cozad, my family loaded my Dad’s stock truck with all we owned and headed to Wyoming. Thirty three years have slipped by since that day we glanced back and saw our last sunrise ascending over the Cozad water tower. We’ve had little reason to return to Cozad in these thirty three years since leaving, but the few times we did, it was a must that I see Marilyn. On my last visit, she no longer lived in her modest home, but in a senior apartment where things were easier to manage and folks checked on her every day. Her hair had succumbed to total gray and she used a walker to steady herself, but she welcomed me with that same sweet smile that I remembered from our very first encounter so many years ago.
Christmas cards had become our annual correspondence over the last 33 years. Marilyn would write whatever she knew about the co-workers we had both worked with at Cozad Community Hospital. In exchange, I would send her pictures of my family and highlights of our lives. The shaky handwriting on the envelope of this last year’s Christmas card gave me suspicion that things were not as good as usual for Marilyn. As I read through the letter, Marilyn expressed gratitude that the West Nile Virus had not been worse. As it was, it had left her with balance difficulties, tremors, and vision problems. I examined the piece of lined paper a second time and could imagine the fortitude it must have required for Marilyn to form each letter.
On returning from vacation this last month, I sifted through the pile of mail that had accumulated in a week’s time. A 6 x 9 inch postal envelope caught my eye and I pulled it from between the other various pieces of mail. I recognized the shaky handwriting immediately and saw from the return that Marilyn’s niece had helped her. I settled down at the kitchen table and opened the envelope, eager to find out what was so important that Marilyn would be writing before Christmas.
My breath caught as I pulled a funeral folder from the envelope and saw Marilyn’s picture framed beneath the words ‘Celebrating a Life’. A steady stream of tears tumbled from my eyes as I again saw the struggle in the handwriting. Even in death, Marilyn was doing for others – she knew I would want to know. I pulled a note from the envelope that had been typed by her niece, Beth. Aunt Marilyn requested that I forward a copy of her Funeral Bulletin to you as you were very special to her. She passed quietly in her sleep in the early morning of August 15, 2017 at Cozad Community Hospital.
I was overwhelmed with the graciousness of my friend, that I seldom saw in recent years, but thought of often. It touched me that she had thought of me, even as death stood on her step.
On occasion I think about the folks I hope to spend time with in heaven…family, close friends, and those that have impacted my life like Corrie and Betsy ten Boom. But today, my wish is to sit on the golden bench with Marilyn. I want to tell her how much her thoughtfulness meant to me. With a smile, she would say, “It was just a little thing.” I would shake my head and say, “No, Marilyn. You gave me a gift that caressed my heart…the greatest kind of gift.”
The bench visit will have to wait. For now, I’ll have to be content with knowing I was given ‘a A touch from heaven’.
Until next month…keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.