I was with Mary when Joe died, holding her hand as she held his. They’d been married for most of their lives. She was 15 and he was 16 when they got married. They lived through hard times, and they struggled to get by, but they did get by. They were both very hard-working Mexican born Americans. Joe was a Veteran of War, Mary was his beloved.
When Joe died, Mary’s life changed dramatically. Joe had taken care of everything. He paid the bills, he took care of the yard, Mary was beside herself and overwhelmed with the thought of her life without her beloved. But she did it.
The next 15 years brought changes to Mary’s life. She was a widow. She was alone. She had to work her hands to the bone to take care of the third of an acre property she and Joe called “home” for so many years. But she did it.
Looking back, I see that Mary began to die when Joe did. Don’t get me wrong, she fought valiantly to maintain the life Joe had set up for her. It was just too much. Mary’s health began to fail, her body became frail. Her bones were wrought with the effects of arthritis. Her mind was overtaken with the ugly disease called dementia. Sweet Mary lived a life of fear, suspicion, and loneliness. Even her fingers betrayed her with pain and uselessness.
One day, as Mary sat rubbing her painful hands, she told me how embarrassed she was that her hands were so ugly. I took her hands in mine, and reminded her of the good things her hands had accomplished, the beautiful things her hands had done. I reminded her of the day her beloved Joe took her hands into his and made her his own. I reminded her of the day her firstborn wrapped his little fist around her finger for the first time. I reminded her of all the love her hands had bestowed upon those lucky enough to call her “Mom”, “Aunt”, “Sister”, “Daughter”, “Wife” or “friend”. I reminded her of the tears of others that she had lovingly brushed away with her hands. I reminded her of whose hand Joe held as he breathed his last breath on earth, and inhaled heaven. I told her that when I grow up, I want my hands to look like hers. She wept. So did I, and she held my hands.
As Mary’s world disintegrated into a world of paranoia and fear, dementia slowly stealing our Mary away from us, I knew she was getting home-sick for heaven. As sad as that realization was, it was also beautiful. It was beautiful to know that Mary had the hope of heaven! She knew that her pain was temporary, and that she would soon be in heaven with her beloved Joe, Patsy and so many others, and she would have a new body with beautiful graceful hands!
Mary was not afraid of reaching the end of life on earth, in fact, I believe she was longing for heaven. That gives me great joy! Like a child longs for, and looks forward to a trip to Disneyland, Mary had nights when she was too excited to sleep because of the joy she knew was set before her – heaven!
Recently, Mary told me that Joe and Patsy had visited her and told her to come with them. She was ecstatic with joy and anticipation . . . I told her that if they come again, she should go with them. She looked at me and smiled, and said “Yeah? Should I?” “Without a doubt, Mary,” I said, “without a doubt!”
Mary exhaled earth and inhaled heaven last night. My heart is shattered and rejoicing. Mary’s hands are busy hugging and loving on her family in heaven. She has a new body and beautiful hands in heaven! I find it hard to fathom, though, that Mary’s hands could be any more beautiful than when she was here with us, holding ours.
I find hope in this. Mary is home. She exhaled earth and breathed the breath of heaven. She has been reunited with the love of her life, and her daughter, sister, brother, parents and her God.
Are you kidding me? She’s in heaven . . . . literally!
I rejoice in this, as my heart selfishly breaks.