94: Soul Food

94: Soul Food

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Soul Food

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

~Henry David Thoreau

My sister, Gale, peered out the living room window at the ducks and geese making their way from the lake to her garage door. Each and every morning and evening, Gale supplied cracked corn to them, and judging from the huge commotion they were now making, they were pretty upset she wasn’t hoofing it out to feed them that instant.

Months earlier, Sis had been diagnosed with cancer. It had rapidly metastasized, and hospice was already set in place. I flew to Florida to care for her and the family.

The honking grew louder. I glanced once more at my sister’s sweet face in the hospital bed in the corner of the living room. In spite of the incessant honking, her eyes were already drifting shut. I wiped away fresh tears, escaping to the garage to replenish the empty bowls of cracked corn. I planned on tackling the kitchen next, followed by the bathrooms. With so many people coming and going, there were countless chores to be done.

Plunging my hands into the warm, soapy water in the kitchen sink, I felt a warm hand touch my shoulder. I turned. Gale stood on wobbly legs, reaching out to embrace me.

“Do you know want I want you to do most?” she softly asked.

I swallowed the lump in my throat.

“Anything,” I croaked, returning her weak hug.

“I want you to come into the living room and just hang out. All this doesn’t matter,” she whispered, sweeping the kitchen with one enormous gesture. “Just be with me.”

I felt my hand lifting the plug, urging my worries and fears to accompany the water down the drain.

Sis clutched my hand in hers like she’d done a million times growing up. We both staggered into the living room with giggles, commenting on how her unsteadiness was most likely caused from the morphine and mine from sheer exhaustion.

In no time at all, we were snuggled under a patchwork quilt watching Sis’s favorite Disney movie, Ratatouille, projected on the ceiling thanks to a projector Gale’s daughter Michele furnished. It didn’t matter that the bowl I now held out to my sister didn’t contain fluffy popcorn. Instead, the remnants of any food Sis had been able to ingest that morning stared us in the face. Earlier, we’d shared several banana Popsicles. Sis had discovered they not only were tasty going down, but coming back up as well. We agreed that someone should make advertisers of the delicious frozen product aware of this fact.

When the movie ended, I helped my sister into the wheelchair that hospice had provided, pushing her around her beloved Lake Charm. The now satisfied ducks and geese gracefully floated across the shimmering water as an eagle soared overhead. Every now and then, a neighbor passing by would stop to give Gale a hug or ask how she was doing.

Safely indoors once again, Sis was too spent to enjoy a bath even though we were both sweaty and overheated from the Florida sun. Instead, we spritzed each other with cold water from a spray bottle while reminiscing of childhood days and racing through the lawn sprinkler. We giggled until our sides hurt, and then collapsed against soft pillows.

“Thank you,” Sis murmured sleepily, her eyes already closed.

“I’m the one who needs to thank you, Angel Girl. I’ll never forget this day as long as I live.”

I tiptoed out the front door and onto the porch. The sun shot arrows of crimson, purple and pink into Lake Charm.

I’d set out to take such good care of my sister that day. How could I have known she’d been planning all along to take care of me?

“Thanks, Sis.”

~Mary Z. Smith

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