56: One Last Visit with Lucille

56: One Last Visit with Lucille

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

One Last Visit with Lucille

Friends are relatives you make for yourself.

~Eustache Deschamps

New to the Navy base in Groton, Connecticut, my husband and I looked for a church to attend. We came across a small congregation in an older part of town. Something about the place attracted us even though our little family of four almost doubled the entire membership.

Lucille played the piano for our services. She pounded out hymns on the old, somewhat tuned instrument with joy. Partially deaf, she slowed the tempo down by the second or third verse. Our pastor would stomp the beat out with his foot so she’d speed up again. Her hair was a wild mane of gray and her clothes, although clean, always seemed a little rumpled.

Lucille and I struck up a friendship. She was past seventy years old and I had just reached thirty, but we shared a passion for Boston cream donuts. I discovered our mutual love one Sunday after service as we fellowshipped in the basement. We reached for the only Boston cream in the box at the same time. If she’d been closer to my age I would have fought her for it, but as she was my elder, I let her take it.

“I love these things,” Lucille told me. “I know they’re terrible for me, but I can’t help myself.”

“I’m trying to lose weight.” I patted my stomach. “But when it comes to Boston creams, I have no willpower.”

She took a bite of the donut and smiled. “Someone used to bring donuts to church every Sunday.” She licked a rogue piece of cream from the corner of her mouth. “But now we’re so small, it’s only once a month, if we’re lucky.”

“My daughter Annie and I go to the bakery once a week while her brother is in kindergarten. I get a coffee, she gets a hot chocolate and we split a donut.” I looked over the remaining pastries in the box. Only glazed and chocolate frosted remained. I took a glazed one. “She likes to pretend she’s drinking coffee and we talk about whatever she wants while we’re there.”

Soon Annie and I included Lucille in our ritual, bringing a Boston cream donut over to our new friend’s house at least once a month. Our family even had her over to our house for dinner, no mean feat because of her limited mobility. She became a grandmother to me. I enjoyed spending time with her, reveling in the peace she had in God even through all her health trials.

One Sunday I arrived at church to find Lucille absent. The pastor announced that she’d made a mistake with her medicine and had fallen into a drug-induced coma. Although in intensive care, her daughter had asked for friends from the church to visit. “Just tell them you’re family, because we’re all part of God’s family anyway.”

Devastated, I arranged for a babysitter the following day so I could see Lucille. Her daughter greeted me when I arrived, then left so I could have a moment alone with my friend. Tubes ran from Lucille’s nose, mouth and arms into machines that beeped and sighed. I stood by her bed and took her hand. “Hey Lucille, it’s me, Kim. You need to get better and come home soon so Annie and I can bring you a donut. She misses you and so do I.” I stayed a few minutes longer, praying silently, then headed home.

A few days later my husband got up at four in the morning to head out to sea for three months. Normally I had breakfast with him before he deployed, but this morning I couldn’t find the energy to get out of bed. He leaned down to give me a kiss goodbye.

Feeling guilty for breaking our tradition, I followed him to the front door and gave him a big hug. “Sorry I didn’t make you breakfast.”

He gave me a kiss on the cheek. “It’s okay. Go back to bed and get some more sleep before the kids get up.”

I took his advice. I very rarely remember my dreams, but I’ll never forget the one I had that morning. I dreamt I visited Lucille’s hospital room. When I walked in, her bed was empty. I turned and saw her sitting in a chair by a large picture window.

“Lucille!” I exclaimed. “You must be feeling better. You look wonderful.” I had never seen her look so beautiful. Her hair was combed and her eyes twinkled with excitement. Then she gave me a joyful smile.

“Annie and I are ready to bring you a donut as soon as you get out of here,” I told her. “Are you going home soon?”

The sun rose up behind her, bathing her in a golden light. Her smile got even bigger and she nodded to me.

“I’m so glad. I’ll see you soon then.”

I woke up and rolled over to check the time, it was just after five in the morning. I lay awake, thinking about my dream and wondering if it meant I should visit Lucille again. The kids woke up a short time later and I started my daily routine of diaper changes and breakfast. When the phone rang at seven I thought my husband might have gotten the chance to call before his boat left. Instead, I heard my pastor on the other end of the line.

“Kim? I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No. What’s up?”

“I know you were close to Lucille. I thought you’d like to know, she passed away.”

I sank down into a chair. “When?”

“This morning, just after five.”

I don’t know why Lucille chose to visit me before she died, but I’m so glad she did. I’ll never forget how beautiful she looked in my dream — radiant, healthy and so happy to be leaving the hospital and going home.

~Kim Stokely

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