Parting Gifts

Parting Gifts

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Parting Gifts

Prayer begins where human capacity ends.

Marian Anderson

Paralyzed with fear, I stood in the vacant dining room of a nursing home in Tennessee watching CNN track the approach of a killer.

It was 3 A.M., August 28, 1992. A night-shift attendant was keeping watch beside a wide-screen TV. I had come looking for a glass of water to sustain a vigil of my own, but was captured by a strange irony. Computerized weather maps were tracking Hurricane Andrew’s relentless and deadly assault on the South Florida coast. No power on earth could arrest, avert or deter this category five monster from destroying everything in its path.

Down the hall my ninety-two-year-old grandmother was also fighting a formidable foe. As inescapable as that hurricane, there was no way to slow death or speed it up, we just had to face it . . . together. This would be our final memory—the hardest and the best.

“Mimi” had lived with our family for ten years. She watched our daughter grow up and fascinated her with stories about life on a southern farm at the turn of the twentieth century. She and Leina had been coconspirators, faithful confidantes and pseudo-siblings. It was a rich and rewarding exchange.

At the age of ninety-one, however, Mimi suffered a series of ministrokes that ultimately placed her in a nursing home. After the last major stroke, she couldn’t swallow.

This night, I was feeding her liquids with a syringe, measuring drops as she had once done for me as a premature baby. It was very difficult to see her this way. I had prayed every way I knew how and was almost prayed out.

Then insight spoke. What I needed was a prayer partner— someone to hold me up right then in prayer. Earlier I had sent my family home to rest. There wasn’t a phone in the room, but I knew that God could prompt a heart to pray, so I asked him.

Thirty minutes later, the head nurse was taking vital signs when we heard a commotion outside the door. She slipped out, and through the cracked door I heard her calming one of the residents. A sweet, endearing lady, Miss Minnie was forever getting lost and confused looking for her room. Again the nurse tried to point her toward her room some distance away. Again the protest: “But I need to pray!”

Something propelled me toward the door, and as I opened it, the nurse apologized, “She says she has to pray here . . . now.

“By all means, let her come in!” My response was automatic as I opened wide the door.

Miss Minnie walked in, not with her usual hesitant shuffle, but with a purposeful stride that took her right to the head of Mimi’s bed. She laid her hand on my grandmother’s head and issued the most beautiful, coherent prayer of healing I had ever heard. When she was done, I knew that whatever happened, everything was going to be all right. I looked into her eyes to thank her. The usual look of doubt and confusion was gone. There was a fire in her eyes, a commanding countenance of faith, purpose and resolve. I later learned she had once been a devoted person of prayer, but the next day she couldn’t even remember that she had prayed.

During the remaining hours that night, Mimi slipped into a coma. I held her hand, asking God to gently shepherd her home, asking him to protect the people in Andrew’s path. At times I wondered if this was how Jacob felt in the Bible the night he wrestled with an angel till dawn. Like Jacob, I was determined to wrest a blessing from this painful ordeal . . . a resurrection moment I could hold in my heart. Jacob got his blessing at dawn. For some reason, 7 A.M. was in my mind.

At 6 A.M. the nurses were unable to record vital signs, but Mimi’s breathing was measured and methodical, as if she were running a race. I sat beside her, stroking her brow and speaking gently. As deliberate as a soldier’s march was each labored breath. She slept on.

Suddenly, on impulse, I pulled back the window curtain and noticed a faint rosy glow on the horizon. I looked back at Mimi and . . . as if arriving . . . she took a deliberate, almost satisfied, last breath. Her journey was complete. Her rest was won. I glanced down at my watch and it was . . . seven o’clock! I just sat there stunned, unable to get up, somehow grateful to be alone.

My thoughts drifted to those who’d been wrestling with the reality of the storm, and my heart laid claim to a prayer that out of all their pain and suffering there would be an offsetting blessing too. I later learned that 7 A.M. was the official time of sunrise on Aug. 28, 1992, and the moment when Hurricane Andrew abated.

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