I Can’t Go to Heaven Yet

I Can’t Go to Heaven Yet

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

I Can’t Go to Heaven Yet

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.

Pierre Corneille

“Wow, she has the most incredible blue eyes—they actually dance!” I said to her daughter the first time I saw Ms. Smith. She seemed to glow as she lay in front of a huge picture window in her daughter’s home. She had the brightest smile and the baldest head—not a hair left from the prolonged chemotherapy. The medical profession had done all they could for this little lady from Kentucky. Her daughter had brought “Mom” to her home in Tennessee to care for her so she wouldn’t die alone.

Her home was out in the boonies. It used to be a convenience store of some kind. It was a long and narrow house and every time I opened the door, I expected to hear a chime go off. When I arrived the first time, I knocked and a huge man came to the door. Her son-in-law looked like Charlie Daniels, without the cowboy hat, with tons of hair and whiskers. “Come right on in here,” he ordered, but with a grin. With slightly more than a little apprehension, I followed him in and so did three cats and two dogs.

There was Ms. Smith in a hospital bed with her mouth full of miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. My kind of woman! I introduced myself as her visiting nurse. She smiled a huge toothless smile. The chocolate ran down the wrinkles near the corners of her mouth.

“Would you like a Reese’s Cup?” she asked.

“Are you kidding? If I won the lottery and they paid in either money or Reese’s Cups, I’d be hard-pressed to make the choice!” I popped that peanut butter delicacy into my mouth.

She laughed. “I think we’ll get along great!” She wasn’t wrong.

Ms. Smith was short and round and could do very little for herself. Over the months I was there, she shared her life with me. She had seven children and only one grandchild. She had a son in prison who she knew she’d never see again. Her daughter was devoted to her. She’d crawl in the bed with her mom and rub her head to help ease the headaches from the growing tumor. Ever so slowly, Ms. Smith began to lose the faculties she had left.

One night she began to have difficulty breathing and her daughter called me in the wee hours of the morning. I jumped into my car and put on my emergency lights and got there in record time.

Her speech was slurred but she whispered, “I can’t go to heaven yet.”

I asked her if she was afraid.

“No, I can’t go to heaven without my teeth.”

What? I looked at her daughter and she explained that during the move from Kentucky they had lost her mother’s dentures. I looked down at Ms. Smith, whose bright blue eyes were still dancing.

“I won’t meet Jesus without my teeth,” she firmly whispered.

I could have explained that we will be whole when we meet our Maker, but I could see that she wouldn’t compromise on this. I bent down and softly said, “I promise I will get you some teeth.”

I prayed all the way home. “Why did I promise her teeth, Lord? You’ve got to help me out here.”

I caught a few hours’ sleep, then pulled myself out of bed and headed to church with my family. During the sermon I looked ahead two pews and saw Sandra Hayes. The hair stood up on my arms. She was a dentist, in practice with her husband. After the service I approached her, told her my dilemma, and asked if she could help. She agreed on the spot. I explained that in all likelihood she would not be paid.

“This family has no extra money. They live in the American version of the Outback,” I cautioned.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Hayes said, “I’d be honored to help.”

The next day she followed me to Ms. Smith’s home and stirred up her stuff to make the dental molds, refusing to take any shortcuts. When Ms. Smith entered the gates, she’d have the finest teeth of anyone who’d ever passed through.

The following day Ms. Smith went into a coma. It certainly didn’t look like she’d live to get her teeth because the denture process took four to five days.We were all disheartened, but we kept a vigil at her bed. I could see the weariness and love in her children’s eyes as they turned her or patted her. We all talked to her, unsure if she could hear. The first day passed and she remained with us. Then a second, and a third.

Her daughter turned to me that evening and said, “I think she’s waiting on her teeth.”

“Yes, I think she is,” I sighed.

I had called Dr. Hayes daily with updates on Ms. Smith’s condition. She explained that she sends her teeth to a town about thirty miles away for a baking process to make them hard. She was bugging the poor “baker” and even offered to drive there to pick them up.

Finally the dentures arrived and Dr. Hayes wanted the honor of giving them to Ms. Smith. Occasionally during her comalike state Ms. Smith had opened her eyes. Now they were dim and glassed over. But when Dr. Hayes placed those teeth in her mouth, those beautiful blue eyes danced once more.

As we prepared to leave I handed Dr. Hayes the forms to complete for payment. “No charge,” she said softly, then nodded toward Ms. Smith laying with a peaceful smile on her face. “I’ve already been paid.”

Five hours after receiving her precious gift from Dr. Hayes, Ms. Smith died quietly in her sleep. I can only imagine how proud she must have been as she smiled in awe at her Maker.

Sue Henley

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