Almira sits in her reclining chair watching TV when I enter her room at the medical care facility near my hometown.
She stares for a few seconds, then smiles as she recognizes me. I feel relief, then gratitude. Almira is one of the people who made a difference in my life during my grade school and junior high years after my father’s early death in April 1956.
There was laughter at Almira’s house. I sought that out, along with remnant stories of my father. Grief flooded my home as my mother, brother, grandfather and I tried to stay afloat in the river of sadness that ran through us.
Looking back, I think Almira knew I needed a resting place. My awareness of this gift grows with each year.
We share the same birthday in December, something that seemed important and special. It made me feel related to her at a time when I needed connection. We have sent each other birthday cards for decades.
Her husband, Bud, was my father’s best friend. They had two daughters about my age — Susan, a year older, and Annette, a year younger. We went to the same church and later played cornet in the high school band, just as our fathers had when they were growing up.
Almira has come to a time in her life when she does not always remember what happened yesterday, but clearly recalls the past.
Several months ago, she suffered a frightening bout with confusion and a serious flu-like illness. She was sleeping when I arrived. I sat beside the bed, put my hand on hers and told her softly how important she has been in my life. I thanked her for her love and kindness.
Her brown eyes flicked open and she stared into my eyes, “I know it meant a lot to you, but it wasn’t too much to give.” And then she dropped back into a foggy sleep.
The family decided to take her off all medications a few days later because doctors thought the end was near. Instead, she got better.
Photographs of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren crowd the window ledge next to her recliner. We talk about them now when I visit. I tell her about Traverse City, my brother and his family, or we chat about my grandfather, my cousins, her love for chocolate cake and mine for orange-pineapple ice cream.
We laugh and and when I put on my coat, she says the same thing she always does: “You don’t have to go on my account.” It always makes me smile.
Perhaps the adage “You can’t go home again” is true, but sometimes home resides in the heart forever.
Reach Loraine Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.