“People observe the colors of a day only at its beginning and end, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors.”
The color was all too familiar. Eleven months ago we stood near the bed of a different family member, in a different room, under different circumstances, but with the same result. We had learned the evening before that my wife’s mother had taken a turn for the worse and was not expected to live through another week, so we made our way Saturday morning to the Bluebonnet Trails wing on the third floor of St. Catherine’s. We pushed aside the curtain that served as a door and entered the grey dimly lit room. As expected, Anne was non-responsive, so we spoke gentle words in muted tones with oxygen gurgling in the background, the only other sounds those of a Bingo game from down the hall; life comes and goes, but Bingo marches on. My wife’s sister arrived shortly thereafter, and while she updated us on Anne’s condition I took a moment to consider the sterile surroundings. An outdated television held center stage on one wall, flanked on the left by a metal rod supporting twelve items of clothing suspended by assorted plastic and thin metal hangers, and on the right by a tall narrow closet. A window ledge and small chest near the bed held an assortment of children’s toys and one crayon drawing, evidence of great grandchildren. A few old photographs on one wall told the essentials of her story: a black and white image of a young woman in nursing uniform conveyed her vocation; a sepia snapshot of three children provided a glimpse into her childhood; the subject matter of still another was her uniformed father holding her as an infant, the only evidence of parental involvement. Absence of a husband in any of her photos reinforced that she had divorced many years ago and never remarried. The opposite wall held a family tree that her sister had meticulously prepared, conspicuous against the whitewashed surface and even more so in the presence of a life near its end; an artistic reminder of who she had come from and who she was a part of still, confluence and influence. That was all.
It’s hard to rejoice when colors darken, except when such is an answer to prayer. All I could think to ask as we concluded our vigil was that God would honor himself and her by being gracious in the end. He was. None of us will fully understand death until we die and then it will be too late to do anything about it, but what we can say is that what matters most is what we do before the end comes. Who did we love? How did we love? What difference did it make? Who will continue to tell our tale and what will its color be? For better or worse, our story never ends with us.