I walk across the backyards to Mama’s back door. I look over the fence at the treetops and roof of the home of my childhood best friend. I think of how we met when we were two, when our parents were having these tract homes built. I spent so much of my growing up years running in and out of her house and she in and out of mine. We had tea parties and lemonade stands and sleepovers and fights and giggles.
Our mother’s were close friends, too. They borrowed eggs and cups of sugar from each other, and sat at kitchen tables talking and laughing and sharing stories and worries of their children over cups of tea. When their daughters declared that they were twins they sewed matching dresses for them and smiled.
And now I pray as I walk through Mama’s door, because I know her dear friend, Ruth, is dying.
I get Mama to sit in a kitchen chair and pin a cape around her shoulders. I comb her hair and she wants to get up and leave. She wants to open the cabinet in front of her and take everything out. She shouts that she wants her own mama.
“Mama, I’m combing your hair. Doesn’t that feel nice? Sit still please, because I’m trying to cut your hair. Remember how you used to cut my hair? Now I’m cutting your hair because you never liked it on your neck. I’m trying to cut it shorter for you.”
“Oh,” Mama says sweetly, “Thank you.”
And then a few seconds later she’s trying to get up again. She really wants to get in that cabinet. She really wants her mama.
I finish cutting her hair and we sit and cuddle on the love seat awhile. Mama wraps her hands around my arm and leans her head on my shoulder. She doesn’t know my name. I sing, “Oh we ain’t got a barrel of…” And pause.
Mama fills in the missing word; “Money!” and we both smile and chuckle.
I whisper a prayer for Ruth and her family. I’ve heard her breathing is labored and they’re surprised she’s still hanging on. I think of her last day in this neighborhood. She was making a big pot of chili to feed those helping with the move. She came over to borrow some chili powder.
She smiled a bright thanks and went back to work. Ruth was always working and cooking and beaming at us all.
Then they moved and it was the end of an era.
After a long cuddle I decide I really must tackle Mama’s toenails. I clip them and try to file them. Mama cannot understand this at all. In her mind I am just hurting her. She’s shouting. She’s slapping me. She’s pushing me away with her free foot.
We cuddle again on the love seat. “Mama, do you remember Ruth? Ruth who lived next door?”
“Ruth?” repeats Mom. “No.”
Mama’s friend is dying. But Mama doesn’t know her. Maybe it’s a mercy. Yet somehow I feel a need to mourn Ruth for both of us.
I hold Mama’s soft, wrinkled hand. “I love you, Mama.
“Well I hope so,” she answers.
And fifty miles away Ruth’s husband of 66 years holds her hand and tells her he loves her. And Mama’s friend breathes her last. And she is gathered to her people. And now Ruth is hugging her own mama again in heaven. And her pain is gone. And her tears are wiped away by Jesus.
I kiss Mama good-bye and walk towards home. I look over the fence again at Ruth’s old house as I pray for her family. And I’m so grateful I had a neighbor like her, who radiated love for Jesus and others and life. And I’m so thankful that Mama and Ruth both know Jesus and will be together again someday and for eternity.
And I can picture them there, drinking tea among the angels, and talking about their children and the old days in the neighborhood…