Her eyes were wide and chocolate brown; gentle and vulnerable as a child’s. Soft, white hair framed her face and stood out behind her as if caught in a perpetual breeze. I couldn’t help stealing glances at her as she slept and imagining her young. She would have been beautiful, I thought. Even now the lines of her face were like a beautiful faded old photograph and her softly wrinkled skin was like cream brushed with a dusting of rose petal pink.
Her name was Edith, and when I asked her how old she was she told me, “Ninety nine.” She said that she lived alone but that she had been married for seventy seven years. “He died,” she said, “That was the trouble."
She was slightly built, but amazingly wiry and energetic, and when I first met her, on the same ward as my mum in the hospital, her restlessness and requests for help from nurses, patients and visitors, every five minutes or so, seemed disruptive. She repeatedly got up from her bedside chair to wander out to the hallway, determinedly clanking along on her walking frame, while everyone tried to direct her back to safety.
The first day I met her I wondered how they would get any sleep at night. But her roommates said that the nurses wheeled her bed out into the hallway during the night so that they could make sure she was safe.
The next day when I got to Mum’s floor with Robert, the nurses told us that Mum had been moved to the next ward. “Oh, good, “I said to Robert quietly, “Mum has escaped from Edith.”
I think that God must have been laughing as we rounded the corner into the new ward and found Mum. Edith had moved too, and was in the bed beside her and looking up at with eyes as bright as a sparrow’s. I felt guilty for my comment. She did seem to be more settled than on the first day we met.
Over the course of four days I got to know Edith better, through just being with her and helping her when I could. She became a person, not just someone who disturbed the peace. I felt sorry that she asked so often, “What must I do now?” She seemed to find it hard to just relax.
On the last night Mum was to be in the hospital, I said goodnight to Edith who was already snugly tucked in bed, beneath a heavy warm hand knitted blanket that she said her friend had made for her. Over the bed hung her two brightly coloured dressing gowns. I had helped her put on the red one when she was cold one evening, and was having difficulty matching up both sides because of several missing buttons.
I was sorry to say goodbye, knowing that I would not see her again, so I took her hand, and just to be sure, I asked again, “How old are you Edith?”
“Ninety nine,” she told me, and when I asked when her birthday was, she told me, March 3rd.
I said, “Wow, you will be a hundred then.”
“Yes,” she said, calmly,“If I’m still here.”
“And if you aren’t, where will you be?” I asked.
Edith paused to think for a moment, then said, “Heaven, I hope.”
2 Corinthians 5:1-3 (Today's New International Version)
Awaiting the New Body 1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.