She looked so peaceful, lying there, covered in pristine white hospital sheets. Her still hands atop her stomach, her beautifully manicured nails were attractive, even without nail polish.
The year was 1968. A recent high school graduate, I was visiting my boyfriend’s mother.
The ravages of the disease had attacked her insides like a raging fire that kills everything in its path. But her outer shell was still beautiful. I took one of her small, lifeless hands into my firm, strong one and marveled as I gazed at her. Her darkened blonde and wavy hair softly framing it, what gentle features graced her face! The delicate lace of her pastel blue bed jacket hemmed her, even now, graceful throat, in blended harmony.
I was saddened that I would not have the opportunity to experience her love, so coveted by those acquainted with her.
I sat down on the edge of her bed, as if even this familiarity would stake my claim as a cherished relative. I studied her face, trying to memorize it in my heart for future reference, and as I did so, unbidden recollections rushed to the surface as if to accent the portrait I was painting.
There had always been a flock of children at her side in her youthful years, and I was one of them. Shy and nervous around adults, she was in her element with her “little people”. She taught a toddler Sunday school class each week where years ago, I was a pupil. It was questionable as to who was hiding whom when parents came to gather their youngsters peeking behind her skirts.
Nostalgically, I caught the faint scent of the gardenia perfume that always wafted from her clothing. That was fourteen years ago, and I was now full-grown and dating her 24-yr. old son, who had acquired his mother’s gentle nature. I could not help but be drawn to this inherited tenderness accompanied by his own active sense of humor. We had been steadily dating for two years, the outcome of which was still unknown; nevertheless, the thought kept tugging at the edges of my mind that this fragile lady dying beside me, might have eventually become my mother-in-law.
“Oh, precious child, I wish I could reassure you. I have watched you grow and mature over the years into such a sweet Christian young lady, pretty on the outside, and beautiful on the inside where it counts. My son is smitten with you and how could there be anyone else so perfect for him? I wish I could tell you how much it means to me that you will be his comfort when I am gone. Because I am only here with you in body now, my spirit above you, watching my decaying body wither away. The pain has lessened considerably since I caught a glimpse of our Savior’s face off in the distance. I am awed, drenched in His love, pining to come closer to heaven’s gates!”
“I know you can’t hear me, but I so want you to know that I would be proud to become a part of your family,” I said, as I stroked her hand. “I hope you will be pleased if we marry.”
Was it just wishful imagination, or did her eyelids quiver in response?
At that moment, my future husband came in and joined me in our vigil at his mother’s bedside.
“Ah, my children, I am delighted at the prospect of your union. Perhaps God will grant me earth-sight to watch you from above, and grant you the confidence of my blessing along with His. I look forward to grandchildren in your images. And your joy will be mine, as well. Remember that sorrows and troubles along your way are so feeble in importance in comparison to your final destination.”
Her throat made the timeless death sounds, muted by our misty-eyed acceptance of God’s hands reclaiming His treasure, and we, although sorrowing in our loss, were at peace.
We were wed two years later, giving her two granddaughters and a grandson in the ensuing years. All Christians, they are grown now and all married. Her two grandsons-in-law and granddaughter-in-law are also Believers, and the three newest additions to her family, two toddler great-grandsons and a newborn great-granddaughter.
Down through the years, from time to time, I catch a whiff of my mother-in-law’s gardenia scent, followed by the assurance of her blessing, and I am content.
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