Picking up the urn on my night stand, I kissed it. My children think it’s macabre, but what do they know? It’s all I have. I don’t shudder when I kiss it. I shudder throughout the long, lonely days. I shiver from the ever-present cold that comes from deep within.
I’ve felt the cold ever since Julian died. We were married fifty years.
The last time I’d felt warm was when my baby sister visited. Baby sister—Savannah was in her late sixties now! But she brought cheery warmth into the assisted living facility where I live. People were drawn to her like a warm fire on a cold night. She made me laugh. She made everyone laugh.
I didn’t realize I hadn’t felt cold until she left, and the inner warmth leached away. The next day, the familiar coldness gripped me again. I wish she’d come more often, but she lives five hours away and has a full life with adult children and grandchildren. I have children and grandchildren, too, but they don’t warm me as much as my sister. Being with her was like snuggling up in an afghan. The moment her arms went around me I felt it.
She’s always doing for others, and not just her kids and grandkids, although she does for them constantly—she all but raised her grandson when her daughter’s husband left her—but also the collection of people she has acquired through her life: foster kids, her kids’ friends, strays she’s brought into her home for a time. She laughs about it. She even took a call on her cell phone while she was with me, and I heard her pray for some person—later she said it was their foster daughter.
Her husband looks at her with adoration—had Julian looked at me like that? Maybe. He always wanted me with him and never went anywhere without me. Sometimes I’d convince him to go see the kids, but we retired early and he moved me far away, absorbing all of my time and energy. We were crazy in love—always had been, from the moment we ran off together when I was twenty. Julian enjoyed our grandchildren whenever they came, but he seemed glad when they left and he had me all to himself. Was it a mistake to pour all my energies into pleasing him? I had nothing when he died. I love to read, but daytime TV is boring
I wonder if Savannah’s husband is jealous. He didn’t seem to be. He shared her devotion for their children and grandchildren, beaming when she told little stories about them. His eyes glistened when she boasted of their achievements, and he even added his own stories.
Savannah’s working on another charity project, teaching women at a mission. Dreadful people, losers, but she speaks warmly about them as if getting a job at the local grocery was some big achievement. My brother-in-law laughed about the dinner they hosted in their home for those people and how their children wrecked the place. I shuddered, feeling the cold within seep to the surface of my skin. I reached for a sweater, but it didn’t take away the chill I felt.
Thinking about her last visit, I chuckled as I remembered one of her stories about the grandchildren. When I asked her if they didn’t exhaust her, she laughed her ready laugh, saying they were a blessing. She always uses that word, “blessing.” She’s religious—did I mention that? Not in a preachy way usually, but her conversation is woven with references to her church, her friends at church. Oh, well, whatever floats your boat, I guess. I wonder if I’ll live to see what she’ll be like when her beloved husband dies.
I kind of wish I did believe in heaven. I’d like to see Julian again, but he said it’s too fantastic and weak. I’m an intelligent woman, and I don’t have time for fantasies. Julian’s mother was a stupid woman, always giving her money to religious people on TV and never giving her own son a dime. She was mean. No wonder Julian hated religion.
Savannah laughed when I called her religious.
“I’m not religious, Elaine.”
“What would you call yourself?” I asked.
“I just love the Lord. The response to the question ‘What is the chief end of man?’ in the Westminster Catechism, is: ‘The chief end of man is to enjoy God and glorify him forever.’ Isn’t that cool? If more Christians enjoyed God, we’d have more of them!” And she laughed.
She got that right. Most Christians talk about other people and what’s wrong with them. Savannah had an interesting religious history. We were raised in a liturgical church. She had some kind of experience in a Presbyterian church when she was at college. Sometime later she and her husband had another religious experience. From what I gather, they attend a church that believes in talking in tongues—not snake-handlers, thank God, but exuberant. Whatever works for them. She’s certainly not exclusive or judgmental. She goes to whatever church her kids attend when she visits, and when she’s with our sister, she goes to our niece’s liturgical church. She said, “Jesus can be found in every church. He’s there, in the church where we grew up. I just didn’t find him there. But when I go now, I realize He was there all the time.” I don’t understand what she means by that.
Whenever she visited us, she didn’t attend church, but her Bible was open beside the bed. She reads it like it’s a current novel. And she sings a lot, too. I like to hear her sing—she’s got a beautiful voice. Dad told me his mother sang. Our grandmother died when he was nine years old, and once I heard Savannah say, “I looked forward to meeting our grandmother in heaven.” Daddy said he loved Savannah’s visits because standing beside her in church and when they sang, he listened. Maybe she sounds like his mother. She’s the only one in the family who can sing, I know that. I sound like a rusty door myself.
I wish she’d come again. I want her arms around me, chasing the cold away. If God has arms, I bet they feel just like Savannah’s. Isn’t that fanciful?
Savannah sent me a book today. She wrote a novel! Can you believe that? It’s good, too. I’m caught up in it. It’s late now, so I’ll put it down. It’s about this rich guy who’s out to protect his late brother’s estate from his conniving widow. Boy, did our family go through it when Daddy died! Julian said that Savannah was the best Christian he’d ever seen then, and she was. She didn’t want anything except to preserve the family. “Take it—I don’t want anything except for us to love one another. We’re all we have now.” She meant it, but we didn’t do that, of course. I was executor, and we scrupulously divided everything down to the last penny.
The next morning I picked up the book again. “In the quiet reverence of the old church, the faithful knelt. He lowered the kneeling rack and followed the age-old tradition of his youth,” I read. When we went to Daddy’s funeral, I did that. It’s just what you do. I continued the chapter about the memorial service for the hero’s brother. Because it was in a church like the one we grew up in, it reminded me of Dad’s funeral. The dead guy had been shot down in front of the mission where he’d volunteered, and the boys told how he touched their lives. Afterward, the pastor invited the congregation to join the deceased in the family of God. I never heard of people coming forward in our church!
When I started to read the next time, it picked up: “Jonathan was unaware he stood and moved forward. He knelt at the altar in the blessed spot where his brother had knelt so many times to pray for his soul. He felt a hand on his head, and sweet warmth flooded his being. Gentle hands lifted him and swept him into a fierce embrace.
“Welcome, Jonathan, brother of David. I have prayed often for this day. Surely there is rejoicing in heaven.” Pastor Mondalah held him until his sobs ceased.”
The sun slanted through my window, and I looked up from the page. My eyes felt moist, and I sniffed. I wonder if Savannah prays for me like that guy prayed for his brother. Of course she does, she tells me that often enough. I hope she does because if heaven is real . . . .
I took off my sweater. It had gotten warm in here. Sweet warmth flooded my being and warmed my heart, just like when Savannah took me into her arms.
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