From the book, Stories from the Creekbank, by Curt Iles
A Loving Hand
The Time is Now
If you are ever going to love, love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings from which true affection flow.
Love me now, while I am living. Do not wait until I’m gone.
And then have it chiseled in marble, sweet words on ice cold stone.
If you have tender thoughts of me, please tell me now.
If you wait until I am sleeping, never to awaken,
There will be death between us, and I won’ hear you then.
So if you love me, even a little bit, let me know it while I am living.
So I can treasure it. –Author unknown
I sit in the Alzheimer’s ward at Westwood Manor. I’m in town on the first day of a week’s vacation after nine weeks of summer camp.
But here at the nursing home, it is not vacation time. Instead, it is lunch time and the residents are sitting down to eat. Many stare blankly into space, and others are fed by aides. There sitting with her back to the wall, with her eternal smile, is the lady I’ve come to see—Mrs. Corinne. As I sit down beside her, she lovingly grips my hand. As I look down, it is such a stark contrast to see my tanned hand next to her pale, white, weathered hand.
Her hand, now holding so tightly to mine, is nearly transparent. I believe if I put a light underneath her hand, the light would shine through. It reminds me of my precious grandmother’s hand just before she died. In fact Mrs. Corinne reminds me so much of my Grandma Pearl. That’s one of the reasons she is one of my favorites.
Her hand is so fragile-looking—weathered and covered with age spots. As the nurse brings her plate of dumplings, greens, and cornbread, I laughingly tell her, “Don’t tell Mrs. Corinne’s husband that her boyfriend is here holding her hand.” We all have a good laugh at that.
As she clings tightly to my hand, we visit. She is one of the sweetest ladies I know. She and her husband, Mr. Jay, have always been special friends with five generations of my family. People like Mrs. Corinne and Mr. Jay are some of the last links to the old Dry Creek I heard about from my great grandparents.
As I look down at her loving hand on mine, I’m reminded of a few years ago when I saw Mrs. Corinne’s hand gripped in Mr. Jay’s at their 60th wedding anniversary. What a special day that was at the White House, our Adult Center at the Camp. Here they were celebrating a lifetime together in the building where they attended school as children.
But as I’ve learned, time marches on . . . and Alzheimer’s waits for no one. And so here we sit in the nursing home. I think about how bravely Mr. Jay has handled this . . . and how tough a decision he was forced to make to bring his sweet wife here.
I think about my precious wife, DeDe, and how we’ve just celebrated twenty years of marriage. And I realize that if God gives us enough years together, one of us will probably have to take care of the other—and make some hard decisions.
And once again, as I stand at the end of a wonderful and terrible summer, I’m reminded of the greatest truth I will take with me from the summer of 1999: Life is a wonderful, precious, and fragile gift. Each day, each moment, each opportunity to love, is like the wonderful fragrance from the wild honeysuckle in the spring.
Between my house and the camp, on the bank of Mill Bayou, is a honeysuckle tree that is the earliest bloomer in our area. Each March I watch it carefully each time I drive by. When it blooms with its pink, fragrant flowers, I love to stop by and smell the blossoms. To do so, I must climb the barbed wire fence and dodge through a minefield of cow patties, and then get my feet muddy to go down to the creek bank. But the work is worth it all. There is nothing like the first scent of honeysuckle after a long, cold winter.
There are times when I’ve seen my favorite honeysuckle and put off going to visit it. I’ve been too busy or just decided to come later . . . and then suddenly I would look out as I drove by and realize this year’s blooms were gone. A late frost, or my hurriedness, had cost me.
And as I look down one last time at Mrs. Corinne’s hand, I know to leave; I will have to forcibly pull my hand from her grip. I’m once again reminded how we need to inhale each moment deeply, because life and those we love pass by so quickly. And how, if we have something good to say to those we love, to say it now. Don’t put off one important thing because life goes by so swiftly:
This is the beginning of a new day.
God has given me this day to use as I will.
I can waste it or use it for good.
What I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever:
Leaving something I have traded for it.
I want it to be gain, not loss. Good not evil.
In order that I shall not regret the price paid for it.