Sitting across from each other, their eyes the same dark pools of immigrant brown, I saw for the first time what had been there from the beginning. It was not what I thought; time’s toll on lives lived through the heart of a glorious, disastrous century but rather the complex, wrenching, illuminated image of one heart making the supreme effort to heal another.
I heard her say, I’ll stay as long as you need me.
Then I heard the other say, you can’t. It’s too much. You have them all at home, who will be there for them? As she said this she had a look in her eyes of pain and acceptance and hope.
The older ones will help, she said. You need me now. I’m staying.
She did, and I let myself believe that she would never leave. While we stumbled through those new weeks she made sure that everything that needed to be done was done. While she was there I didn’t think too much about what had happened. I didn’t think too much at all. I just vacantly allowed myself to be enveloped in her presence. By her every action she was teaching what it meant to belong, to be a part of something, to hold on when you questioned why in the world did this have to happen, and happen to us.
Eventually, at the end of a known only to them agreed upon number of weeks, she did leave. By that time, after watching and listening, I began to realize that one person could not only help a family survive but endure, and not only endure but ultimately prevail over the unexpected incursion of loneliness and transformation. Over the years we would make the long trip and visit her during the highs and the lows, the inevitable times of sadness and obligation, heartache and celebration. She continued to keep us enfolded, to almost single handedly take it upon herself to nurture us as essential pieces of the family puzzle. And at the end, unlike all the others except one, she was even more beautiful than she had been those fifty long years ago.