“The x-rays showed a huge mass and the biopsy confirmed lung cancer,” Erma said.
“Heidi, I am not doing anything about it. I know where I am going.” She said it as a matter-of-fact. I knew it, too. It became apparent as we sat at the small, round table by the window in the foyer of her apartment building. Even though spring was already a few days old, we watched a cold Wisconsin wind push flurries across street. We talked for nearly two hours while she strained for breaths. At times, we laughed so hard it gave her coughing fits, and other times, when she spoke of her children, grandchildren, and how her mother died, we fought back the tears. There was not a doubt in my mind that Erma, in her seventies, lived her life in preparation for these last months and maybe even weeks.
“The doctors thought I have until June. But the hospice nurse and I agree, I will go in April. I know my body.”
She said it as if she had just booked a flight to sunny Florida and as if she was reading her itinerary to me. Her faith and strength moved me deeply.
“Then I won’t pray you out of heaven, my friend.” We both smiled.
“I appreciate that,” she said, as she removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes.
I have always seen Erma serve people, make meals, study the Scriptures with her friends, or watch someone’s kids. Out of the blue she would call a busy mom of toddlers and offer to take the bouncy bunch to the park and for ice cream. I had heard from others of her love of sowing and crafting gifts for people in the church. I also knew Erma was a lover of words. Her eyes lit up when I asked her if she journaled or wrote stories about her life. Her entire face crinkled with delight as she told me of a letter she had recently written to her landlord.
The letter went something like this.
I was so surprised you cut that beautiful oak in the back yard of the apartment complex. In the summer this wonderful tree provided me with shade in my living room and kept my apartment cool. In the winter the birds would come and sit and find rest. I loved watching my bird-friends nest there. I just can’t believe you got rid of it.
When I sat by the window the other day being sad over the tree, I noticed George and Mable, our mourning doves, fluttering back and forth. They were trying to find a place to perch. Their tree was gone. They finally sat on my sill, cooed in disbelief and looked at me with sad eyes. George and Mable were so lost. We commiserated. How could you do this to them – to us? I told them, with a heavy heart, it was time to find another place to live. We said our goodbyes. But before I bade them farewell, I told them that when time came, to find some juicy, red berry shrubs, to be on the lookout for some purple mulberry trees. I told them to eat as much as they could stomach. Then I gave them the make and model of your new white car. They took off with a twinkle in their eye. I am sure they will be back at some point.
I don’t think I will ever listen to the cooing mourning doves without smiling, without remembering our conversation, or wondering if somewhere an old oak was felled. I know, I will think of Erma when I hear them. I will ponder about lost birds and people, about those who search for new homes and those who have found their place of rest. I am certain, the sound of mourning doves will make me think about George and Mable and question if landlords will see justice.
Let me know what you think