You see, her husband, David, called me Wednesday night to tell me that Debbie had been moved to Hospice Care and was "in the beginning of the active stage of dying." It was such an odd statement that I had to ask him to repeat himself twice.
I've known Debbie for about 14 years. She used to live at 106 Constitution while I live at 256. She and her husband had married later in life. David has an inherited form of blindness, while Deb had lupus, an autoimmune disease.
Despite having to get around on a walker, she worked as an editor and was at the Red Cross with me as a paid employee. She always beat me playing Scrabble, even after she went blind from medication complications. Scrabble has braille tile covers that fit over the letters. We'd often share a cup of tea at her house afterwards. She had an exquisitely beautiful cat named Mischief.
Debbie never lost her sense of humor despite the blindness, the surgeries, and nearly dying. She kept her puns and her humor at the ready after she was confined to a wheelchair, and then to bed.
Once, after she could no longer work, I stopped by at our usual time to see her. I noticed that the electricity was out and it hadn't been back at work, a mile away. The microwave was beeping and the house was dark.
"Hey its me, " I called out. "When did the lights go out?" She quipped, "About two years ago..."
Debbie had lost sensation in her hands to the extent that they didn't think she could learn braille. She did learn. We went shopping because she liked my taste in clothes and later, we put on braille labels. She loved the feeling of one soft, fleece shirt and had me help her put on the new garment in the fitting room.
Later, we went out to our favorite Kelly's for dinner. "Hey," she said to the waitress, "Does it say anything like "Re-Elect Bush" on my shirt?". She is a liberal and I a conservative.
Debbie and David moved back to her native NC a number of years ago, but we kept in touch. She had adaptive software and a computer which allowed her to continue writing emails and editing manuscripts. She "read" the latest books and we talked about them, sharing a delight in reading. I read with my eyes and she heard books via the Library of Congress, which has excellent services for the blind.
I knew that Deb's health was declining, but I was in no way prepared for that phone call. I was devastated.
All the way down to NC, I kept thinking about an abandoned house. The one in the picture above. And in the pic below.
Debbie is surrounded by care and love. Her beautiful voice was just the same, a cultured sort of a drawl, and the same piercing blue eyes, blind, but looking just the same. What do you say to someone who has very little time left?
You pray. You hold her hand. You tell her you love her. You try to ignore the lump in your throat. You hold the foam cup of sweet iced tea and bend the straw so she can drink. She is too weak to hold it herself. You laugh about the lime jello at Thanksgiving in 2004. You try to offer comfort to her family.
"I can't believe you guys came down here. It is an 8 hour round trip,."
"Debbie, if things were reversed, you would do it for me."
"That's true," she said in a strong voice,
Lupus is a horrible destructive disease. I hate it. Debbie's body may finally be losing its battle, but her spirit has never given in.
":Anne, " she said, holding up her hand, slightly gnarled from the disease. "I thought that when it finally came to the point when I couldn't type, I would give up. I can't type anymore, but I was just thinking that if I could get someone to sit here with me and let me dictate and then type it up, I could finish my book." Her spirit is so alive.
She was tiring from conversation, so we prayed prior to leaving. "I'm not sure about what heaven is," she said when we finished. "But this right here, right now...this is sacred space." Amen.
I couldn't figure out why I kept thinking of that old, abandoned house until I thought about this picture.
St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
Debbie's housing on earth is being destroyed inch by inch by lupus, much like this old abandoned house. Once beautiful and strong, age and neglect have rendered the house nearly useless. But one day soon, like this picture, Debbie's spirit will fly through a broken window into joy, beauty, and freedom, straight to the throne of God. And then she will truly see.