Based in south Louisiana, Release & Gather is a blog by Holly Rabalais.  Her posts explore people, community, and matters of the heart.  Everyone has a unique journey.  Welcome to a window into hers.

The Gift of Presence

Hair freshly dyed and curled, Ms. E.M. wore her Sunday best, and her twinkly eyes spat out sparks of life from a body that failed her. Ms. E.M.'s caretaker seemed to be there only because it was her job, but after saying "hello" Sunday after Sunday from my place in the pew either directly behind or in front of them, I realized she, like most of us, was there for more of Jesus, even if she didn't know it. Aloof but not cold, she arranged Ms. E.M.'s walker against the wall upon arrival and sat quietly as those around her hugged necks and commented on new dresses and children's accomplishments and how so-and-so was doing.

I liked her.

She always wore black (my favorite color to wear), funky jewelry, and tattoos. She looked like the kind of person who didn't have time for bull crap, would guard her charge with everything in her, and could speak my favorite language--sarcasm.

I don't even remember how we got beyond the obligatory hello, but soon both women became people I looked forward to chatting with on Sunday mornings. I hugged them and told them I was glad to see them and learned with what going on in their world. I missed them when they weren't there, and sometimes I put a note in the mail saying as much.

I learned that Turtle (just Turtle, nothing else) had moved in with Ms. E.M. after her own home had burned down. She cared for her, cooked for her, played cards with her, and every once in a while when one of Ms. E.M.'s children came into town, Turtle would take a vacation and travel a little.

A woman after my own heart.

I would love to say that I made good on stopping by some evening to play cards with them, but the desire to be so much to so many got in the way. I sent my annual Christmas card to them in December, addressing it as always to "Ms. E.M. <surname> and Turtle" but I was not diligent in checking on my friends outside of Sunday morning. Having been wrapped up in the latest child-reading drama, I simply didn't notice they had not been at church, and when it finally hit me, I promised myself I would check on them. Except I never did.

While reading a church prayer list last week, I noticed Ms. E.M. had been added to the list of shut-ins...but she was now at a local nursing home. "I'll go visit her," I told myself, although I didn't open my calendar app on the spot to make time in my schedule to do it. It got forgotten.

After a Monday full of business to attend at work, I arrived home tonight to find my husband cooking dinner. I kissed him hello then looked through the pile of mail he'd placed on the kitchen counter. Junk and bills and one personal card addressed to me. No return address. Only a postmark "New Orleans" as a clue. I opened the light blue envelope and read the sentiment on the front of the card:

"Your kindness is bright enough to light the world...Thank You"

Then inside: "Your thoughtfulness meant so much."

In a neat handwriting that switched between capital letters and lowercase:

"Hello Holly

Going to be starting a new journey very soon, don't know which road I will be taking or where it will lead me but I'm sure I will be where I suppose to be.

Thank you & Mike for kindness and may your lives journey be safe & happy.

God bless

Turtle"

I cried. I cried at the gift of a simple emotion traveling through the hands of postal workers. I cried because I didn't deserve such beautiful words. I cried because how would I say a proper goodbye? I cried because I want to keep everyone forever.

Wherever she is, whatever she is doing, I am praying for God to walk beside Turtle and show her He is with her, loving her every step of her journey. Perhaps our paths with cross again, and if they do I will be sure to break out snacks and a deck of cards and let the unimportant things wait.

For now, I am interrupting myself as I type to put a reminder in my phone to call the nursing home tomorrow and ask the best time to visit Ms. E.M.

Letting Go

Do the Work