I really couldn’t afford to spend $500 on a flight, but it was the right thing to do. My mom’s last living sister, Helen, is in her late 80’s. Her daughter Chris is 52 and was born with Down’s Syndrome. I remember when Chris was christened. I was eight years old. I peeked at her in the bassinet. She was like a precious little doll in her long, silk white gown. Her blue eyes sparkled. I could hear my aunts and uncles talking in the kitchen about something being wrong with her, but she looked perfect to me.
Through the years, Chris got the most attention of any cousin in our families. When she visited it was a rule that we had Coke, iced tea and a snack just for Chris. There was also sparkly jewelry exchanges. Chris would sit at the table and join in conversations, usually with a “Yeah!” She and my aunt were inseparable. They were like love bugs. They had their own special signals. Helen would touch her heart and point at Chris and she would blow a kiss back. Helen would wink as Chris smiled. I remember telling them I was going to need a box of tissues for their visits.
Chris is now fifty-two and in a nursing home. She fell a while back and couldn’t walk, although the doctors can’t figure out why. My aunt told me that she wasn’t doing well and it was breaking her heart. Her voice quivered as she spoke. “She keeps asking to come home. I can’t take care of her. I hate to leave her there,” she cried. There was talk of a feeding tube because she wasn’t eating and she was losing weight.
I swear it’s my mom’s fault that I bought the tickets to fly out. She loved Chris and Chris loved Aunt Bette. My husband agreed and next thing I knew I was on the plane. I was afraid of what I would encounter. I’ve volunteered at hospice in the past so I knew the possibilities. I dreaded walking in her room.
I was so relieved to find her sitting up in bed looking like a little munchkin. She gave me a huge smile when I walked in. She kept looking at her mom and then back to me shyly. I thought maybe she thought I was Aunt Bette since I look like my mom as I get older. My aunt was holding her hand calling her, “My love, Chris.” Once love bugs …always love bugs. This day Chris ate lunch and dinner. She was animated and happy. Although I’ve never really known her to be unhappy.
I watched my aunt with her and I thought my heart might explode. She’d fix Chris’s hair and smooch her cheek. As the tears started to come, she quickly looked out the window and wiped them away so Chris wouldn’t see. She’s always worried what would happed if she died first. It was her biggest daily worry. Now as Chris lost more weight, it looked like God might be calling Chris first.
Her room was filled with stuffed animals, Mickey Mouse and a huge stuffed green frog, a gift from her brother, Jerry.
There was a small oval ceramic plaque that read, “You Are My Sunshine.” This was Chris’ favorite song. When they visited Ireland Chris sang that song on stage with the band in a pub. The audience sang along and she brought the house down. Her encore was When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.
It struck me that when she was diagnosed with Downs everyone thought something was wrong. As I sat there watching the two of them, it occurred to me that everything was right with Chris. My aunt smiled as she told me that Chris never had a bad word to say about anyone. Her heart didn’t hold those feelings. She loved everyone. Even when people would make remarks in the store about her, she was confused. My aunt seethed, but Chris never had a nasty word for them. Her heart was pure.
I put lip gloss on Chris and we smacked out lips in unison. I told her, “You look gorgeous!” She smiled.
I realized that she really is gorgeous…inside and out.
What a couple of hundred dollars for such a priceless visit?
P.S. Chrissy passed away last year and Aunt Helen passed a few months later. Her husband, Uncle Tom, also passed away. Our family is dwindling. Don’t miss your family’s priceless moments.