Just before Christmas, we were asked to pray for a lady in our church who had developed a painful hacking cough. She put off going to the doctor until she couldn’t catch her breath. They ran some tests, and quietly we began to hear whispers of the possibility of cancer. The breathing worsened and hospitalization became the only appropriate action.
She has smoked for many years, and shortly after the discovery of lung cancer, she told me with humility and remorse that the Lord had “caught her.” Those words stung me. Candidly and honestly she confessed her lack of prudence (in not quitting), and now regrets every last ounce of tobacco and fiberglass that she drew in her lungs. We don’t get but two, and she knows now that those are ruined. I didn’t judge her. It’s not my place. Instead, what she told me about getting caught just made me love her more.
Since coming to Portugal, Otilia has served as my Portuguese mother. She calls me her son and treats my kids like grandchildren. Whenever we meet, she takes my face in her hands and stares brightly into my eyes. From the very beginning, she wanted the kids to sit next to her during services. We had five to sit next to us, and she didn’t have any. It was only fair. Brooklyn, our oldest, was the only one brave enough to do so, and once she did, Otilia asked Brooklyn to call her “Bia” – a pet, grandmotherly name. She has given all the girls knitted hair bows and passed down clothes to Justice from her real grandson. Most of what he wears now, has come from her.
One of Nina’s most vivid memories of the last year is when Otilia told Nina that she loved her. She did it very slowly and repeatedly so Nina could fully understand. It was the first time that anyone had ever expressed their affection for Nina in Portuguese. Otilia could be anyone’s mother or grandmother, and often serves as one or the other to multitudes. She just celebrated her 60th birthday.
But, now she’s dying. Each breath becomes more difficult. Each spoken word drains strength. The desire to eat is gone, and in addition to affecting to her lungs, the avaricious disease has eaten away at her bones. She weighs less than ninety pounds and has been in a hospital bed in traction for over a month due to a broken leg. Her time here grows shorter by the hour.
With joy she longs to play soccer with the neighborhood kids or climb fruit trees like she did as a child in Angola. She wants to get out of the hospital and have a time of thanksgiving at church with all of her friends.
Alas, death will soon overtake her. Her heart will beat for the last time, and those that know her and love her will shed rivers of tears. When that happens, I’ll lose more than an adoptive mother. I’ll lose a little more of my desire to live here on earth, and I’ll long a little more for that heavenly city.
There are few things that I really despise – cheese, lying politicians, divorce, and death. The first one is just gross, but the last three are thieves that just keep sucking the life out of people that I love. Sort of like those nasty carcinogens in cigarettes.
Written by Michael Andrzejewsi