Beauty queen at the nursing home


I’ve known her all my life. Aunt Dort, I called her, short for Aunt Dorothy. But in the past few years, she became much more to me.

As a child, I visited her house, played with her older daughter, ate her meals. One of my many aunts, I didn’t get to know her personally until I grew up and she grew older.

Thirteen years ago, she moved to assisted living after radiation treatments for brain cancer. Not long after, I started visiting her. I didn’t visit often and at first it was out of obligation. But obligation soon evolved to enjoyment and friendship.

With her loss of short-term memory, conversations were limited. Sometimes we talked about her life growing up. Sometimes I told her what was going on in my life. Sometimes we shared a laugh. Sometimes together we changed on tiny decorations on her “season tree.”

When I visited her in the mid to late afternoon, she was usually sitting in her room, alone, in the dark, watching TV or dozing. But when I stepped in the room and turned her light on, the room lit up with light and love. She embraced me and told me how glad she was to see me. Before I left, she blessed me with more hugs and love. I gave a little of my time, but she lavished love and acceptance on me.

In her last two years of life, she lived in a nursing home, bound to a wheelchair. She was always delighted to see me, even if I woke her from a nap. Our visits began and ended with big hugs, with lots of affectionate touches and words thrown in. I always left feeling loved.

I visited her twice in her last 10 days on earth. Her arms couldn’t hug, her voice couldn’t verbalize how much she enjoyed seeing me. But I believe she recognized my voice. She seemed to respond to the scripture I read, the words of love I spoke, and the hymns I sang. Here was someone who would soon see Jesus face to face. How I longed to be there! How thankful I was to bless one who would soon be with Him.

In Isaiah 55:8-9, God says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The world values people based on what they can accomplish and how they look. In her last few years, Aunt Dort failed on both counts. She didn’t produce anything from the world’s perspective. After the cancer, she lost her hair. Even when it grew back, it was scant. Years of inactivity added pounds to her short frame. She had no beauty from a worldly perspective.

But in God’s eyes, I believe her last few years were more productive than a CEO of a large corporation and she possessed more beauty than a fashion model. How is that possible?

She had love. It wasn’t a show. With her lack of short-term memory, she wouldn’t have remembered to “show love to people.” No, love was bursting at the seams of her heart. And with that love, she fulfilled the greatest commandment. She loved. Unconditionally. Abundantly. Unreservedly. From her wheelchair, confined to the halls of the nursing home, she did the most important thing that a person can do. And that love made her the most beautiful person around.

I will miss her love and affirmation. But she taught me an invaluable lesson. Now it’s time for me to learn to love as she did.

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