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Our friendship began in the shadow of death,
it taught us how to live.
by Ruth Wilson
“She’s so young to be in here!” That
was my first thought on meeting Gloria. At forty-eight, this
Mexican-American woman had recently been admitted to the nursing
home I was visiting with my Legion of Mary group. Though I liked her
right off, I had no idea that our friendship would evolve into one
of God’s greatest gifts to me.
Gloria had AIDS, I discovered. She
had contracted it from her husband and was an innocent victim of
this disease, as so many people are. My heart went out to her when
she told me that her husband had committed suicide not long after
she entered the home.
Early one morning after my first
visit, a nurse from the home called with a request. Gloria wondered
if I could see her that afternoon, after her doctor’s appointment.
I arrived to find her lying on a
couch in the hall outside her room. Tears ran down her face as she
reached out for me. “I’m dying, she said. “The doctor told me I’m at
the end stage. I want to go home to my mother.” Home was Kansas.
Gloria had no family in Washington state and had only come because
her husband was looking for work.
She was hooked up to an IV and had
numerous episodes of vomiting while I was there with her. “Did you
know I’m dying?” she asked everyone who walked by. I held her in my
arms and tried to comfort her. All the while, I was thinking of my
own sweet mother, who had died just the year before. The bond
between us grew—Gloria wanting her mother and me missing mine.
When it came time to leave, she clung
to me, crying and asking me to return. I suggested that we pray the
Novena to the Holy Spirit and said I’d come on the next nine days so
we could do it together.
Gloria was in bed and very sick the
next day, still on the IV and vomiting. She was too weak to pray out
loud, so I sat at her bedside and said the novena prayers and rosary
for both of us. Our request was for her to get well enough to travel
We presented this intention to the
Lord for the next week. I have to admit, though, that I really
didn’t think Gloria would live to finish the novena—she was in such
bad shape. Then on the eighth day, something happened. I was saying
the prayers and looking down at my rosary, when a sudden chill went
up my arm and jarred me to a realization: Gloria had been praying
along with me, without missing a beat!
“Do you realize that you just prayed
the whole thing?” I asked her afterwards.
“You sure did. I think you’re gonna
Gloria laughed for joy and suggested
a walk in the hall. I helped her up, and into the hall we went,
thanking and praising God. When I said I was going to thank our Lord
and our Blessed Mother again in my night prayers, she became very
serious. “Ruth, will you ask God if I can live two more years?” I
laughed at her implication that I had a direct line to almighty God
but said I’d see what I could do.
Hanging Out With Jesus
I continued to visit Gloria several
times a week. We would say our rosary and several litanies, and
sometimes I read from the Bible. We enjoyed praying together—and, as
we discovered, Gloria’s Protestant roommate enjoyed listening. So we
became a threesome with “Grandma,” as we called her. We prayed and
laughed together and even shared girl talk.
Meanwhile, Gloria got stronger. I
found someone to fix her a Mexican meal every so often, and she
loved that. I took her to Mass at my parish and introduced her
around. Being a people person, she loved that too. We went shopping,
out to dinner, and even to the local casino. I wanted her to see
laughter, bright lights—life!
Occasionally, I thought about Jesus’
words, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are
members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). I
remembered how Mother Teresa said she saw the face of Jesus in
everyone she helped. Then one day, after a humorous incident that
sent Gloria and me into a fit of giggles, another thought came to
me: “If this is what Jesus meant when he told us about serving the
least of our brothers and sisters, and if this is what Mother Teresa
meant when she talked about caring for the needy—then I want
everybody to know that it’s fun hanging out with Jesus!”
Despite some setbacks, Gloria
continued to make progress. She stopped vomiting and learned how to
do her own IV medications. She gained weight. One day I brought her
over to my house and we dyed each other’s hair—we were both tired of
the gray. She helped the Legion of Mary to start a prayer and
Communion service at the home. Gloria transformed into a beautiful,
happy, and loving woman who was living, not dying.
While waiting for the bus to the nursing home one
day, I looked down and saw a bright, shiny penny on the ground . . .
then another . . . and another. Strange, I thought,
picking them up. Maybe it means
I gave Gloria and Grandma each a
penny when I got to the home and suggested that we keep them in a
special place: “They’ll always remind us that we’re together in the
Lord, no matter what.” We were all looking through our purses to
find special compartments for our coins, when I noticed the big grin
on Gloria’s face.
“Do you think I’m nuts?” I asked her.
“No, you’re just Ruth.”
We all laughed with merriment. Then
Gloria got serious and said to me, “When I die, I’ll have my mother
put this penny in an envelope and send it back to you. That way,
you’ll know that I’m gone.” I told her I hoped it would be many
years before her penny came back.
Gloria flew home to Kansas on
September 13, 2005, and I’m glad to say I have not yet received that
penny. In fact, as I write this, she and her mother are planting
spring flowers. Though she has had some difficult periods and has
even come close to death, Gloria is now well into the second year
that she wanted me to ask the Lord for. In November, she will reach
her goal of turning fifty. Maybe God will give her a bonus!
I still miss Gloria very much. I
hadn’t realized that sometimes, when God answers our prayers, it
might hurt a little. But whenever we pray and talk and laugh over
the phone, it does me good. Hearing her laughter, I feel not just
closer to her but closer to God, by whose grace we formed our bond
I love Gloria, and I love my Lord for
giving me this wonderful experience. May everyone who reads this
discover such a treasure!
UPDATE FROM THE AUTHOR:
The Lord answered all of Gloria's
prayers and he not only gave her the 2 years but an additional
month. My sweet Gloria died on October 27, 2007 in Kansas in her
Mother's arms. She spent two Christmas's with her Mother and family.
I was invited to her home and attended her funeral and participated
in her services. I have her penny in our scrapbook. Her legacy is
her testimony of the power of prayer. She shared with the
world her love of God, her ability to forgive, to overcome
discrimination, to reach out to strangers with love and
her beautiful personality for joy of life and power of prayer. Her
Priest said she was a messenger and she truly was. I was but the
instrument that brought her message to the world.
I miss her . . . . . . .