The conversation was long over due. It had been several weeks since I talked to my Cousin Rick about my sweet Aunt Cora. Earlier this winter she had celebrated her 101st birthday. It wasn’t exactly a celebration as one would hope. With the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no crowd of well wishers, no cake, no balloons, only a few cards and my cousin. Then within days, even he was no longer allowed to visit. Her condition declined and now she lived in a more skilled part of the facility that she has called home for now.

The previous year many of us had gathered to sing happy birthday and commemorate her one hundred years. Her oldest daughter, my Cousin Dorothy was there, but within a month of the party she had died. Her younger brother and his wife were still living then, but they too had passed during this past few months. She is now the last surviving member of her nine siblings.

She has always called me Betty Ruth, as if my first and middle names were only one word. I loved to hear her cheerful voice on the phone when I was able to call her. She no longer has a phone. I have sent her flowers and cards, but now my only connection to her is through my cousin. He is the only one of her remaining three children who lives close enough to see her. It has only been within the last month that he has been allowed to enter her room. With the numbers of positive tests for COVID-19 on the rise, he may once again be restricted from seeing her.

He makes the long trip from Tacoma to Shoreline, Washington to see her every few days. He does her laundry because he takes the time to make sure it is done with care. It’s something I used to do for my mother, her older sister Ruth, before she passed away seventeen years ago. They were very close. She used to visit my mother once a week. But as my mother suffered with Altzheimer’s disease, the last ten years of her life, made it difficult for her, for all of us really

To say that I love her seems like such an obvious thing to say. But I really do LOVE her. During the difficult years since my mother’s death, she has been like a second mother to me. My mother and I struggled in our relationship. Her critical judgement of me made it hard to live up to her expectations. On the other hand Aunt Cora had the wonderful ability to see my potential. It was Aunt Cora who first noticed my singing voice, a talent that became my identity early on.

I used to think that living to be one hundred years of age would be quite an achievement, and it is. But as my aunt has passed that threshold, I’ve begun to see things differently. As more members of my family are now experiencing life in the next, I’m looking at the passage of time as one day closer to heaven and being able to join them there.

Sheldon Vanauken, a contemporary friend of C.S. Lewis, In his book, A Severe Mercy, shares his unique bond with Lewis, each having lost their wives to cancer. In a letter to Vanauken, Lewis helps his friend see things from a new perspective. Vanauken was so lost after his wife died, that he confided he felt life wasn’t worth living without his wife. Lewis helps him to see that dying is gain. “You have been treated with a severe mercy.” Lewis claims that even something as wonderful as the relationship between husband and wife, is not better than moving on to the relationship we were created and long to have with Jesus. He also made it clear that if Vanauken were to take matters into his own hands that he would be digging a far deeper chasm of separation from his beloved that could never be bridged.

So my prayers for my Aunt Cora have changed. I had been praying that she would be protected from COVID-19. I’m certainly not praying that she contract this illness, but I realize now it is selfish to pray for her to remain in this life. I’m praying that God would grant her a severe mercy. A reward for having lived a life well. Why should I want to keep her here any longer when so much waits for her there. It is our turn to let her go and rejoice when we learn that she has made it to her final home.

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