• Gary T. Burke

The Story of Ruth--Part Two

Earlier I wrote about an elderly woman in our congregation named Ruth. That was not the end of her story. Because of declining health and the need for help managing her 24/7 oxygen requirements, Ruth spent her last few years in a nursing home.

I was blessed by the fact that her facility was only a couple of miles up the street from the health club where I worked out two or three times a week. Many a day it was easy to make the five-minute trip to see her before going home.

Because Ruth was indigent and on state aid, she was put in a room with three residents, rather than the customary two. The entire space she could call home was no more than the seven by ten feet footprint where her bed sat.

Ruth was cheerful, upbeat, and full of love every time I visited her. Never did I ever depart without feeling much better than when I came. Usually before leaving I would ask her if there was anything she needed. Without exception her response was, “Gary, I can’t think of a single thing I need.” These words always encouraged me but often convicted me at the same time.

From time to time Ruth’s COPD would get bad enough that she had to spend a few days in the hospital. We all knew that one day before long she was not going to come home from one of those visits. That day came sooner than any of us were ready.

On the morning of Ruth’s last day on this earth, not knowing that it would be her last, I visited her in the hospital. I would not trade anything for that precious one-on-one time we had together that day. Ruth’s medical team had been preparing her for the end, explaining that when she was ready they would take her off her oxygen, give her something to make her comfortable, and let her peacefully slip away.

Early in the afternoon I got a call from one of our church members that Ruth had decided that would be the day. The whole congregation was being notified and as many as could make it were invited to spend Ruth’s last hours with her in her room. I decided that since I had had such good personal time with her in the morning I would not go back that afternoon. When I learned later what happened in Ruth’s room that day, I came to regret that decision.

That afternoon about fifteen or twenty of her brothers and sisters surrounded her in her hospital room. For several hours they celebrated with prayers, singing of favorite hymns, telling stories, and much laughter. Ruth knew that she was in her last hours, and she was at peace with that and happy in the company of her Christian family.

Of course, this wasn’t the end, and they and she knew it. A few years earlier Ruth had begun a life that would never end, and this was just a brief transition.

After a while everyone left, the medical team did their thing, and she was gone. Actually, though, she wasn’t really gone. Her spirit had just taken up a new residence. And she also lives on in the hearts of those of us who were privileged to know her.

Postscript. Our congregation later donated some funds to Hope for Haiti’s Children to build a dormitory at the Thomazeau Children’s Home. On the building is a plaque stating that it is dedicated to the memory of Ruth Lewis.

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