In loving memory of Grand Daddy and Grand Mother Bell, both escorted into the Lord's presence in 1996

FINAL GIFT

Dragonlots aka Dana Bell

Andrew had stood in this room many times during the past few months. He watched the plumb old woman, Mrs. Long struggle for breath and her frantic daughter, Harriet, grabbing the nitro pill, pleading with her mother to swallow and not breathing a sigh to relief until the color returned to her parent's face. He wandered a couple of steps away, glancing around the comfortable room full of a life's memory. Pictures hung on the wall of her children, grand children, their children, and their children's children. She and her husband had lived long and fruitful lives. He looked back at the quilt-covered bed and knew today he would not be escorting Mrs. Long back to God's arms.

The boyish faced Angel of Death grew thoughtful. Maybe not today. But soon. Very soon.

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Mr. Long glared at the young dark haired interloper. His gnarled old hands shook slightly where they rested on the top rung of his walker. "Don't need you here," he groused. "We're doing fine."

"I understand that, Mr. Long," the woman said, with a slight Irish accent. "But your wife's doctor insisted you needed live in help." She smiled kindly at him. "Otherwise, he's advising your children to put you in a rest home."

The old man made a pained face and shuffled back to allow her to enter. He wanted to be here in this house for the rest of his life. He and his wife Dorothy had lived in this sprawling ranch home surrounded by orchards for over thirty years. It was home.

His new live in help walked into the tan carpeted living room and placed her black suitcases on the floor. "My name is Monica."

"I'm Mr. Long to you," he stated gruffly. "My wife's sleeping." He pointed a finger behind him.

Monica followed the gesture with her brown eyes. She could see a darkened hallway. She assumed their bedroom was back there.

"You'll sleep in the basement. Go through the kitchen. There." His chin jutted to her right.

"Thank you." Monica picked up her bags and headed in the indicated direction.

"Damn doctor should mind his own business," Mr. Long grumbled, glaring at the woman's back as she exited into the country kitchen. He proceeded slowly to his easy chair and eased his weary bones into the green plushness. Picking up his well-worn Bible he lost himself in the God's promises.

Monica admired the combination dining room and kitchen. She admired the white well cared for cabinets, the glistening double sink and the large wooden table with many chairs set carefully around it. On the wall shared with the living room was a large freezer and above it many glassed shelves filled with cows of every size and shape.

She stole a glance out the patio door to the attached wooden deck and decided she'd explore that later. She walked on through the room to a door. She put down one suitcase to open it and closed it behind her. Another bedroom was on her right and the washer and dryer on her left.

Before her were gray painted and steep steps. She went down them encountering the back door. She took another turn and faced the basement. Mustiness greeted her nose. She opened the glassed in door and decided the first thing she would do is open this door and the back door to let fresh air in. It was obvious no one had been down here in a long time.

She found the bedroom and across the way was her own bathroom. Placing her bags on the concrete floor she turned on the light.

A beautiful log cabin quilt lay on a twin bed and she knew the woman upstairs had made it. Along the paneled wall a large dresser sat and a tilted mirror sat above it. The other walls had landscapes on hanging on them.

She took a deep breath and knew her assignment here would not be an easy one. Monica was very thankful Tess would be the visiting nurse and Andrew said he would be delivering their food as part of the Meals on Wheels program.

"I'll be needing your strength on this one, Father," she spoke into the room. His loving presence embraced her and Monica rested in it.

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Sunshine greeted Monica as she rattled around the kitchen. The Long's rose very early. She'd gathered from their conversation from the night before while she'd prepared dinner for them, that they had worked the orchards for most of their lives, picking apples, peaches and cherries, harvesting strawberries and blueberries and working in the packing sheds during the fall.

They had a deep pride of a life filled with hard honest work and a fruit basket of children. They had thirteen - eight sons and five daughters. Some were college graduates, some not. Most had been married to the same spouse for many years. There had been a couple of divorces and remarriages. And, from the context, she gathered they had one 'black sheep son'.

Most of their children lived in the area and she assumed she'd get the opportunity to meet most of them. A couple of their children lived outside the state and their grand children were scattered all over.

She placed two glasses of orange juice on the table and smiled at the Longs as they came into the kitchen. Mr. Long took his glass and sipped it, not even looking at her. Mrs. Long returned Monica's smile with a twinkle in her hazel eyes.

"Where are you from, Monica?" She asked.

"Lots of places." Monica answered. "My work allows me to travel."

"Do you like your work?"

"Very much." Monica returned to the stove to check on the oatmeal. They only had the old fashioned kind and she had to watch it carefully. She was glad she always had the knowledge she needed for every assignment.

"I think Harriet is coming today to do my hair," Mrs. Long commented.

Harriet was their oldest daughter. "Would you like me call her and confirm?"

"Yes. Thank you, Monica"

"My pleasure."

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Tess stood her ground. "Mr. Long," she said forcefully, her dark hands on her hips. "I am here to check your wife."

The tiny man didn't budge. He didn't seem at all intimidated by Tess's huge presence.

"But I need someone to look after me," he pouted.

Monica entered the living room from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her jeans. "Hi, Tess." She greeted the black woman. "Mr. Long, you need to move so she can come in."

"No one cares about me," he whined as he slowly moved his walker away from the front door and back into the large room.

"I'm sorry, Tess."

"Its okay, baby," Tess consoled. "Where is she?"

"Resting. Her daughter Harriet came to do her hair today and it wore her out. She went to lie down for awhile. I'm making them lunch."

"You go right ahead and finish. I can find my own way."

Mr. Long sat in his chair grumbling and thumbing through his Bible.

Tess looked thoughtful. Monica went back into the kitchen.

"It won't be long," Andrew commented beside her, unseen by Mr. Long.

"I know, Angel Boy."

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"How are you doing today, Mrs. Long?" Tess asked as she checked blood pressure, heart rate and fluffed pillows.

"I'm tired, " the older woman answered.

"I know," Tess sympathized. "You sure do look pretty."

"Thank you."

Tess smoothed the quilt covering her patient. Mrs. Long drifted back to sleep. The angel moved quietly from the room. She straightened her white coat glad she had chosen to wear simple black pants and a red top.

"How's she doing, Tess?" Monica asked.

"Its almost time."

Before she left Mr. Long insisted she check him, too. Tess complied more to humor the old man than anything else. His health was pretty good. His bones were frail, but his stubborn spirit kept him going. He talked to her constantly while she checked his heart and blood pressure. He complained his children never paid any attention to him. Then went on to tell her stories about his travels to this state during the Great Depression and his marriage to his wife.

Tess's head spun. She had never met any human who could talk as much as he did. "All finished," she said as she packed up her equipment.

"But I haven't told you…"

She patted his spotted hand. "I'll see you and your wife tomorrow and you tell me your story then."

"No body listens to me," he complained.

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A light tap on the patio doors attracted Monica's attention. She wiped her soapy hands on a towel and went to see who it was.

Andrew waved at her as he balanced two meals. She gave him a warm smile and opened the sliding door.

"Why didn't you go to the front door?"

"Because these are Hot." He placed the two meals on the white and black speckled counter.

Monica sneaked a peak into the other room. Mr. Long was napping. "You wanted to dodge my door guard."

Andrew laughed running his fingers through his slightly mussed blondish brown hair. He leaned against the counter edge and shrugged innocently.

Monica also laughed reflecting Andrew looked good in jeans, tennis shoes and a simple white T-shirt.

"Its all right. Sometimes I also get tired of hearing his endless stories." She returned to her dishes, glad, in the warm weather, she had chosen to wear a blue stripped cotton blouse.

"Are you doing okay?"

"I'm fine, Andrew." She splashed some water at him. "I just have my hands full."

He shared a laugh with her and picked up a dishtowel to help dry.

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The days blended one into the other. Monica spent her them fixing breakfast and lunch for the Longs. She did light housekeeping and made certain the couple took their medications on time. Tess broke up her days with her visits and Andrew made her smile when he delivered dinner for them.

Evenings where spent sitting in the large living room, Mr. Long usually reading his Bible and Mrs. Long knitting house slippers for her many children and grandchildren for Christmas. A Christmas Monica knew Dorothy's gentle and loving soul would not live to see.

Occasionally she'd see one of the Long's children, but never any of the grandchildren. She knew from talking to Harriet, who came once a week, that

many of them lived close, but because their grandfather wouldn't listen to any of them, he just talked at them, they never visited.

It was hard on Mrs. Long who adored and loved her grandchildren.

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Monica paced in the waiting room. She had made frantic calls to 911, to as many of the children as she could reach and loaded up Mr. Long and his wheelchair into their seldom used Cadillac, to follow the howling ambulance to the hospital.

Even here, Mr. Long was not silent. He sat in his wheel chair chattering to whomever came in range. Four of their children with their spouses sat on the various worn couches and chairs.

Monica caught a glimpse of Andrew, in his white suite, walking down the hall to Mrs. Long's room. She felt tears began to trickle from her brown eyes. She wiped them away. Mrs. Long would soon be with the Father. It would be a joyous reunion.

The stern faced doctor entered the waiting room. "I'm sorry," he told the family. "There's nothing else we can do."

The Long's eldest daughter, Harriet spoke, "Thank you. We have our instructions. We are to let her go with dignity."

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Sterile white walls met Andrew. He was used to them. He had been in many hospitals. Mrs. Long lay on the bed, covered with a pale blanket and hooked to up to so many machines she looked like a human octopus. Her body had dwindled into a flesh-covered skeleton. He noted her drawn face seemed peaceful. It was finally time.

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The family, including those who lived out of state, and a majority of the grandchildren, stood gathered in the living room. Monica drifted through them, handing out glasses of punch and offering food to everyone. She'd been allowed to attend the memorial service but had opted to return to house to prepare a much-needed meal for the mourners, while the family had paid their final respects at the cemetery.

They cried quietly, openly, sharing stories about Dorothy Long. Mr. Long sat sullen in his chair, seeming to push away anyone who offered comfort.

As the day wore on, the family drifted out. Night fell and only she and Mr. Long remained. An agreement had been reached with Mr. Long and his children. She would stay on for awhile and care for him. He wasn't very happy about it

insisting he could take care of himself. Threats of a nursing home from Harriet forced him to co-operate.

Monica cleaned the kitchen, putting away the dishes and wiping down the counters and table. She stood in the doorway still wearing her black dress, watching Mr. Long.

He still sat in his chair. Silent. His Bible sat in his lap, its well-worn and read pages open to him. His lower lip trembled.

"Do you need anything, Mr. Long?" She asked.

He shook his head.

Monica left him to mourn in peace.

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Three months later Mr. Long died in his sleep, at home, surrounded by the pictures of his family in the bedroom he and his wife had shared for so many years. Andrew came to take him home and Monica made all the phone calls to the family.

Again she attended the memorial service and served food. She even helped sort through the belongings as each family member claimed a precious treasure. Sometimes a story was shared about the object and they'd smile sadly, hugging it tight to their chest.

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On her final day she smiled at the house fondly and prepared to move on to her next assignment. Tess met her in the driveway in her sporty red convertible. Andrew sat in the back seat.

Monica put her bags in the trunk and got in beside Tess. "There's one thing I don't understand."

"What's that, Angel Girl."

"Usually, on these assignments, there's a moment when I tell them God loves them and give encouragement. Why not this one?"

Tess smiled her motherly way. "Because they already knew God loved them, Baby. They were his faithful servants and in His love, He sent us, as a final gift, to ease their last days and help escort them to heaven." She started up her car. "We don't get many of these kind of assignments because there aren't too many humans with their kind of faith. That's why I'm always honored when God chooses me," Tess shared a knowing look, "and now you, too, for this type of responsibility." She eased the car out of the driveway onto the tree line main road.

Bright sunshine shone down and Monica sat back in the seat not certain she really understood. Yet she was glad there were those who already knew God's love and contained the faith to hold onto it. She felt honored by His trust in her for this special assignment and felt her job as a caseworker had just become more rewarding.