When Margaret was younger, she wasn’t a striking woman. She had deep-set eyes trapped behind
think-lens glasses, a long, off-centered face, and a bit of an overbite. She couldn’t stop a man dead in his tracks or
even earn a second glance when she walked into the room. She was a quiet woman with a gentle demeanor
who faded into the background. She had a
serious stride that hid any trace of playfulness or grace. She wore a dab of rouge and a touch of lipstick,
I did not know Margaret when she was a young girl or even
during her mid-life. She was an 89-year-old
woman whose thick chestnut hair turned to white wisps and deep grooves encircled
her mouth and spread across her face.
Her legs could no longer support her slender body and she spent the rest
of her life in a wheelchair she could slowly propel when she wasn’t overcome
When I met Margaret, she lived in a world of confusion
highlighted by brief moments of clarity that added frustration and loneliness
to her life. Her husband of fifty years
suffered a heart attack several years back and they were never blessed with
children, although they tried.
Margaret’s friends were long gone, not that she could remember their
names. She would ask me why the Lord hadn’t
taken her yet. She felt she had lived a
good, Christian life. She prayed every
night she wouldn’t wake up. She didn’t
view death as something to fear. She was
ready, but had to wait. It wasn’t her
Margaret would often come to me in tears. She felt ashamed and embarrassed that she
showed such emotion. As a minister’s
wife, Margaret had always been the shelter that protected others from the harsh
realities of life. She had no time to
cry for herself when she had to wipe away the tears of others. She had to push away her own feelings of
insecurity and doubt while she smiled sweetly and offered encouraging words of
advice. As a girl, she was told to be
strong and never show her weakness with tears.
It wasn’t until dementia began to tighten its grip that she was forced
to acknowledge her loss and loneliness. I sat with her, held her hand, wiped her
tears, and spoke softly. That’s when I
realized Margaret and I were alike.
One of my most vivid and touching memories of Margaret was
seeing her sitting in the dining room after all the other nursing home
residents had left. In front of her, the
memories of her life were scattered across the table revealing the Margaret I
had never known. With every picture she
touched, she came alive as memories flooded her mind.
When I first saw her sitting at the table, I was overcome with
sadness. This wonderful woman had
nothing left but a table full of distant memories—her childhood home; her
brother carrying her on his shoulders; her wedding day. The pictures freed her from confusion, if
only for a little while. It was my youth
that did not allow me to see that these pictures were Margaret’s shelter. Her
smile lit up the room and my heart.
The moments I spent with Margaret validated my life’s
purpose. Like Margaret, I became a
shelter to those in need of love and comfort, often pushing away my own need
for compassion and understanding. When I
held her hand, we were both comforted.
The soul of a woman in her early twenties was intertwined with that of a
woman in her late eighties. She showed
me the treasures hidden behind white hair, wheelchairs, and bewilderment. To me, Margaret was a beautiful woman. Her beauty was revealed in her comforting
touch and soft voice, her caring spirit and sincerity, her generosity and
goodwill. I can honestly say she was the
most beautiful woman I have ever known.
I was on maternity leave with my first child when Margaret
passed away. I didn’t get to hold her hand and say goodbye to her. I’ve carried her picture with me for
twenty-five years. I look at it every
day and it reminds me to be compassionate and comforting to others. Everyone needs a hand to hold and an
encouraging word once in a while.
Margaret knew that better than most—my beautiful, sweet Margaret.