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The big, brown recliner enfolds her in its protective arms day and night, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Her son bought the chair for her before she left his home to take up residence at the nursing home. She couldn't breathe, lying in bed, she said, even though it could be raised at the top or the bottom.

At first, the administrator at the home had balked at bringing the big recliner into her small room on the skilled nursing floor, already crowded with oxygen equipment, portable potty chair, wheelchair and portable oxygen tanks. But he relented finally at her adamant insistence. Her son only smiled, reminded yet again of his mother's indomitability, undiminished even by ill health.

She'd been there a week when her older sister arrived from Arizona for a two-week visit.

"We had no choice," her son had told his aunt on the way from the airport to the nursing home.

The sister understood. She knew about the frantic calls to 9-1-1, the swinging door between the hospital and their home, the unrelieved anxiety for months now. He and his wife, both working full-time and with two little girls, were overwhelmed.

"We're just thankful we found this nursing home for her," he said. "It's a good place."

The sister nodded encouragingly, trying to ignore the heaviness in her heart.

When the son and the sister appear at the door, the sick woman lifts her head eagerly to greet them, stretching out flacid, trembling arms for the long-awaited hug.

The sister feels tears spring into her eyes. She isn't prepared for the deterioration in her sister since her last visit two years ago. It isn't fair, she thinks. She's only 67, and she looks so ancient. The sister pulls a chair near the recliner, leaning in to catch the rasping words from the sick woman. The compressor pumping moist air through a hose to the patient's tracheotomy is deafening. How can she bear that constant noise?

The sister tries to smile, and think of cheerful things to say, but she feels nauseated by the sights, sounds and odors of this place. She wants desperately to flee. Panic rises in her throat, and she grips the chair arms until her fingers turn white. Then her eyes meet those of her sister, and something passes briefly between them.

The sister leans closer, grasping the swollen hands of the sick woman between her own. She remembers a time when they were little girls. Always hold your sister's hand when you cross the street, their mother had cautioned. The sister feels a surge of strength, and she gently squeezes her sibling's hands, sending a message of love and concern.

I'm so glad you're here, her little sister says. I've been living for the day you would come. They begin to talk of old times.

"Do you remember how we used to sing when we washed the dishes?"

"Yes," the sister says, laughing. "We would sing 'Cool Water' until daddy would yell at us. 'Get through in there, and do your homework,' he'd say. "And then we'd discover that we'd washed and dried some of the dishes twice."

The hour grows late. An attendant comes into the room with her evening meds. Her son says it's time to go. The older sister rises reluctantly. The son waits outside in the hall to give them a moment alone. They embrace, and the sick woman clings to her sister.

"Do you think I'll ever get to go back home?" Her voice is barely a whisper.

What can her sister say? She aches to offer reassurance, to ease the pain and fear behind that whisper. She wants to protect her little sister, hold her hand as they cross the dangerous street. But she knows in her heart that the time is coming when her sister will have to cross the street alone.

"Let's just take it a day at a time, honey," she says.

She turns at the door and beams her best big-sister smile toward the figure in the chair, and says, "I'll see you tomorrow."

The sick woman returns the smile, and sinks into the warm, safe womb of the big, brown recliner to await sleep and the promise of another day.

Contact Vivian Taylor at 474-1386 or online at mailto:viv@ cybertrails.com

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