Some things in life you just don’t plan for. A person enters your world and consumes your time and emotions, leaving you depleted and exhausted. Then they disappear and life goes on as usual. At least it does for you.
While living in San Jose, Costa Rica, every now and then I would receive a call concerning an American citizen that needed help. To this day I am not sure how people got my name but I knew it was scary to be in a foreign country where you did not speak the language. So I always tried to help.
One day I received news of a couple on a vacation at a beach resort. The man had fallen, hit his head and was in a coma. The caller asked if I would befriend the man’s wife. So I drove 30 min. downtown to Clinica Biblica hospital to meet with Michelle. Her husband, David, had swelling in the brain and had had two surgeries. They were just waiting for the swelling to go down in hopes he would recover. I visited her that same Saturday to learn he had just died and it was not a good time to visit as she had paperwork to complete.
Sunday morning I received a call from our pastor who was with her at the morgue. A body leaving to the US has to have an autopsy first. Ken, our pastor, had to get back for our church services and asked if I would stay with Michelle.
The morgue was out of town in a rural, hard to find location. So I left my car in town and took a taxi. Once there I sat the day in the lobby, with other grieving families, waiting for the body to be released. Michelle and I talked and talked about her husband and how this long awaited vacation had ended in tragedy. Michelle was Iraqi and her American husband was working as a contractor in Iraq when they met. They married and she returned to the US to live with him 16 years earlier. They had just moved into a retirement community on a golf course in San Jose CA where David could enjoy his early retirement.
When the autopsy was finally completed, we asked to identify the body. She had decided to have David cremated and we wanted to make sure the right body was released to us. We were escorted into a big room upstairs where several bodies were laid out on metal tables. David’s body was uncovered and Michelle cried. It was not a pretty site as they had cut open his head from one ear to the other and stapled it shut after the examination. But she managed to say her last goodbyes and “I love you”. Then they put the body in a metal box and we all squeezed into a tiny dark elevator to take the body downstairs to the hearse where it was to be transported to the funeral home. We wanted to ride in the hearse with the body but were not permitted.
It was nearing dark and the morgue was about a mile from town. So we walked briskly past a huge cemetery, into town, to catch a bus into San Jose. It was an eerie feeling, the whole day quite surreal. I left Michelle at the room she had rented near the hospital, gave her my phone number, and sped back to church to play the piano for the Christmas program. My usual calm was replaced by anxiety with all the pulls on my solitary being.
As church was getting ready to start, Michelle phoned me and was scared. I could not go get her at that point so I told her to get in a taxi, give the taxi driver the address of the church and come to stay with me. She arrived during the service; broken, lonely and frightened. She spoke not a word of Spanish and was like a fish out of water.
Michelle stayed with me for the next week. We made various trips to the funeral home, US embassy, the hospital, the police station, finally ending up with David’s ashes in an urn at my house and all the paper work completed to leave the country. She could finally sleep again.
Michelle was Muslim, though not practicing. We had many talks of life and death, Christianity and the Muslim faith, marriage and widows, happiness and sadness. She allowed me to pray with her time and time again and I was her constant companion, even in the night when sleep would not come. We drank tea at the dining room table; she helped Adele with her homework. We sat on the porch and looked out over the San Jose Valley. Mostly she talked and I listened. By the time we said our goodbyes at the San Jose Airport I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
I called Michelle on the first anniversary of David’s death. She called me her angel. We never spoke again.
It has now been six years since David died and for some reason God has brought Michelle to mind the last couple days. So I searched for her number and just called her. She still lives in the retirement community in San Jose, CA where she and David had moved just before his death. Her son lives in Chino Hills, just a short distance from my house in Upland and she visits him often. Is it coincidental? I doubt it.
Next month she will be visiting her son for his birthday and we plan to get together. She made a point to tell me her daughter has become a Christian. She asked if I was still blond and sexy! I said, “No, I am dark and fat!”
“You will always be beautiful to me.” She replied.