Phil is asleep today. I look into his bedroom and he’s noticeably thinner. His skin looks like it’s clinging directly to his bones. Cancer will do that. I put my arm around Rannie and she droops her head on my shoulder. A silent tear races down her cheek. “I’m going to miss him so much. I don’t want him to go but he’s in so much pain.” She offers me a drink and we have a seat in the kitchen. This is familiar territory for Rannie. Her first husband, Tom died of cancer in 1999. Their grand plans of retirement suddenly thwarted by an efficient killer. “Oh the wonderful things Tom and I had planned, and then I was suddenly alone. What the hell, John?”
She still has her sense of humor.
“Well what would you expect from a girl that grew up in horse country and was allergic to horses?”
Rannie was born in Aiken, SC. She has an infectious personality and is one of these people that everyone remembers even after a short introduction. She smiles easily, laughs often, has a keen intellect and engages others quickly. She has an enormous personality, which is memorable because she tips the scales at 105 on a good day. The first day we met she mugged me, at church no less, as if we were long lost cousins.
“Oh come here good-lookin’, you’re my chef from the Augusta Grill, aren’t you?”
She hung on my every word, welcomed Amy and I to Christ Church and offered her assistance for anything that we would ever need. As Amy and I became more involved at Christ Church, we also saw more of Rannie.
“The sense of community I had there was overwhelming and every job I had at the church fit me like a silk glove. And now I can’t seem to get my lazy ass out of bed to get to church.”
She laughs heartily but she’s hardly lazy, just fighting her own brush with mortality. Her neck sparkles from maybe two dozen staples that line her carotid artery, a gift from a vascular surgeon, it’s temporary jewelry.
“I’ve always loved wearing silver necklaces,” she pines as she gently runs her forefinger down the staples, then bursts into laughter. I point out that she should have asked for a matched set on the opposite side and she fusses, “Why? So I can look like the bride of Frankenstein?” She throws her head back and laughs. Rannie has been planning her own funeral, just that morning she had given a list of music and psalms to our rector but she’s hardly ready. “Oh I have plans, I’m not done terrorizing the world yet.” When I ask about her funeral she calmly replies with a list of music and the 23rd psalm, (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want). For the finale, she wants to rise out of her coffin, wave and announce “Bye ya’ll, thanks for coming!” Her Aiken accent would never be more memorable if she could pull that off. Rannie bursts into more laughter as tears race down her cheeks, she looks toward Phil’s bedroom. Phil, the thoughtful, analytical foil to her bubbly rambunctiousness is leaving her very soon, maybe in just a few days. Rannie wipes her tears and mumbles “Crazy damn old people.” I ask about the first time she met Phil and her eyes brighten, she recounts every casual conversation, every subtle glance, every meal they shared. Then she looks at me and grins, playfully swatting me on my shoulder.
“And then John, we had this huge ice storm and the power went out. And because I lived in a cottage I didn’t have access to the generators like those in the apartments did.”
“Yes!” she shouts, swatting me again.
“So I wandered over here and was just sitting in the reception area, I had a shawl wrapped around me, reading a book, just trying to stay warm and who should walk up but Mr. tall, grey and handsome, that’s who!” She grins mischievously.
“And I guess he took pity on a poor lost soul such as yourself?”
She exhales contentedly, clutches a pillow to her chest, leans back and smiles, drifts off with her memories as her eyes quickly moisten.
“I don’t want to be alone John, I don’t want him to go.”