August 17, 2016 | by: Angela Karum | 3 Comments
Posted in: Identity
I was 16 when I met Magnolia.
Through a friend, my mother had heard about a woman in her early 40’s, dying in a charity hospital in Villavicencio, Colombia, where we were living. She began to visit Magnolia several times a week. One day, she invited me to join her. I didn’t want to go. But she insisted, so I reluctantly agreed. We boarded the bus and took the long ride into the poorer neighborhoods of Villavicencio.
A charity hospital in Colombia does not offer much to its patients. The family is responsible to feed and care for the sick or injured or dying. If a patient has no family, they are neglected and left to fend for themselves.
As we walked down the hall towards Magnolia’s room, the overpowering smell of urine, alcohol, sickness and death hit me in the face. I gasped and tried not to breathe. My mother didn’t seem to notice.
We rounded the corner and there was Magnolia’s room. I remember the faded yellow, cinder block walls and the bare concrete floor. Magnolia was sleeping, a thin blanket covering her frail body. As we entered, she woke up, staring blankly at these two gringas in her room. My mother greeted her softly and gave her a warm hug. She introduced me to Magnolia.
What does a 16 year-old say to a dying stranger? I awkwardly said hello and moved away to stand by the window.
My mother offered her some water and a little food. Then she began to gently sponge bathe Magnolia, speaking to her soothingly the whole time. Together, we changed the soiled sheets, replacing them with the fresh pair we had brought from home. My mom fluffed her pillow and helped Magnolia into a more comfortable position.
During all this, Magnolia said very little. It was obvious she was in a great deal of pain. I don’t know how lucid she was but she seemed to listen while my mother sat down, took her hand and spoke about Jesus and His deep love.
For the first time in my young life, I looked at my mother with new eyes. She was no longer just my mom. I saw her as a woman, separate from me. A woman with a heart full of love and kindness, willing to spend day after day, caring for a dying woman she didn’t even know. I felt in awe because I knew I was witnessing the tender love of Jesus flowing out towards Magnolia in the most amazing way. I was painfully aware that I did not and could not love like that. But in my heart, I asked God if someday He would give me that kind of love for others.
After my mom prayed for Magnolia and tucked her in, we left. She continued to visit her over the next couple of weeks, and attended the funeral when she passed away.
Magnolia seemed to be just another poor, unknown, insignificant woman, living and dying in obscurity in a remote corner of Colombia. But her last days were dignified by the kindness of my mother, seeing her through the eyes of Jesus, showing her that she matters, and loving her with tenderness. I will always remember.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16
Angela Karum, mother of two teenagers and Florida resident since 2008, fills her free time hunting treasures in used book stores and sipping Nutella lattes with friends. Her compassionate heart and ready smile belie an adventurous spirit cultivated during her childhood in the Amazon jungle.