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“Click!” sounded the front door as it was pushed open, the gutter still dripping from the early morning squall. She shook her umbrella and stepped inside.

It was her smooth chocolate hands—hands unflinchingly willing to serve—that first quickened my heart to her inner riches, warmed by a bright smile.

I first experienced her caring hands, three years ago, while convalescing from multiple fractures. She supported my daily efforts toward independence and knew when to step back as I regained more responsibility over my affairs. In subsequent years, we remained friends as more of her story emerged.

Widowed with three little ones, grandmother, decades of caring for patients in hospitals and skilled nursing homes: all have gentled her hands, with when to touch and when to let go. In private homes, no housework was too much: cleaning, washing, scrubbing, cooking, mopping. No errands slighted. Transportation to doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, and rehab also supported her patients. Informing the work of her hands has been the lifelong study of the bible with its ancillary materials.

However, due to my terminal illness with its weakness and shortness of breath, she has returned to my home: This time, to watch and support my gradual decline as I move toward my transition. She has also lined up additional caregivers when my needs increase. Handy with the hose, she presently keeps my grass watered and the marigolds pruned.

I remain in good hands and I’m grateful. She has become the black sister I never had.

Her name is Tracy McNeil. (618-975-1001)

“Yeah, that’s right. Hold it like that,” said my sister, her scissors poised over my right ear. “Just wanna get this little bit—there—done. What do you think?”

In the hand mirror I catch her lined smile, evidence of deep willingness to help out, whenever or wherever. Although her mailing address is with her daughter’s in Edina, Minnesota, she crisscrosses the country in her navy SUV and hangs out with the overwhelmed until their crisis has passed. For decades, playtime in one of her timeshares has enhanced her family’s bonding and restored much needed balance among her guests.

For several years she has been tracking my admissions to the hospital and rehab, bringing tasty salmon dinners from Michael’s, apples and other snacks, even small plants for over-the-bed-table. Her exuberance buoyed my beleaguered spirit, worn down by the high drama of roommates, with the seriousness of house doctors and specialists engorging the computer with more data of my functioning. And there have been other haircuts.

And today she reminds me, “If ever you need me, just call. I’ll be on the next plane.”

Again, I look into the mirror as my sister brushes loose hairs from my sweater sleeve and removes the towel from around my shoulders. When I speak to the beauty of her selflessness, she chortles and says that she’s well named—after Martha in the Gospel of John. This is so true.




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