Religion Column – Gathered in, conclusion
By Fr. Jonathan Filkins
The doctors kept the aunt in the hospital for the next few days, with at least one of the Olivetti clan there with her every hour. Fortunately, for Auntie M., the doctors had diagnosed a blood pressure problem, which was treated by medication and rest.
The day came when she was to be discharged. Without friends, and having driven off most of the relatives, Auntie M. was left with few options. Going back to her home, any time soon, was not one of them. In any case, this aunt had enough money to be placed in a nursing home, but the Olivetti’s would have none of it. While they both knew how difficult this woman could be, they also possessed the faith in which, “through God all things are possible.” It was decided: Auntie M. would come to be with them…and celebrate Christmas, no matter how much it “hurt.”
One of the boys agreed to bunk in with his brother, so the aunt would have her own room. Auntie M. could not even pretend to ignore all of the laughter, savory smells and Christmas music emanating from the kitchen and living room. In earlier years, she had been able to avoid all of the trappings of the season and wallow in a shallow pit of self-pity. Now, circumstances dictated she rediscover what she knew in her youth.
Stepping from her bedroom into the bright glare of the kitchen lights, the old woman saw that the kids were in the process of making a large gingerbread house, for the pot-luck supper at their church. “Hey, Auntie M., you are just in time to help us. We need someone to lick the spoon!” exclaimed one of the kids. After a benign protest, the aunt took the spoon and slowly put it to her lips. Her face changed, she stood a bit taller, as the sugary goodness reached her taste buds. Not only did the sweetness of the icing enter into the aunt, but also the sweetness of the generosity of those now around her. Ed and Judy quickly noted the change. They let time take its turn. The transformation, of grace and kindness, was slow to find a proper footing; with some too-quick irritated reactions, and their occasional genuine concern, asking if all of this effort was worth it. Yet, each day was a further step out of the abyss, and the Olivetti’s were united in their commitment.
The Sunday before Christmas, Judy and Ed invited Auntie M. to join them when they went to church. Surprisingly, Auntie M. agreed to go, without a fuss. “After all,” their guest rationalized, “they have been good to me. It is the least I can do, even if I still believe it is all a bunch of hooey.”
When the family entered the church, they all felt a palpable sense of calm. It was far more than the beautiful decorations, or the warm glow on the faces of those gathered there. For Auntie M. it was a cleansing sense of peace; a feeling she had long ago given up as forever lost. When the service began, she was sitting between Ed and Judy, and she reached over to them and squeezed each of their hands. It was an unspoken communication among those cared for, which spoke far louder than words. Glancing over, the couple saw simple tears gently flowing down their aunt’s cheeks. The healing had truly begun; as the message of Christ entered her heart.
The following Wednesday was Christmas Eve. As was the tradition, the day was ended in church; with carols sung, worship accomplished and a midnight meal enjoyed. It also included the other sister; the “other” aunt. What we have not told you is that Auntie M. called her sister two days before and worked out a truce. With the Olivetti’s OK, they shared the bedroom together and relearned what it was like to love each other and, together, others.
Long referred to as a “Christmas Miracle,” by the family, the aunts gave the credit to a higher power than themselves. Almost in unison they would explain, “It was from the birth of Jesus Christ and, by him, there was a rebirth within us. Yes, he brought peace on earth.”