An hour to wait with a patient heart

I sat in the stillness of her hospital room, my emotions traveling from rage to despair. It's too soon, echoed inside my head. She's only 40 years old.

I'd been gazing out her window for two days, listening only to the sound of her breathing. The wind outside tussled everything in its way, like the cancer toying with my cousin Deb's worn-out body.

The playful wind seemed such a cruel contradiction while I listened to her struggle for air. I wanted to shatter the window with my rage, and let it in to fill her lungs.

The nurse pulled me from the room. "You must go," she whispered. "Eat, walk and get some air. Breathe. Leave for at least one hour. She needs rest. You need a break."

I stood in the cold hallway staring at her closed door, taking in all that a closed door can mean. Blinking away tears, I nodded to the nurse.

Outside, the wind was causing all kinds of chaos with newspapers and hats flying about on this late November day.

The streets surrounding the hospital were covered with fallen leaves. The cold air hurt my lungs as I took it in. I roamed aimlessly feeling lost in the old Portland neighborhood where we were raised. Our lives have been entwined since childhood. Through boys, husbands and babies, we were to be everlasting. We were to grow old together.

As I walked the streets of my past life, I realized how true it is that you can never go home. Though the place has stayed the same, I've changed. And Deb is dying. Home will never be the same again.

I walked up and down the streets circling the hospital for what seemed an eternity.

My stomach was in knots as memories overwhelmed me. I regretted every unkind word in our lives. We'd fought like siblings. But we also laughed as only sisters can. I looked at my watch; it had only been 10 minutes.

Snowflakes were beginning to fall as I ducked into a Chinese restaurant. It was warm inside and smelled of soup and spices. I rubbed Buddha's head as I passed through the entry, saying a quick prayer under my breath to whoever was listening. I still had 45 minutes to go.

I worried Deb might wake, or worse, slip away while I was gone. Oh, God, my stomach wrenched again. Mama Soo must have stood there for a moment.

Her tap on my shoulder resurrected me from my thoughts. "Hospital? " she asked with a strong accent. I nodded yes. Keeping her hand on my shoulder, she winked, "Soup, you eat soup." She pointed to herself, "Me Mama Soo," then hurried off to the kitchen, returning with a hot bowl of won-ton soup.

I thought to myself that moms and the chicken-soup cure-all must transcend cultures. Mama Soo circled around every few minutes. She would point and say, "You eat." So I ate. I was so bewildered it was nice to have someone tell me what to do; walk, eat soup, breathe.

I finished my soup and at Mama Soo's insistence, opened my fortune cookie. It read "The sun will shine on you tomorrow, wait with a patient heart." I took a deep, easy breath. Mama Soo patted my hand, "You see, tomorrow better."

As I left the safe haven of Mama Soo waving out the steam-covered window, I pulled myself together against the even colder wind and heavier snowfall.

I'd kept my promise to walk, eat and breathe. Clutching the fortune in my hand, I headed back. It had been one hour.

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