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Days before her death, my fellow church member and neighbor, Sister Prather, squeezed my hand and said, “God doesn’t make mistakes, and I’m grateful for my sons, but Felicia, I dearly wish I’d had a daughter like you.”
Her words can still bring tears to my eyes. Sister Prather was one of the two people I’d known in my life I’d considered perfect.
Of course, no one is, but Thelma Prather (and my maternal grandmother) were as close as one can get in my mind.
I’d never heard her gossip or say a mean word about anyone. I’d never seen her in a bad mood or even cranky. She not only always had a shy smile on her face, but she also appeared to always be filled with joy.
And I couldn’t understand it.
Married to a man of considerable means, Sister Prather lived as a pauper. Her husband could afford to buy her almost any house in the city and furnish it well. However, entering their home, it was like time stopped in the 1940s. Always neat and tidy, the dated threadbare rugs and furniture were impossible to miss.
A hard, verbally abusive man who was wheelchair-bound, the veteran and former local businessman refused to do anything to make his wife’s life easier. Not even buy her a washer and dryer. It wasn’t until a few weeks before her last hospitalization and the pain from bone cancer became too great, that she’d even allow my children to sneak to her back door for her laundry and return it after I’d completed it.
Two days after our last conversation, Sister Prather’s conditioned worsened. She could no longer sit up or respond verbally, but she was quite aware. When staff would try to spoon-feed her, she’d press her lips together and no amount of pleading or cajoling could get her to eat. My mom was present and witnessed the single shake of her head when her doctor said they’d have to tube-feed her.
She died quietly in her sleep two days later, on her own terms.
Weeks later, still prone to tears over the loss of my dear friend, it was Mom who gave me clarity.
“Thelma Prather was one of those rare people who didn’t judge others by their words or actions because she could see through to their heart. She knew her husband loved her, but losing the use of his legs made him bitter and he took it out on the world. He wanted everyone to suffer as he felt he was. She also didn’t fault her family for losing touch because they all feared him. But she didn’t.”
That made me grin, thinking of the woman who didn’t reach five feet in height and weighed one hundred pounds on a good day not fearing her six-foot-five husband, wheelchair or not.
“She knew you didn’t fear him either and she loved it. She told me you were always respectful, but you were going to do what you wanted for her, whether he liked it or not. That tickled her to no end.”
In the twenty years since her passing, I’ve learned the wisdom in Sister Prather’s example of living. A woman of faith, she refused to allow hate to take up any space in her heart… to steal her joy. She “did unto to others as she would have them do unto her” and was unbothered if they didn’t reciprocate.
I’m no Thelma Prather and will always fall short of her example, but I’m forever humbled by this amazing woman who saw something in me I don’t see in myself.