Care and Tender Loving Care

I have been mourning the past several months:  My sister Ellen died six year years ago on January 31st. I miss her every day.

And I’ve been reading – All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks.  Here are some quotes from this extraordinary book:

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s growth.

“Love is as love does. Love is an act of will—namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.

“To truly love, we must learn to mix various ingredients: care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect as well as honest and open communication.”

What is love? What is care and caring?  I thought long and hard about the kind of care my sister experienced the last several years of her life.  Care is one dimension of love. But simply giving care does not mean we are loving.  I re-evaluated my care to her. I could have done quite a bit more to bring simple happiness into her life.

She needed new knit type pants. I never purchased a pair for her, although I don’t know why. Was she a bother to me? I did buy her other clothes, but not the most essential piece she needed.

I also remembered how often she and I discussed food. In nearly every conversation she would ask what I was preparing for the evening meal. Ellen would ask me how I was going to fix the baked chicken, or if I’d make the chili with or without macaroni, or what I would add to our green salad?  Had I experimented with this herb or that spice?  She preferred chili with macaroni …. The way our mother made chili.

There were many foods she preferred the way my mother prepared them. Roast beef well done with rich gravy and mashed potatoes, for example. My roast beef did not measure up. Neither did my scalloped potatoes.

I understand now. Food made by our mother was the food of our childhood.  Growing up was full of love and care. Full of the comfort and warmth of a well-worn slipper. Familiar.

I rarely bought any of my home prepared cooking or baking to my sister.

One evening, I stayed overnight with my sister in her modest apartment near the end of her time living in Chicago. We mutually decided I would sleep on the coach and Ellen would sleep in her bed.

What happened next has always haunted me.

I entered her bedroom to tuck her into bed. I fluffed her pillows, smoothed her hair and arranged the blankets comfortably and snuggly around her. She turned her head away from me … so I would not see the tears rolling down her cheek.

I wondered then and I wonder to this day:  How often did my sister Ellen have tenderness in her life? 

I gave her care, and so did others.

But tender loving care was rare, if ever, present in her life. Then and now, I pray Ellen would be able to forgive.