I didn't know her first name. Everybody called her Mrs. Hudson.
Still, I knew her more intimately than many of my closest friends. I saw her at her most vulnerable. An elderly woman of 88, her body failing quickly from aggressive breast cancer. I lifted her failing body, smelled the humiliating odors of age, touched the skin behind her thighs when I helped move her.
I only met Mrs. Hudson twice before. We'd been neighbors for four years. Once, when the power went out during a violent thunderstorm and the tornado sirens wailed, everybody on our floor gathered in the hallway. Her daughter, a woman in her sixties, brought out a chair so her mother could sit.
"This is Sarah," her daughter said to her mother.
The elderly woman, already 87-years-old, smiled and nodded. "God bless you. God bless all of you neighbors. You're all such wonderful people."
The second time I met Mrs. Hudson was just after I brought my puppy home. Her daughter said that when she was younger, her mother had a little Chihuahua. I took Edgar over to meet this mysterious woman, and her face lit up. She pet him with her crooked fingers and smiled.
"Cute doggy," she mumbled, talking wasn't easy for her.
I never thought I would become so intimately involved with Mrs. Hudson. I knew she was in poor health. I knew that when her daughter worked some of the neighbors would make sure she had her lunch. I knew that stayed in the second window of three in the apartment next to me. She rarely left the building.
As I went about my day, absorbed in my own thoughts and challenges, I never thought that my life would intersect with Mrs. Hudson's.
The first time was a gentle knock. My neighbor stood outside my apartment in her pajamas.
"Can you help me, Sarah?" she asked. "My mother fell, and I need help lifting her up."
"Of course," I said.
When I stepped into the apartment and down the hallway, I saw Mrs. Hudson in a nightgown, sitting on the floor. She had fallen from the toilet. She was suffering from terminal breast cancer, was placed on pain pills stronger than Morphine. I ignored the embarrassing bodily smells and helped lift Mrs. Hudson into bed.
I would help on several more occasions, leaving Mrs. Hudson with a pat on the arm, or tender touch to her thigh. These were her most vulnerable moments. She was helpless, no longer in control of her own body, and I came into her private space, her bedroom, a virtual stranger.
Why do we feel so compelled to offer a reassuring touch to the dying? To transfer our energy to them? To translate through the warmth of our hands what words can never express--someday, I will be you. I will lay in my death bed. I will be wracked by mortality. I will depend upon the kindness of strangers.
Each time I stepped into that small bedroom, I couldn't help notice the details of Mrs. Hudson's life. On the wall, directly opposite her pillow was a caricature of Obama, Michelle, and their daughters, on the other wall was a picture of an African Jesus guarding two children on a bridge. Her television was always turned to a praise network where a black Baptist minister preached to a chorus of "amens" and "preach it." She had framed pictures of her many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all around her to the point of near clutter.
A person could tell that what mattered the most to Mrs. Hudson were her God, her family, and her country.
I didn't learn Mrs. Hudson's name until I read her obituary, but by then, it did not matter.
She'd already touched me with a reassuring touch.
When the time comes, she seemed to say, you will not be alone.