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“So,” I continued, speaking to the poor woman whom our shared flight from Tampa to Chicago held as my captive audience, “Holy doors were established by Pope Boniface the eighth back in 1300 as a way to encourage visits to The Vatican and to scrub time off our eons in Limbo between our deaths and the resurrection. You follow?”

“I do,” she said.

I gave her the quick lowdown that our older son, who lives in Des Moines with his wife, was enthralled in all things Catholic. That Kevin had suggested we meet him, Katie and my wife’s sister there for a weekend of tooling around the windy city and visiting a handful of churches with holy doors. “It was Kevin’s idea. I have about zero interest in holy doors but it’s a great way to see him, Katie and my first grandbump. Katie’s due next month.”

“Oh! Well, congratulations! That must be exciting.”

“It is. I’m looking forward to the blessed event. So, what kind of a conference are you going to?”

“Medical. I’m a nurse.”

“Really? What kind?”

“At this point administrative. I used to be oncology.”

“Oh, wow,” says I, “that’s got to be rough.”

“It was. Especially the children. Yep, up to Chicago, two conferences in two different hospitals then back to Florida.”

“So you go home tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow? No. Tonight. I could have stayed over but it’ll be nice to sleep in my own bed. Plus, there are another four people from my hospital on this flight and we’re all heading back together.”

“Woo. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Do you want to hear a sad story?”

“I don’t know. How sad?”

“Pretty sad, but it has a happy ending.”


“My sister is a nurse. Got her degree back in the early eighties. I don’t remember when. She graduated high school in seventy-seven so you do the math. Anyway, she gets her degree, gets a job, works for a short time but her husband doesn’t like coming home to an empty house.”

“You’re kidding?”

“I am not. I’ll give you a big upstage wink when I’m kidding that way you can differentiate between my irreverent delivery and when I’m pulling your leg. I know you’re a nurse and all but I’d hate for that thing to come off when I pull on it.”

Window seat scowled at me. “Go on. He didn’t like coming home to an empty house. So?”

“So, she worked for a short while and then quit. Husband doesn’t come home to an empty house and I guess everybody’s happy.”

“That’s your story?”

“Hardly. That’s the introduction. So Sis is a stay at home and very soon becomes a stay at home mom. And when I say a stay at home mom I don’t mean just one. They have seven children.”


“Seven. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Lucky, lucky number seven,” I sing. “Just like Snow White except none of the kids are Dopey. And she doesn’t just have seven children, she home schools seven children.”

“Oh, my Lord. Shoot me. It’s hard enough with just one!”

“Well, she loves it. Or loved it? Anyway, loves kids. Hers, her grandchildren, yours. But time marches on. Her youngest graduated and Sis decided to go back to work as a nurse. Had to go back to school and all to get re-certified but no problem. She was done with school and was doing, what do you call it? Clinicals? First day at clinicals guess what she finds out?”

“That her husband is leaving her for a younger woman?”

“What!? No! I may not agree with her husband on a lot of things but definitely not an issue there. He’s very Fundamentalist and I’m, shall we say, glib and irreverent? No. Worse. Sort of. She’s at the hospital for her first day and she gets a call from her doctor’s office. She has breast cancer.”

“No! Oh, no. The poor thing. Is she okay?”

“Yes, thank God. They had to do a mastectomy but they’re very optimistic. This was like March so she’s much better. She’s fine. And guess what kind of a nurse she is?”


“Hup! No, but I like that. Hospice. She ministers to the dying. She seems to like it.”

“That is a nice ending. Do you think her cancer swayed her choice?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to ask her. Our dad lived with them for the last couple of years of his life and even though she lived hundreds of miles away she was the one who did all the heavy lifting when Mom started to go too. She carried those burdens more than the rest of us combined, and by the rest of us I mean that I am one of five children. My guess is that that was the deciding factor but I don’t know.

“There is one thing I do know, though.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“Well, you know how I said I got really depressed down here and how you said you still were?”


“Well, Florida did do one thing for me. It ignored my HIV status and allowed me to give blood again.”