"Shadow and Sunshine"



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The frail, silver haired lady sitting in the wheelchair seemed to be slowly fading out of existence. She could not remember yesterday or last month or even last year or the year before that. She couldn’t even remember who she was. Though individual memories eluded her, what she could nonetheless feel with exquisite clarity was a sense of love and sadness, laughter and loss, colors, shapes, shadow and sunshine.

Evelyn had been a resident at the Guardian Angel nursing home for quite some time, trapped in a vague sort of limbo. She hadn’t planned on living this long. Had never wished for it. At ninety years old she had already lived longer than most. Longer than she had ever imagined.

The staff knew that she was the widow of Henry Jacobson, a renowned artist of the 1930‘s and early 40‘s. They knew he had died in World War II. They had heard that over her lifetime, Evelyn had sold the paintings that he had left behind in her care, one by one - a legacy of love that had provided for her throughout the sixty-three years since his life had been cut short on Omaha Beach at the Battle of Normandy.

Evelyn at first had every intention of keeping all of her husband’s paintings forever, for parting with any one of them seemed tantamount to giving away a part of her life with Henry. She had sold their cottage when she ran out of funds to continue on. The cottage had been cozy and warm, heated by a natural rock fireplace which was situated in just the right location to heat both the living room and kitchen, plus the upstairs bedrooms. It also did a fair job of heating the sun parlor at the front of their home which provided the perfect amount of light to serve as a studio for Henry. It was there that he had created the stunning paintings which he had left behind.

A cobblestone lane led up to their cottage. When Henry had left for what would be the last time he had insisted on her not seeing him off at the train station. He wanted to say his goodbye at home. They had hugged and kissed and he promised that he would return to her. It was the only promise that Henry had ever made to her that he did not keep. As he headed down the lane that day on his way to town, just a mile’s walk away, duffle bag slung over his shoulder, he turned one last time to smile and give her a gentle salute. Then he was gone.

The sale of the cottage insured that she did not have to sell any of his paintings for quite some time. Eventually, though, the time came when it became necessary to sell a painting to make ends meet. They all were precious to her and each was bound to a memory all it’s own. She was afraid that with each painting sold, she would somehow be parting with the memory tied to it. She didn’t know why she felt that way because she couldn’t imagine ever forgetting a single moment of her life with Henry.

Each painting was a blessing as they were sold off, one by one, to insure that Evelyn enjoyed a secure life. She had lived a life of grace and gratitude. She sometimes dreamed about what might have been but she always had a thankful heart for what had been. 

Later that day as the light outside her window faded, she sat propped up in her bed with pillows positioned comfortably behind her back and head. She was really neither here or there nor anywhere else. Then something caught her eye and captured her attention.

The vivid hues of the foliage seemed to bring the painting on the wall in front of her to life. Blowing rapidly down the cobblestone road, the artist’s yellow leaves were a dazzling gold, the red leaves burned a deep, unnatural maroon, more beautiful than reality and the dark orange leaves faded around their edges as if they couldn’t decide which color they wanted to be. Evelyn made an effort to sit up straighter in her bed in order to lean forward to peer closer still, suddenly wishing to be there, in that place so far away and so long ago. Her senses seemed to respond to her subconscious memories and she blinked back startled tears when she suddenly inhaled the scent of wood smoke, felt a cold wind stirring her hair and saw a movement in the distance. It was her beloved Henry, artist and brave soldier, coming home to her at last. She raced through the crisp autumn air to fly into his loving embrace.

By the next day the staff had already cleared out Evelyn’s room in preparation for the next resident. Childless, Evelyn had no other relatives or friends left to collect her belongings so they gave her clothing to another resident who had little left of her own. The one thing they left undisturbed was the beautiful autumn landscape that had looked down from the wall opposite the head of her bed during the years that Evelyn had spent at Guardian Angel.

Two days later, eighty-one year old Sylvia was moved into the room. She had a large family that would be looking in on her regularly. She had a wonderful collection of keepsakes to display along with a modest boom box and her own CD collection of Broadway show tunes. She had warm, fluffy pink slippers and a cuddly, polar fleece robe. She had photos of smiling family members that had been placed on the dresser by her daughter earlier in the day. She knew she should be content but she still couldn’t help feeling disoriented and frightened on this first night away from the home she had left behind. Then she caught sight of the captivating painting on the wall opposite her bed. She imagined that she was going for a walk on that golden autumn day with her husband, Bill, who had passed away three years before. The orange, gold and maroon leaves scampered on the cobblestones beneath their feet. Sylvia could even smell the faint scent of wood smoke in the air as they walked hand in hand and then she drifted off to sleep, comforted by the gift created by a brave soul who had left this world behind so many years before.