I confess to having a bit of a crush on Sandra Wilgus. She is my sister Jeanne’s mother-in-law — known for being kinda feisty, rather funny, very strong, filled with faith and, above all, for being a prayer warrior. When my son Charlie was in the neonatal intensive care unit 25 years ago after somehow being born with just two-thirds of his blood volume, Sandra went into action. In her matter-of-fact way, she told Jeanne she was focusing her prayers on Charlie’s brain.
A quarter-century later, Charlie’s brain is more than fine, as is the rest of him. And say what you will about what might have been the outcome anyway, I will always believe Sandra’s prayers helped get Charlie to the healthy state where he is today.
As I write this, feeling that familiar wave of gratitude, Sandra is in hospice care. She’s at the point in the transition process where her spirit is arm-wrestling her earthly body, jockeying for position in that alternately awkward, alternately graceful dance where the outcome is inevitable.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Sandra would be the first to tell you that, and to remind you that she’s ready and that she isn’t afraid. Her beloved husband died almost exactly three years ago, and while she’d have happily followed shorty thereafter, she’s certainly not one for getting stuck in sorrow. She’s had plenty to find fulfilling: books to read, church to attend, friends to with whom to laugh and eat lunch and, above all, family to cherish. She’s been healthy, upbeat, grateful — always willing to help anyone.
On New Year’s Eve, Sandra tripped while walking on the sidewalk and fell. Two passersby called her daughter Carol and then an ambulance. She seemed to be recovering without surgery, but then needed it. Afterward, doctors told the family nothing more could be done, and Sandra was moved to a hospice facility.
Her immediate family — three children and spouses, plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren — has taken turns being with Sandra in the bright and airy room that overlooks a pond. On Tuesday afternoon, Jeanne asked our sister Susan and me — we’ve both felt such a calling to see Sandra — if we’d like to come up.
We positioned ourselves on either side of her bed. Susan rubbed one of Sandra’s arms and I held her other hand. She woke up periodically, fully aware we were there. She smiled; she had her familiar glimmer in her eye. When Susan told her we were praying for her, this prayer warrior whispered a thank you and you could all but sense a wink as she added, “I need all the prayers I can get!”
After we left Sandra’s room, my sisters and I stood in the little waiting area next to the coffee maker. We talked about Sandra, wondering and marveling about the transition her body and soul were undergoing. We remembered the days leading up to our own dad’s death almost seven years ago. And we felt comforted — by each other, by Sandra, by faith.
So for life, for death; for all that comes before, after and in-between — and of course for Sandra Wilgus — The Grateful Runner says thank you.