I was 16 when I met Magnolia.
Through a friend, my mother had heard about a woman in her early 40's, dying in a charity hospital in Villavicencio, Colombia, where we were living. My mother began to visit her several times a week.
One day, she invited me to join her. I didn't want to go. But she insisted, so I reluctantly agreed. We boarded the bus and took a long ride into the poorer neighborhoods of Villavicencio.
A charity hospital in Colombia does not offer much to its patients. The family is responsible to feed and care for the sick or injured or dying. If a patient has no family, they're on their own.
As we walked down the hall towards Magnolia's room, the overpowering smell of urine, alcohol, sickness and death hit me in the face. I gasped and tried not to breathe. My mother didn't seem to notice.
We rounded the corner and there was Magnolia's room. I remember the faded yellow, cinder block walls and the bare concrete floor. Magnolia was sleeping, a thin blanket covering her frail body. As we entered, she woke up, staring blankly at these two gringas in her room. My mother greeted her softly and gave her a warm hug. She introduced me to Magnolia.
What does a 16 year-old say to a dying stranger? I awkwardly said hello and moved away to stand by the window, watching.
My mother offered her some water and a little food. Then she began to gently sponge bathe Magnolia, speaking to her soothingly the whole time. She carefully changed the sheets, removing the soiled ones to take home and wash, replacing them with the fresh pair we had brought. She fluffed the pillow and helped Magnolia into a more comfortable position.
During all this, Magnolia said very little. It was obvious she was in a great deal of pain. I don't know how lucid she was but she seemed to listen while my mother sat down, took her hand and spoke of Jesus and His deep love.
For the first time in my young life, I looked at my mother with new eyes. She was no longer just my mom. I saw her as a woman, separate from me. A woman with a heart full of love and kindness, willing to spend day after day, caring for a dying woman that she didn't even know.
I felt in awe because I knew I was witnessing the tender love of Jesus flowing out of my mother towards Magnolia in the most amazing way. I was painfully aware that I did not and could not love like that. But in my heart, I asked God if someday He would give me that kind of love.
After my mother prayed for Magnolia and tucked her in, we left. On the ride home, I was very silent, thinking.
My mother continued to visit her over the next couple of weeks, and attended the funeral when she passed away.
Magnolia seemed to be just another poor, unknown, insignificant woman, living and dying in obscurity in a remote town of Colombia. But her last days were dignified by the kindness of my mother, seeing her through the eyes of Jesus, showing her that she matters, and loving her with tenderness. I will always remember.