In the days after Mrs. Schooler became bedridden, she demanded that I become her makeup artist.
In her early 90s and recovering from a broken hip, Mrs. Schooler had to move out of one assisted living facility into another where she could receive round-the-clock care. Moving around became harder for her each day until she spent most of her time in the bed.
Though her body did not move as it once did, Mrs. Schooler’s blunt, gravely, and deep voice remained the same. She had no trouble speaking her mind or making her wishes known, even though she could barely hear the opinions or wishes of anyone else.
Such was the case that afternoon when I stopped by for a routine pastoral visit. I had warmed up my voice and practiced deep yoga breathing so I could speak loudly and clearly in her ear. She was asleep when I arrived, but a gentle touch and a firm, “Hello, Ann!” popped her eyes open.
“Oh, Darian, I’m so happy to see you. Why did it take you so long to get here?”
I debated telling her that I’d seen her the previous week, but she kept on talking.
“Tell me something. Do I look terrible?”
Loudly and clearly in her ear, I said, “No, Ann, you look beautiful.”
“But I don’t have any make up on! I need my make up. Just look at me. Do I have any eyebrows?”
There’s no doubt that lying is a sin, but it is in moments like these that I pray for some leeway with the Lord. The truth was that, no, Mrs. Schooler did not have any eyebrows. For years she had painted them on every morning. With her recent move and health issues, the eyebrows had faded away. I decided to take a sneaky approach to her question.
“Ann, your eyebrows look great just as they are!”
I couldn’t tell if she didn’t hear me, didn’t believe me, or both. What I do remember clearly was what she said next.
“Get that white bag out of my top drawer, and draw me some eyebrows.”
I stared at her, wide-eyed.
“Ann, I am not good with makeup. I barely wear any myself and have never applied it to anyone else. You look fine just as you are!”
“No, I don’t look fine. You’re just saying that because you’re my preacher. Get my bag, and draw my eyebrows!”
My voice was already tired, so I gave in. I washed my hands and put her bag on the tray extending across her bed. It overflowed with shadows and brushes and four thick pencils that looked to be her eyebrows. She pointed quickly to the one she wanted and instructed me on what to do.
I stood above her and found the shape above her eye. I eased the pencil across her skin, and a pale brown brow formed. As I did, I had to keep from laughing at the thought that out of all the things seminary prepared me to do as a minister, eyebrow painting was not one of them.
Once both brows were completed, I held up a mirror so Mrs. Schooler could see the finished product. For the first time in a while, she smiled.
“Oh, thank you. I look so much better. Now, let’s do the lipstick.”
“Would I ever make it home today?” I wondered.
Mrs. Schooler could be insistent and exhausting, but in the middle of those long visits, two truths always returned to me: she had lost her only child to cancer when he was in his 20s, and she had lived as a widow since her husband’s death for many years. As I applied and dabbed her lipstick, watched her grin in approval in the mirror, I wondered how hard it must have been for her to wake up every morning, to put on make up, to walk out of her home.
Like many United Methodists, her favorite hymn was, “How Great Thou Art.'“ Unlike many others, though, she would always add that her favorite verse was “the one about the cross.”
And when I think, that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scare can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died, to take away my sin.
Mrs. Schooler was a woman who had known suffering, and my guess is that “the cross, her burden gladly bearing,” gave her the strength to put on her eyebrows and keep on living in her darkest hours. Perhaps applying makeup was about more than her insistence that “she looked terrible.” Perhaps the simple routine also gave her strength to keep on living.
This past Tuesday, I received word that Mrs. Schooler had died at the age of 97. When I read the news, I had just gotten home from a makeup consultation, where the consultant had “enhanced” my own eyebrows with a product called “brow gel.”
I laughed with a resurrection joy as the photo of Mrs. Schooler appeared on my computer screen alongside her obituary. She was at a baseball game, her favorite pastime and a sport in which her late son had excelled. Her lipstick was bright, her eye shadow glimmered, her blush stood out like cherries. And her thin, precisely drawn eyebrows curled like birds in flight, headed toward Home.
all good things to each of you,