I’d be hard-pressed to top the waiting-room conversation I had earlier this week. 

After some smiles and hellos and mentions of spring feels closing out winter, here’s where it went: 

“Go ahead, ask me how old I’m going to be on Sunday.” 

An imperative issued by a petite-figured woman I’d guess to be no more than 75. Freshly styled curls. Baby blues piercing from behind bifocals. Plus a punch of pink shimmer on her lips. Feisty, to say the least. 

Like me, she was caring for a sibling. I, my brother; she, her sister. 

Unable to resist her spunk, I asked, “How old are you going to be on Sunday?”

“92!” she declared stamping the floor with her cane.

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In the next beat, we enjoyed a highly informative exchange that moved past the obvious about our siblings. Her sister visibly uses oxygen. My brother visibly has lost most of his right hand. 

The sisters are two of nine children, with the birthday girl being the oldest and her sister somewhere in the middle. The middle sister has survived heart disease once and stage-four cancer twice.

Growing up, they had not one doll between them, and the birthday girl wished every year for roller skates. Both are widows, and along with two other widowed siblings, a brother, and another sister, they were hoping to enjoy a special dinner on Sunday—for the birthday girl, of course.

My brother is 43. The two of us are 18 months apart. We are two of four children born inside of five years. He suffered a blast injury in June 2018, and in January 2019, he started up with seizures that led to the discovery of multiple brain lesions. His disease has yet to be diagnosed. Heavy steroid doses are keeping the seizures at bay. He was visiting the doctor to get a pneumonia shot. 

“This . . .” my brother said gesturing with his injured hand, “this is the least of my worries. Even the stuff with my brain, I can deal with that. But I’m worried about all that’s going on right now. I bet you are, too,” he said, nodding at the sisters. 

“Oh yeah, it’s scary,” said the middle sister.

“But whatever you do, don’t you stop fighting! Never give up! We honest to goodness wish you all the best with getting your answers!” 

“She’s been through so much,” said the birthday girl. “She can tell ya. Really, never give up!” 

“You two just amaze me!” said my brother. 

So much high praise and positive energy. The only thing these cheerleaders needed were a couple of pom-poms. 

When it came time to part ways, my brother remarked again about the birthday girl’s youthful appearance. 

“Gah, I would just kiss you right now if I could, but I can’t!” she gushed. 

He moved in and extended elbow bumps to them both. 

I am healthy. I will remain standing if this virus crosses my threshold. But it can’t. Because I need to be free and clear so I continue to support the care my brother needs. Our parents are in their 70s and are best advised to avoid making any circles. 

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They didn’t need to hear this, but I knew that they knew it. The air in there was light and bright, and I wanted to keep it that way, for all of us. But, especially the birthday girl.

I cuffed my jacket around my hand to avoid touching the door handle on the way out, and looking back I said, “God Bless you, ladies. And again, a very happy birthday to you! And please, tell the people you love that you love them.” 

“You bet!” they said. 

We blew kisses, and before I even made it to my car, I made a silent prayer/birthday wish on behalf of our vibrant conversation starter:  

Dear Lord, I pray for a special dinner for four. And just one set of roller skates.

Megan Sciarrino

Megan Sciarrino is a nonprofit communications professional who welcomes the diversion of freelance writing. She's mom to two very different daughters, a teen and a tween, who thankfully agree on one thing: bagels and cream cheese.