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A sister for Christmas

My visits with Rachael started about three years ago. She was “assigned” to me by my church when I volunteered to visit local nursing home residents. I was told she was all alone in the world; she needed a friend. So most Sundays after church, I’ll stop by the nursing home where she lives and give her cookies or Cheetos or shampoo or baby powder.

Over the years, I’ve learned a little about her family. She had two sisters, one older, one younger; she grew up on the Southside of Chicago; her father and mother, whom she loved, owned a bar. They were Italian. She married an Irish Catholic; he died young.  She loved him very much, too, so never considered remarrying.

“Are your sisters still alive?” I asked her knowing that her parents certainly wouldn’t be. “The younger one is, I think,” Rachael answered. “Would you like to see her?” I asked. “Nah, it don’t matter.” How could that be? Had the disappointment of no visits from family for the 12 years she had been in the nursing facility hardened her heart?

After more visits, I learned the sister and her husband’s name and that they used to live nearby. I googled them and found a 2006 obituary for Rachael’s brother-in-law that listed all the family members. With that information, I looked up and found their phone numbers. It took me a couple of months, but I finally picked up the phone and dialed the number for Rachael’s niece, tentatively explaining who I was (nobody really). “Yes, my mother had a sister named Rachael,” she answered warily. After much explanation on my part, she trilled, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have Mom call you.”

A few seconds later, my phone rang. A strong Chicago Southside voice was on the other end. Turns out, Marie had been looking for Rachael for 12 years. “One day, Rachael was in the hospital; the next day I called and she had been released and the hospital didn’t know where she had gone. I haven’t been able to find her since.”

Rachael had been placed in a nursing home, leaving no trace for her family. The day after talking to me, Rachael’s sister and her family visited her in the nursing facility. They stayed for hours, and when they left, they tacked their photos on her bulletin board.

Now Rachael has a family again—just in time for Christmas.

Terri Lackey is managing editor of Gather magazine.

Comments (7)
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Nancy Giddings says:
Dec 06, 2012

Terri, what a wonderful Christmas story.. Thank you for your part in it and for sharing with us

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Jennifer Michael says:
Dec 06, 2012

This story shows how those tenuous family bonds can so easily become broken in the wake of a crisis. Thank you for this reminder that we need to faithfully tend to our relationships even when it may be difficult… because, like Rachel, one can so easily turn a corner and in an instant disappear from the people who love you. You were her Christmas angel, Terri… what a gift!

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JoAnn Fuchs says:
Dec 06, 2012

Such a touching story. I am so thankful for the wonderful sisters I have. I can’t imagine losing touch with them.

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Susan Drane says:
Dec 06, 2012

I am so glad she was persistent and found the sister. What a great story but it does show the drawback of HIPPA. The hospital probably knew where Rachel was but could not legally tell anyone.

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Sandra Showers Cannon says:
Dec 06, 2012

I am so glad this story had a happy ending. Gee, 12 years was such a long time for the sisters to be separated like that. Reminds me of when I worked in a nursing home in my senior year of high school. There was a lady there who had been bedridden for 14 years. No one EVER came to visit her in all that time. She was the sweetest lady there. I will never forget her.

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Phyllis says:
Dec 29, 2012

What a touching story! Thank goodness for your persistence in your search,
Terri, and thank you for sharing your experience with all of us.

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Dorothy says:
Jan 07, 2014

Heartwarming. Thanks be to God for your persistence and generous spirit.

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