32920286 the Giving Tree

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    Sessler/ THE GIVING TREE

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    CHAPTER 1 -- COMING HOME

    Allison McFarland shuttered, as she splashed the icy cold water on her face. Got to

    wake up, she mumbled to herself. Its going to be a long dayand its already been a

    very long night.

    Her mother, Mary McFarland, drifted in and out of a restless, painful sleep until the

    pain medication finally kicked in around 4 in the morning. By then, it was pointless for

    Allison to try and get back to sleep. She had to be up at 6 anyway and the two hours

    would only serve to make her feel worse.

    Allison turned on the shower and lingered, as the hot water soothed the aching

    muscles in her neck that screamed for sleep. Her body longed to luxuriate in a hot,

    steamy, bubble bath, but she knew that was a pipe dream. Perhaps she could persuade

    Jenny to come spend the night and spell her in the next few days. Not likely, she thought,

    glumly. And after all, there didnt seem to be much time left anyway.

    The cancer that mercilessly ate away at Mary McFarlands body had reached the

    terminal stage many months ago, when Allison decided to temporarily give up her job in

    the city and come home to be with her mother. They had always been close and Allison

    was not about to let

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    her mother die in a cold, sterile hospital room. Her sister, Jenny already had her hands

    overfull, what with John and the twins. Much as she loved her mother, Jenny just didnt

    have the time or extra energy required to care for their dying mother. Truth be told,

    Allison felt a small amount of jealousy for the frenetic pace of Jennys life that was

    separated from the smell of death that surrounded her mother. Not that being besieged by

    a husband and two active three year olds was anythingthat Allison ever envied before.

    She knew that she just wasnt the maternal type. Allisons idea of success, for herself that

    is, lay in the city, sitting at a high-powered meeting with an assistant running to do her

    bidding. Up until now, however,she was the one doing the running and it was her boss

    doing the bidding. Well, there would be plenty of time to get back to itafter; after it was

    over at home.

    For now, Allison would be here to help ease her mother to as comfortable a death as

    possible. Every day, the hospice nurse would come and bathe Mary, give her a back rub

    and evaluate her pain and the medications that seemed to be losing their effectiveness.

    Allison was told that the next step would be a morphine pump. She knew that once that

    happened, her mother would be drifting in and out of consciousness, until she slipped into

    the final coma. There was so little time left and as weary as she was, Allison was not

    ready to let her mother go yet.

    And then there was Angela, God bless her. Sweet Angela Federico from next door

    would

    stay with her mother on the days Allison went to work as the fill-in, part-time

    administrative assistant to Pastor Henry at Maplewoods Grace Christian Church. It

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    sounded like an impressive title, particularly if you were given to being impressed by

    titles, but basically it was

    just a glorified secretary. She started working for Pastor Henry, as more of a favor that

    anything. Betty Cooper had been church secretaadministrative assistant for 35 years.

    She was known as the churchs right hand woman. Without her, Pastor Henry, as well as

    those who went before him, would never have survived. With swift and merciless

    precision, Betty ran the office, as well as Pastor Henry. When she abruptly gave her

    notice to move to Florida to care for an ailing sister, Pastor Henry was left reeling. Who

    on earth would take her place? Who on earth couldtake her place? Who on earth would

    wantto? Allison laughed to herself and ran a hand through her hair as she realized that

    God truly must have a sense of humor.

    As she slipped on the tailored navy blue dress that fit in perfectly in the city, but

    seemed just a bit too formal for Maplewood, she could feel the beginnings of a dull

    headache forming at the back of head. Reaching in the medicine cabinet for an aspirin,

    she heard her mother.

    Coming, Mom, she called out as she swallowed the pill with a handful of water

    from the sink.

    Her mother was attempting to pull herself up in bed. Her thin, bony fingers were

    wrapped weakly around the cold metal rail of the hospital bed that the hospice nurse

    arranged for, several days before.

    Let me help you, Mom, Allison said gently, as she slid her arm behind her mothers

    back. She cringed as she felt her shoulder blades through the thick flannel nightgown that

    was damp with sweat. After propping her mother up with pillows, she went to get a

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    washcloth to wash her face.

    Angela will be here in a few minutes, Mom, she said as she wiped the moisture

    from her mothers face. Once, not so long ago, she had been a lovely woman, she

    thought, as she looked into the half-vacant, sunken eyes. They had been a clear sapphire

    color that sparkled when she was excited. Now they were a watery, dull blue filled with

    pain and misery. Oh God, why are you letting this happen? She is so young; this isnt fair,

    she agonized.

    At the moment, Allison was very angry at God. Up until the time her mother took ill,

    she had a relatively pleasant relationship with Him. She would visit His house on most

    Sundays and holidays. She observed His rules and regulations, as best she could, human

    as she was. Allison considered herself a good Christian; she never lied or cheated or

    murdered. So why would God take her mother at such a young age and in such a cruel

    way? She thought it only natural that she felt angry.

    And the irony of it all. Here she was on her way to work at the church, leaving behind,

    at least temporarily, the fast track to success. She knew that her place was at her mothers

    side; she was less sure that she was supposed to be working for Pastor Henry.

    The knock at the kitchen door rattled her back to reality. Allison went to let Angela in.

    She was a sight for sore eyes, literally.

    Angela was the only daughter of Joe and Sophia Federico, who lived in the house next

    to her mother for the past 25 years. Her name suited her; at 18, she had an angelic

    personality and nature. Graduating with honors just the week before, she had earned a full

    scholarship to a local nursing school that she would be starting in September. Allison

    doubted that her mother would linger more than a month, long before Angela would start

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    classes.

    She had a bad night, Allison said as she put the kettle on for her mothers tea. No

    matter how sick her mother felt, she would never forego her customary Earl Gray. Even

    when the nausea prevented her from actually drinking it, the clinking of the silver spoon

    in the fine bone china cup with pink flowers, would comfort her. Allison knew it brought

    back fond memories of when she was young and healthy. Small comfort, she thought,

    with a hint of bitterness.

    Allison watched Angela take the tea in to her mother as she picked up her car keys and

    purse left and set out for the church. She left instructions for Michelle Duncan, the

    hospice nurse to call her when she arrived, to discuss Marys pain meds. She didnt think

    either one of them would be able to stand another night like the last one. Most of all,

    Allison was determined she would not let her mother suffer any more than was necessary.

    As she pulled into the parking lot of the church, she could feel the aspirin kicking in

    and the pain subside. She certainly had no right to complain after what her mother was

    going through. After all what was a little lack of sleep and a headache, in the grand

    scheme of things.

    Morning, Pastor, she said as she sat down at her desk.

    You look awful, Allison, Pastor Henry said, as he came out to her desk with a

    handful of papers.

    Thanks, Pastor, she said lightheartedly. She liked Jack Henry. He was kind and

    understanding, definitely admirable and godly qualities in a man of the cloth. Being a

    family man

    was most important to him and his children were well-loved. If she everwere to marry, it

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    would have to be a man like Jack Henry.

    Rough night with your mom? he asked sympathetically, already knowing the

    answer.

    Allison just nodded her head, as her eyes misted up.

    If theres anything Ruth and I can do

    Thank you, Pastor. Its all right, really. Im going to have the nurse start the morphine

    pump. Mom hasnt wanted it up until now because it will make her sleep most of the

    time, but the pain is getting to be unbearable.

    The phone rang as if on cue.

    Good morning. Grace Christian Church, this is Allison.

    Hi, Allison. Its Michelle. Angela said for me to call.

    Hi, Michelle. Moms pain was pretty bad last night. We talked about it and she says

    shes ready for the next step, Allison said with sadness in her voice.

    Okay, Ill cal

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