When I provided medical care for Dorothy years ago, I knew she was single and without any children. She had a small family from away, and I hardly ever met anyone related to Dorothy throughout the course of her illness.

Only a niece named Emily visited her near the end of her life. When Emily moved to Maine and developed the same form of leukemia as her aunt, I became her physician. As Emily shared details of Dorothy’s life, I learned more about Dorothy than I had ever known.

According to Emily, “Dorothy wasn’t exactly pretty.” Any physical beauty that Dorothy had in the past faded as her illness became relentless. Yet during the times that Emily spent with Dorothy, it was evident that Dorothy had a kind of beauty that shone brighly despite her outward gaunt and pale appearance. Dorothy always had a kind way of interacting with people. As secretary of a well-known company in the area, she was expected to be gracious to all that opened the door to the office. Her kindness, however, went far beyond what was required at work. Dorothy was kind to everyone she met. Acquaintances where she shopped were treated like family. At the soup kitchen where she volunteered, everyone knew her name. Dorothy worked in numerous church-related programs involving immigrant issues, making many close friends across Maine. When Emily visited her near the end of her life, Dorothy managed a smile to the mail carrier who brought her prescripitons to the door as well as the hospice workers who attended her needs.

Emily’s description of her aunt reminded me of two wise depictions of beauty in the Bible written 1,000 years apart. In the first, David was to be anointed by the prophet Samuel as the next king of Israel. Samuel was puzzled because God told him to pass over David’s seven older brothers and pick David, the youngest. In Hebrew, the word for “youngest” applied to David was the word for “runt,” used in a pejorative sense. God then revealed to Samuel what is real beauty: “The Lord does not look at what man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Later in the New Testament, after the days of Jesus, the apostle Peter described in the following fashion what constitutes true beauty in women: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful” (1 Peter 3:3-5).

After Dorothy died, Emily told me she often daydreamed about her aunt in Heaven. Emily saw in her daydreams that her aunt was not now plain but beautiful, and not alone but surrounded by all she had been kind to. Those acquaintances and friends were her family now, and she was happy in their company. Emily added: “My daydreams are how I honor my aunt because Dorothy had little family to remember her.” These daydreams also comforted Emily since Emily now shared the same illness as her aunt, and she found her aunt’s life inspiring and worth emulating. Emily asked me if her daydreams made any sense. I told her: “Sounds like Heaven to me.”

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist, and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

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