My friend Charles called to tell me Mrs. Synan wasn’t feeling well and had been moved to a different health care center. He knew what I needed to know and when I needed to know it.I needed to go see Phyllis. 

As I drove to visit Mrs. Synan, my mind hit rewind through the many years I had known her. When she taught me in high school. When she smiled and spoke words of encouragement to me. When she helped edit one of my books. When she welcomed us as we moved back to Georgia. When we prayed for each other, attended services together, ate meals together. When we talked about my writing, talked about our children and grandchildren, talked about our joys and disappointments, talked about the past. When she came over to visit her neighbors—our son Graham and his family—and joined us for dinner. 

I quickly thought about our experiences. Then I arrived, parked the car, called for permission to enter, and walked to her room. 

Phyllis Synan could state many words and tell fascinating stories, but her initial comment to me that evening didn’t include words. Her eyes stared at me as her smile indicated a joyful, peaceful welcome. Her hands reached toward me, requesting a hug. 

Who needed words? 

They would come soon, those words. But that initial welcome included the gentle touch of hands and her head nodding. 

And then she spoke. Mrs. Synan started the conversation with a question. “Did you bring a copy of your new book?” she asked. 

“No mam,” I said. “I just wanted to see how you are doing.” 

“Do you have a book with you?” she asked. 

“Yes mam,” I said. “I have copies in my car.” 

“Please go get me a copy,” Phyllis said. “We can talk when you get back and I’ll tell you how I’m doing.” 

I did what Mrs. Synan told me to do. 

When I returned to her room she smiled again. I said, “I have always loved your smile.” 

She began to tell stories. Her husband. My parents. My wife’s parents. Her family. Our beliefs. Her health. Our questions. 

Phyllis then gave me more instructions. She asked me to read to her from Equilibrium. Though she said please, I felt like my former teacher was giving an assignment. 

She squeezed my right hand and closed her eyes. I held the book with my left hand and read aloud, sitting beside Mrs. Synan in a room that indicated her health wasn’t great, but her spirit was still so kind, so loving, so interested. 

It was an honor to read aloud to Phyllis Synan as I sat on the side of her bed holding her hand with one of mine while holding a book in my other. 

If I had another hand, I would have reached for a tissue to wipe away tears that were dripping from my eyes.

But I didn’t. 

I just read through the moisture. 

Phyllis smiled hearing one sentence I read to her. She squeezed my hand again as she heard another. 

I finished reading and asked her if I could pray. She gave permission, while informing me of others who also needed prayer. Then she said, “When I’m home I always pray for your son and his wife and those two sweet little girls. I’m so glad I live beside them.” 

I prayed, not knowing she would not be able to move back beside them. 

I prayed, not knowing I would be at her funeral service one month after that visit. 

I prayed, knowing Phyllis Synan had greatly influenced my life in a positive way. 

I prayed, trying to remember all those people she told me to pray for. 

And the visit ended. 

As Phyllis smiled, hugged me again, thanked me again, that visit ended. 

I said, “I’ll see you again.” 

She squeezed my hand, nodded, and said, “I love you.” 

I’ve replayed that visit since Phyllis passed away. I’m thankful Charles let me know where they had moved her. I’m grateful we talked and prayed. I’m glad I had an extra book for her. 

I wrote this after staring at the door of her house. I miss her staring back, opening the door, and telling me a story. The silence reminded me how much I miss Mrs. Synan. 

Many of us continue talking about Phyllis. She is loved, appreciated, respected, and missed. I often wonder: “How much did her words of encouragement inspire me as a young teenager? Would I have dreamed about writing and making a positive difference in the world if she had not been a voice in my world?” 

I don’t know. 

But I know that I’m thankful she was a voice in my life. 

And I hope to continue hearing her words, applying her advice, and loving others just like Phyllis Synan loved them.