Holiday greetings of colorful cards, letters, family photos received from friends were most enjoyable this past season. Two friends weren't heard from which has given me concern. Such missing responses become an increasing occurrence, especially in my older years. One card, still with my unread letter inside, was returned, stamped "undeliverable", also, "no forwarding address". A follow-up phone call elicited a " no longer in service" response -- but we had talked just last summer. I found no obituary on the internet (yes, I resort to checking there sometimes).
My former neighbor/friend had become a widow in recent years, spoke of gradually losing her vision, so maybe she's had to relocate from her home, and/or is no longer able to communicate. Two of three sons tragically died due to different causes years ago, so maybe the remaining son who lives elsewhere hasn't thought to let her friends know about her. Strange a letter wouldn't have had a forwarding address if she's still living, even if in a different city. I'm stymied in checking further.
The other friend hadn't been able to use, first, her computer, then write, due to increasing hand tremors she said Later she told me she was going to have to begin dialysis. Also, earlier memory issues she described to me were becoming more serious. Then I didn't hear any more for the past year. But I've continued to write periodically, as she previously had asked me to do, with letters she could put in her purse, carry along to read while in waiting rooms or receiving treatment, or whatever. I finally phoned her, left a recorded message a week or so ago. I received no response,
I was considering what else I could do to obtain an up date on her condition,-- maybe I could prepare a postal card to mail to the house -- write several short statements with check-off boxes, self-address the card so a family caregiver could just mark a box, then drop in the mail. She often marveled we were so lucky to have each other still in our lives.
She's the only living person who's known me all my life -- is one year older than me -- we knew of each other's family beyond the immediate relatives. Her parents visited me in California when returning from a Japan trip to visit a daughter there at that time. I remembered meeting some of her other relatives, an aunt, grandmother, other grandparents who had a little candy store in their garage. So much history though we haven't seen each other in over fifty years.
Then as I wrote this one recent evening, my phone rang. Her younger sister, that my friend resisted letting play with us when we were little, called me after receiving word from the youngest nurse sister that my dear friend's time was short -- hours, days. She'd stopped eating.
I recall a few years ago being asked to see a patient for swallowing -- to establish her eating/drinking refusal was not due to an actual swallowing deficit. She presented with appropriate alertness, attention, orientation, cognitive skills. She then successfully accepted and safely swallowed water trials, agreed to a few bites of pureed consistency fruit similarly tolerated. She pleasantly refused any more. My having established her swallow function was intact, she then nicely refused any further oral trials of any liquid or food, or to name anything else she would like.in the necessary subsequent few sessions I was obliged to see her.
My encouragement for her to eat or drink was respectful, not badgering, threatening, but offered her an opportunity for intake if she desired some for any reason as she could also request from staff and/or her family any time. Alternative feeding (tubes) was not an option. She had other professional contacts to assess her condition.. She had chosen to not eat or drink as her way of resolving her personal terminal medical prognosis. Usually after about three days, if not sooner, reality mental functions deteriorate with the absence of water intake and further body decline. Staff informed me this lady actually lived about two weeks, longer than her medical status might have been thought to be the case.
I'm thinking of all this as I reflect on my friend with hospice -- in her home on the east coast far away from my home in California. Family said she had long ago ceased having dialysis treatments, her memory has wandered about though sometimes she has responded to prompts from the past. I cried.
I wrote once again through the tears of memories -- preschool recollections playing with our paper dolls -- each of us with quite different ideas. I had few paper dolls, but they were whole people, though with limited changes of clothes. (I began to make more clothes and paint them by school age). I was troubled by her dolls out of a catalog -- because she cut off all their heads so whenever she wanted a change of clothes, she simply held another head on the clothed body. What bothered me was a body could be turned one way and a head facing another in what was clearly an impossible body position. Also, when she put them down to get another doll the heads would easily fall off and it was disconcerting to me for my dolls to be interacting with headless dolls, or heads detached from bodies into strange positions. Years later we chuckled over these childhood complications in our friendship.
Another issue was why wouldn't she allow her little sister to play with us occasionally? In our elder years when I queried her about that she said it was because she wanted all my attention for herself.
We were also part of a tap dancing quartet, each girl with a different color hair -- my red, her brunette, a blond and one with black hair -- tapping our hearts out to the "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" in a real theatre stage recital. When we were Jr. High School age, my family had moved to an isolated rural situation for a few years and I often felt lonely. Her family had moved to our state's capitol -- the big city -- when I was next able to visit her.
Tap dancing was still very important to us, though we both, years earlier, had to give up our dance classes. I had been so impressed when she told me she had seen Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in person -- perform his famous sand dance. In our elder years when we reminisced and I recounted how much I had admired she had actually seen him tap, she admitted she didn't remember actually seeing him, causing us to laugh about some of our youthful behavior when she added, "I sometimes lied then".
She was then living in the projects which I thought was wonderful with so many people around, but in our elder years she said she had been embarrassed at having to live there. Her father had a military injury and was temporarily between jobs. I thought she was pretty lucky because my father had years earlier abandoned our family.
She surprised me, too, because when we went to the movies, she had secretly arranged, without her mother knowing, for her boyfriend to join us there. He actually sat beside her and she allowed him to put his arm around her shoulders and even kiss her.
She told me of getting mad at me when I visited her there because she had an asthma attack one night when we had been fast asleep in our shared bed. She started coughing, paramedics had to be called to take her to the hospital and she wanted me to go with her, but I only vaguely was aware of what was happening and never really fully woke up. Of course, they never would have let me go but that didn't matter.
Years would pass and we wouldn't see one another. Our contact fluctuated as we became caught up in our own lives, but our mothers were friends and corresponded so we kept track of each other. We usually exchanged holiday greetings, wrote a short note, or some years longer letters. I was a single young college graduate when next I visited, meeting her finance' as the two of them showed me the apartment they had rented to move into once they were wed following his college graduation. "Yes", she told me, "I know I said I swore I would never like red-headed boys because your older brother teased me, but here I am marrying one."
Then, years later I lived in the same city as her, I was married and she had several sons. When I visited I recall seeing those little boys busy in the sand box loading and dumping with their Tonka Trucks. Who could have imagined after she moved to the East Coast and they became young men that they would start playing with the huge real trucks as they established a landscaping business, prospering to this day.
Each of our long marriages ended in different years, when our husbands with some similar medical issues could no longer overcome the effects of their gradual health decline. We could commiserate with each other during some of the challenging times, provide comfort when needed, then share observations about the world of widowhood we encountered.
I never got to tell her last summer that I had my genealogy researched by another blogger who really did a remarkable job and presented the information really well. Wish my friend could see the genealogy book prepared for me, plus even some special sections for other family members. My friend would really be surprised to learn as I was -- some of my ancestors actually were among those who founded that fair city where she and her family have lived all these years. I know she would have been motivated to check into even more information there with any local historical groups with which to surprise me.
We haven't even had an opportunity to hash over this past presidential election, or to discuss our shared dedication to women's rights in this current environment. So many more memories.....
..........Just as I was editing this to schedule for future posting, the call came -- she passed gently into that good night, surrounded by her loving family.
I celebrate her life -- this woman who spent many years providing innovative comforting interventions augmented by her religious orientation for hospital hospice patients in her city....
I celebrate her life -- this loving, nurturing wife, mother, grandmother....
I celebrate her life -- this true.lifelong friend.....
I cry tears thinking of all we'll no longer be able to share.
Her death symbolizes so much more.
I miss her.