Cheery title, eh?
As I’m clearing my mind (and to-do list) for an afternoon of writing, I’ve been thinking about a decision this past week.
I decided to accept loss.
I don’t mean loss right now or tomorrow (knock on wood), but choosing to get involved in someone’s life whose future is not certain.
That’s all of us, isn’t it? But in this case, I mean a quilting granny friend who has reached out to me over the past year. We’ve met for lunch, for coffee (tea for me), and for heart-to-heart talks since I met her (almost exactly one year ago). A mutual friend introduced us, and “Carol” has a granddaughter who served as a shortcut to friendship.
Carol also has PLS, a slower and less well known form of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease, of the ice bucket challenge fame). Up until recently she had been doing better than even her doctors expected–driving in an adapted van, taking care of her family, and working in many capacities at church.
She’s told me that she thinks of me as a daughter, and she has a limitless capacity to love. When Sara died last fall and things went crazy with my house guest, Carol kept me sane. She was the one who helped me to see that things were not working out and I needed to stop playing chef/chauffeur/babysitter/personal maid. The second I did, house guest moved out.
Last month, some scary things happened with Carol’s health and no one knew what the outcome would be. I mentioned it in passing (amidst the general comment that Advent Calendar season was the most difficult I’d experienced in a long time), but I couldn’t process it at the time. We hadn’t been in contact for a little while, and then I heard she was on a ventilator and the family was looking into assisted living.
(Keep in mind that the last time I’d seen her, she was zipping around town doing her own grocery shopping, errands, and providing childcare for her granddaughter. Also keep in mind that I saw my friend Sara for the last time standing on her own two feet in seemingly good health, and the next night she had the stroke from which she never regained consciousness.)
Sara was the quilting granny I felt closest to at church. She was the kindred spirit I’d known all my life and perhaps even before that. Carol was the next, a gentle soul who held my hand through losing Sara and made me feel it was okay to experience this much grief for a woman I hadn’t even known a full year. The thought of losing Carol, too, was more than I could bear. (And, of course, there were other personal things going on that took away my resources for coping.)
Last week, a few things shifted into place and I reached out. I told her, among other things, what I’d been afraid to say for two months…that I was afraid of her dying. How could I say that to someone who was already dealing with so much? She has lived with this illness for years.
She answered immediately, and she said, “I’m not as fragile as I was. Let’s have lunch. Tell me when and where, but hurry. I’m hungry!” (It was already 12:30.) And, “You need to see I’m not dying.” So we did and I did, and instead of feeling foolish for telling her something so silly we talked for three hours. We stayed so long at the restaurant (it was a salad buffet) that I had dinner before going home. 😀 And the next day, she asked if I could watch her granddaughter just in case she (Carol) got home late from having her van fixed. She took me out to dinner as a thank you, and she asked if I could baby-sit the next evening as well. Then her husband came home, and we talked about the issue we’d been tiptoeing around all week–could they hire me for regular, part-time help around the house and with the grandchild? I hadn’t wanted to volunteer because I’m not trained in home health care, and she didn’t want to ask for fear of imposing. (She hates needing help. I’m sure none of us can empathize.)
We’re still working out the details, and no one knows how Carol’s health will hold. It’s an honor to be the one who can step in and take some of the weight off her husband’s shoulders, and to allow them to enjoy more time together as a couple. At the same time, I know I’m not going to be qualified once she needs more specialized help. I worry that I will treat her as a patient in my effort to do right by her, and in the process she will lose a friend. But at the same time, it is such a good feeling knowing I have something to offer. I like taking care of people, and I would do it for anyone not in a wheelchair and not with a terminal illness. I do it because I like that wonderful cozy feeling of knowing I’ve made someone else’s life a little bit easier and a little bit better.
But as I drove home that night after we made arrangements, I took a deep breath. This was it. Sure, we’d all said at any point we’ll re-evaluate if the situation isn’t working, and at any point her health might deteriorate so they need to hire an actual nurse instead of a friend. But until that point, I’m in. I’m all in.
At some point, I will lose Carol. I hate to think of it, but it will happen. I hope later rather than sooner. A lot later. But whatever happens, I will be part of it for as long as they need me. And if they no longer need me in an official capacity, I will be there as a friend.
These past two months when I haven’t been able to think about it, the potential (and I thought imminent) loss was unbearable. But her health has gotten stronger, to the point that if I help out with everyday things she no longer has to consider assisted living. I want her home, zipping around in her wheelchair and scaring me half to death when she stands up to reach something (because I will never, ever insult her by offering to help). I want her rolling her eyes at her husband’s opinions and muttering, “Are you going to stop bossing me around?” (It was so cute!)
She’s the only quilting granny (person at church, really), who knows what I write. She thinks it’s great. 🙂 I wrote about the confession here. “Who knows what’s under that quilt?” Hehe.
I will lose Carol at some point, and I accept that. Until then, I have her.
Choosing to accept loss means choosing to remain part of life.