I heard your friend died today. I was sorry hear it, but couldn't help but feel happy for her as well. 99 is a good age. A good, ripe, and... well, frankly, a very impressive age.
It's funny, when I call her your friend, I almost stop myself, because she didn't technically have to be "your friend." She could have simply been "your job" or "your client" or "patient" or "the person you visited once a week so that you could get a paycheck." But she wasn't any of those things. Nope. Not to you. To you, she was your friend, and I can't help but think of what a blessing that must have been in her life.
You listened to all of her stories. You came to know all about her children, her family, the love of her life, her hopes, her dreams, her pain...you listened to it all.
You loved her, and you were always happy to see her. Happy to listen to her. Happy to be a part of her life. What a gift. We should all be so lucky to have someone like you when we reach that terrifying age where the mind and spirit are still willing, but the body just can't keep up.
When you got the call, (you know, the one where they say she is out of weeks, and out of days, and now maybe even out of whole hours and they're pretty much taking things one minute at a time...) you dropped what you were doing, made new arrangements with your babysitter, and went to be at her side. Her daughters were there, and you talked quietly with them for awhile.
Then her breathing changed. The rattling was replaced by one slow, deep, serene breath. Then another, and another. You recognize it immediately. It is the breath of a woman surrendering to the undeniable peace that death almost always brings... if we let it.
You tell her daughters that the time is here, and that she needs their permission to go.
"Go Mom," they whisper lovingly, "Dad is waiting for you."
The breathing continues. You know that this isn't what she was waiting for. You know this because you know her. She's told you all about him. How they met, fell in love, made a commitment, started a family... She knows he has been eagerly waiting for her just as she has waited to see him. She is waiting for a different reason, and you know what it is.
You know what she is waiting for
because you're her friend,
and you're a mother,
and because of that,
you know intimately,
with all of your heart,
that the hardest thing a mother will do in this lifetime...
is leave her babies behind.
"No," you say, "She knows that he's waiting for her, she's known that for years. Now she needs to know that you'll be okay if she goes."
They take her hands in theirs and assure her that this is true and this is what they want for her, and that they love, love, love, love her... and as the last words are said, she closes her eyes, takes one last breath, and then she is gone. You then (like the true friend you are) offer to dress her, and the family gratefully accepts.
When all is said and done, you leave your friend in the care of her loved ones and return to the world of dishes, and potty training, and errands, and you even make time to take another friend (who found a troubling lump in her breast) to the hospital for a biopsy. Wow. What a girl. I can't believe I am so blessed to know someone like you.
Maybe you didn't need a blow by blow of your very special, spiritual day, but I must say, I am trying to wrap my head around the awesomeness of it, and I've found that writing has always helped in the past. However, in writing about it, I find that I am still at a loss to clearly articulate just how wonderful and beautiful I think the experience (which I, technically had no part of...) was. I only pray that I can live to be the kind of woman and the kind of friend, who is worthy of so lovely a passing. In my final days, if I have the honor of having someone like you by my side... someone who understands my parting needs, and wishes, and difficulties...someone who is fiercely loyal and committed to her friend... I will have done something right, and I will leave this world in peace as well.