I was not looking forward to the trip. Weeks before, one of the daughters of a good friend of my mom texted me to say that her mother was dying of pancreatic cancer and she hoped to say goodbye to my mom.
The two connected over the phone and agreed to an in-person meeting. Between my own mother’s frailties and the strenuous burdens of dealing with pancreatic cancer, arranging a time for the two to meet wasn’t easy but in early September the stars aligned and the two old teachers–who had first met in the mid-1970’s when they began the kindergarten program at St. Thomas the Apostle in Southwest Minneapolis–found a small window of time.
I picked up my mom at her senior living facility and drove her to her friend’s home in Linden Hills where she was in hospice care. It was the same house she had lived with her now deceased husband, Bill, for over 60 years and where they had raised all seven of their children.
My stomach tightened as we pulled up to the modest Craftsman-style house. I had never seen anyone dying from cancer up close and I wasn’t exactly relishing the prospect of escorting my mom to the bedside of a woman who once was a fierce tennis competitor as well as an avid year-round lake-walker but who was now bed-ridden and at death’s doorstep. Nevertheless, I pulled my mom’s walker from the trunk of the car and escorted her to the front porch.
Imagine my surprise then when my mom’s friend greeted her at the door and was the spitting image of a spry 91-year-old woman who appeared hellbent on reaching her centennial.
Relieved, I volunteered to sit outside as the two shared memories, swapped old stories and spoke heart-to-heart. My mom’s friend, ever the example of Midwestern hospitality, would have none of it. We would all, along with one of her six daughters — who happened to be serving as caretaker that day — share coffee together .
Honored to bear witness to such an intimate moment, I agreed and secretly hoped I would be privy to a few pearls of elderly wisdom. To be sure, there were a few memorable moments such as when both agreed that teaching kindergarten was the best job either had ever had because it allowed them to serve as surrogate mothers to so many other children.
Otherwise, though, the conversation bordered on the banal. My mother had not yet been fitted for her new hearing aids which led to a few humorous exchanges but, truth-be-told, their final chat was one you might expect to hear between good friends but for whom death remained a distant prospect.
After 45 minutes, the daughter informed me her mother was growing weary and needed a nap. I stood up to signal to my mom that it was time to go. Neither woman relied on their walkers, rather, both slowly eased themselves out of their chairs and steadied the other by grasping together their delicate, withered hands. They then leaned forward to kiss the other on the cheek. One then whispered to the other, “You are one of my dearest friends.” The other responded in kind.
In that moment, I realized I had, in fact, been blessed to witness a pearl of wisdom: A life well-lived is simply about being present in the moment. It’s about offering an ear, a hand, a touch, or a kiss to one in need. For fifty years their friendship flourished through such small, kind and loving acts. Mary Long passed away on September 30th secure in her many friends’ love, surrounded by family, and shrouded in the mystery of her faith.