Last year, my mother lost one of her best friends. It was tremendously sad for all of us, as Ginny was a wonderfully energetic woman who shuttled my mother to the doctor’s office, the grocery store, the library and anywhere else Mom needed to go. Ginny was 73 years old and, though she had been sick for a couple of months, her death was a shock. She was always busy with family, crafts, the Church, social organizations and friends, particularly my mother. She always made time for her and went out of her way to make sure Mom was safe and sound. I don’t know what we would have done without her.
For my mother, it was devastating to hear that Ginny was gone. Even more onerous, though, was the fact that Mom’s memory loss meant that she had to experience learning about Ginny’s death multiple time. It was a horribly morbid version of Groundhog’s Day. After several rounds of tears and sorrow, she started to remember. For me, it was terribly sad that this woman who had given so much time and attention to my mother would not have more time to do the things she loved to do. I felt a bit guilty at how much we had relied on her to help Mom, particularly because her own time ended up being so limited. The saving grace is that I know she loved my mother and enjoyed their time together. It was an incredible gift.
Mixed in with the sadness was a sense of relief that Mom moved down to Baltimore when she did. Not only would her grief have been more acute had she not moved, it would have been mixed with the overwhelming fear of what would happen to her. There seems to be an oddly unique, self-centered component of “old-age” grief that manifests as fear. We all want to feel safe and surrounded by the warmth of friendship, but it seems that as one’s world shrinks the need for that safe place becomes critical and the impact of its disruption is more intense. Fortunately, once she moved down here, Mom was no longer dependent on Ginny for anything but friendship. Her grief, in that sense, was more pure since she didn’t have to worry about her own logistical needs.
The second friend to die, Bette, was not someone on whom Mom relied. Bette, who was age 77, was in many organizations with her and they were friends, but not all that close. Mom’s relationship with Bette could be a bit challenging sometimes, but she was always there to help. Had Mom needed a ride to the store or help with anything, Bette would have been there. Like Ginny, her death was a shock – very unexpected. She was a strong and active woman who was very involved in the community. Like Ginny’s death, Mom had to relive this one several times.
Mom’s challenge with this death was to accept how much she liked Bette, even as she sometimes complained about her … well … forceful personality. Mom joined groups; Bette led them. There was some chafing under that leadership. Mom worked on certain activities; Bette seemed to find a way to be involved in lots of activities and to push others to be more engaged. Both were stubborn when working on “their” tasks. Yet, Mom had to admit that the world (and certainly communities) needed people like Bette to get things done.
The deaths of these two strong women, both quite a bit younger than Mom, were hard to take. They both did so much good work in their communities and were wonderful and generous friends. My mother has indicated that she is comfortable with the concept of her death – she has often said that she has lived a good, full life. Although she didn’t say it out loud, she seemed to wonder why they died. They were so vibrant … and she is less so.