A few weeks ago I lost a very good friend of over 50 years. This is not an unusual occurrence when one reaches the ninth decade of life. However, the loss of this friend has been very troubling. I find myself daily grieving for the sad end of the life of this smart, accomplished, interesting woman. (Center in group above at her house party)
She died late February in a nursing home. She had dementia and had had in Aug, 2017, a stroke, but the cause of death was the return of a virulent cancer which metastasized rapidly. As far as I know none of her friends or family, except a nephew who flew in from Seattle, visited her at the hospital. None were at her bedside when she died, except a woman, who I shall call Mary, who had power of attorney, was executor of my friend’s estate, and a beneficiary. She was buried without the Jewish burial rites, (her request I am told by Mary) in Brooklyn in a plot she had purchased, and again with no one there to mourn her passing, except the aforementioned Mary.
It deeply hurts me to think of her so isolated from acquaintances, friends, family, all of which over the years she had many. And yet so alone at the end of her life. And as I ask myself, “Where were all these people over the past few years, months, days?,” I have to ask myself, “Where were you?”
My friend had never married. However she had been highly successful in the TV world and was well-known in the entertainment world. She had been active in various organizations during her career and after retirement. She traveled extensively. She was smart, accomplished and caring. She was responsible for getting six of us, who at one time worked at NBC, together on several occasions for a four-day house party at her Hampton home. Of this group, there are now only two living. What a wonderful times we had, lying by the pool, laughing about old times, drinking wine and cooking delicious food. She visited my family when I lived in South America. She visited me and my daughter and her husband every spring for 15 years, volunteering at The Players golf tournament. I frequently visited her in NYC as I had children for many years in the area. She also made several trips to New England to visit my family in MA and our former NBC colleague in NH.
Her last visit to us was 2012. During this visit, she became confused when returning one day from the golf course to our home. She called and I drove to get her. We then discussed that perhaps she should be thinking about the future. However, there were no more such incidents and she was not interested. After that visit our contacts were limited to phone calls. As the years went on, she often commented on having trouble with memory, but so did all my peers. I wish I had taken the time to stop by NYC on my annual trip to Boston, but each time there seemed to be an excuse.
Even more so, I really feel guilty I did not go see her in March of last year. My daughter with her daughter and grandson went to see my friend. My daughter called that morning to let my friend know they were coming to take her to lunch. When they arrived, they had to bang and bang on her apartment door as she did not answer her phone. She finally opened her door, in a daze ,wondering why someone was banging on her door. She had forgotten. They did go to lunch and had a lovely time. Photos were taken and I was appalled at how sick my friend looked. I thought of going, but did not. I deeply regret this apathy, laziness. I was concerned but did nothing about it.
I do not know if a visit from me at that time would have made any difference. But at least I would not have lost my last chance to see my dear friend when we could still have had a nice visit. I called her many times over the next months, but no answer. I was too busy to follow up, until around Christmas when I became concerned. Finally in Jan. I was able to reach Mary’s husband who told me the state of my friend’s health. Immediately called her at the hospital, but any chance of meaningful conversation was gone. She kept asking me “Get me out of her!!” There was nothing I could do. Too little, too late.
But with this blog, I can write comments which will I hope help anyone who reads this to be sure this does not happen to them, a friend or family member.
- Watch out for denial!! for yourself as well as family members and friends. I spoke to my friend ,when she was last here in 2012, about her losing her way home, but she was in complete denial. I pleaded with her to begin thinking about a retirement community near her nephew or near her cousins, and to do so while she was mentally capable of making her own decisions.
- Plan for worst, although hope for best. Think ahead and have an idea of what, where, and how you want to spend your elderly years. Plans can always be changed, but have some plans. Do not leave this to the last.
- Make a will – Everyone should have a will. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. In my case, I wanted everyone in the family to have a copy of the will. They were informed in advance what would be in the will, in case there was some objection. My husband and I made of list of special objects and to whom they were to go….this ended with a note asking that there be no arguments, because the most important thing in life is the love and support of a united caring family. As my children know, when I downsized to my apartment, attached to my daughter’s house, I gave all the special items to the designated families . I enjoy very much seeing the furniture pieces in their home and the women wearing the jewelry. Glad to have lived to see this.
- Do not make material possessions your God, clinging to each dime as a life-giving item. My friend worked hard and she made a great deal of money, but I never felt she enjoyed it. She worked hard and scraped and saved and then when she was old and had no children to leave it to, she continued to take the cheap flights at 5 am, carry her luggage onto a subway, etc. etc. I do not pretend to know why? I only know it is sad. Within the bounds of common sense and good financial planning, enjoy life,
- Do not allow yourself to become isolated. This is easy to happen. Friends will die, move always, or mentally will be gone. Visit your sick friends, reach out for new friends, keep in touch with old friends and family with phone, face time, text. Learn something new. That is what I a doing with this blog. Have people over to visit if just for a bowl of soup, cup of tea, wine or cheese. Go to church!!! Participate in social clubs, such as book clubs, bible study, etc. Get out and socialize! EXERCISE! Good for soul and body. Do not lose your sense of humor
- Emergency telephone number. If you know anyone who is alone, be sure to have an emergency telephone number for them. If you suspect something is wrong, then you can call the emergency contact and discuss your concern. Suggest you check to be sure this contact is a younger person.