Saturday, April 23, 2011

Too Late

A friend of mine died today.  She was old and very sick.  Even so, I'm stunned she's no longer here.  I cannot count how many times this evening I've made a mental note to tell her something next time I see her.

Tell me, when will I stop doing that?  How long will it take to get over a habit more than a decade in the making?

To an outsider, perhaps, she didn't seem too remarkable.  A widow in her 80's, living in the house where she raised her children...ill for the past 2 years, to boot.  Before that?  An active senior citizen, busy with the local gardening club and her friends and her grandchildren...

But to me?  She was the neighbor who took the time to talk to me all the years - those long, isolated, pre-blogging years - I was home with my babies.  At the beginning, I'll confess, I'd manufacture a request - a cup of sugar, say - any excuse to knock on her door and make some human contact.  I was that lonely.  And she made herself available.  I'll never know why.  After all, she had her friends and her daughters and her grandchildren, all fixtures in her life before I came on the scene.  She didn't need me.

Thanks to my friend, I know this is a magnolia.
She didn't need me.  But eventually I could stop by just to chat and we'd sit on her stoop in the sunshine and talk, while sizing up any new neighbors from a discreet distance and watching the kids ride by on their scooters. Or she'd walk with me around the neighborhood - me carrying a baby, she reciting names and characteristics of any vegetation I cared to ask about. She took the time to teach me - a Black Belt black thumb - everything I know about our local flora.  She even (rather foolishly) shared with me her extra tomato seedlings, cucumber seeds, etc. - all items which flourished under her loving care and which inevitably met a dismal end under mine.

Never underestimate small acts of generosity - particularly generosity of time, in a society where people pride themselves on being busy, busy, busy.  Who has time to reach out to a pathetically lonely mom with no car, no real friends, and nowhere to go?  This woman did.  She knew it mattered. 

Useful parenting tool
My friend was no rocket scientist.  She made no earth-changing scientific discoveries, she orchestrated no sweeping changes of public policy.  But she knew how to raise children to adulthood, in that no-nonsense, commonsensical way that her generation possessed.  "They're bored?" she said, when I complained of whining children.  "I used to have mine vacuum the stairs when they were bored.  Let me tell you," she added with a laugh, "they didn't get bored too often."  And when I ran into truly heavy parenting weather? She was there for me, if only to shrug her shoulders and say, "All you can do is your best. You can't fix everything.  They have to figure it out."

Never underestimate your personal store of knowledge and experience.  Someone can use it.

We weren't expecting her to die just yet.  I had planned to visit with her Easter morning, tell her all that had been happening over the past week.  Maybe then I would have decided to thank her for all she'd done for me; or more likely, to save us both embarrassment, I would have written her a note, a little Easter present of thanks, to give her before it was too late.

Too late...



 [Magnolia tree: The Daily Muse]

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31 comments:

  1. One of the best things I remember doing is thanking my grandfather for being there for me as a teen. He was the father I needed to finish growing up and I'll be grateful forever.

    I am sorry for your loss.

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  2. Oh I'm so sorry. What a beautiful tribute you've written your friend. You are so right to recognize all that she contributed to her world.

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  3. There's an 89 year old man in my building who I'm always on the lookout for. But he's actually busier than me and belongs to a senior center. There are days I've thought of asking him if I could tag along!

    I'm sure you did a lot more for this woman than you realize. I'll bet she was as fond of your company as you were of hers. As a matter of fact, I'd bet my life on it. R.I.P.

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  4. She sounds like a wonderful neighbor and friend. I'm sorry for your loss.

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  5. This was incredibly sweet and a good reminder of the beauty of simple human connection...and vacuuming. xxox

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  6. Oh Karen, I'm so sorry about your friend.
    She's still close and you can tell her anything you need to. She will know how much you cared.
    G-d Bless!

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  7. She sounds like a beautiful person. I'm sorry you've lost her.

    And thank you for the reminder that it really is the little things---I BELIEVE it to be true, but I don't often FEEL that it is.

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  8. What a beautiful woman! And you *have* just thanked her, and you'll go on thanking her by living with the generous heart she taught you to have.

    She knew how thankful you were. Surely, she knew.

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  9. "Never underestimate small acts of generosity - particularly generosity of time, in a society where people pride themselves on being busy, busy, busy."

    Beautiful.

    It took me about eight years to stop reaching for the phone to call my dad.

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  10. So sorry for the loss of your friend. She sounds like a wonderful person and what precious memories you have of her. ((hugs))

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  11. I was going to start this "my friend" but I'm going to call you my sister because that is how mom thought of you. I told you privately, but I want the world, okay the blogging world, to know that she loved you. She needed you in the same way you needed her, only from the reverse angle :)
    She loved you, and your whole family. She laughed when you laughed and ached for you when troubles came. She trusted you to carry on the "cluster tradition" of knowing lots about everybody, and for being active in the decision making process.
    Most of all, you were a true friend to her, and we loved knowing that you were right down the sidewalk.
    Hugs.

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  12. I'll just reiterate what everyone else said. I'm sorry you'll miss your friend. It is wonderful that she was there for you for so long. What a gift!

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  13. What a good reminder for those of us left here - who may feel that we don't really have any useful "skills" to offer people. The offer of friendship, conversation, experience, a cup of sugar = means more than words can say. I am sorry that you didn't get that one last conversation with your friend.

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  14. I'm so sorry. It sounds like you were good friends to each other.

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  15. @Kayla - Yes! That's what I'm attempting to say - in the end, those little things make a big difference in the lives of people around you. They really matter.

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  16. I'm sorry for your loss--it sounds like a wonderful friendship. In her honor, today I will tell my elderly neighbor, who always compliments my children and loves to chat while we watch the kids play, how much I value her friendship.

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  17. I lost someone like this last September. She was older, had raised 10 children, and was my "go to" mom for support raising a large family (even though I have half as many kids as she did). I'm still thinking of things I want to talk to her about. I still tear up, as I did at Holy Thursday Mass two days ago, because I saw her kids there but she was very, very missing.

    I'm so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a gem.

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  18. That's the kind of heavy loss that's hard to swallow. Hugs, sister. You know you'll spread her light and spirit to others because of all she taught you.

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  19. Big (((hugs))). I feel so sorry for younger people who don't take the time to get to know folks from older generations, they have so very much to teach us and so much to offer - like the friendship and support you got from your friend. I'd bet though that she got just as much out of your friendship as you did. I'll be thinking of you and both your families.

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  20. How wonderful to have a real neighbor. It seems to me that being neighborly has almost disappeared --especially between generations.

    When I was a kid we had a widow in her 70's as a neighbor, and she was such a wonderful neighbor --I'll always remember how she invited us kids over before Christmas to watch a holiday show (we didn't have a T.V., so this was quite a treat to us) and feed us homemade cookies. She was so much better than either of my grandmothers, plus she was right next door. My mother missed her company so much when she passed away.

    I'm sorry for your loss, but happy that you had such a great neighbor.

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  21. And her other secret anti boredom weapon???
    Washing the French Door windows......
    Just in case she didn't pass that one on to you :)

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  22. Yes, I believe we discussed that, Navhelowife. All important secrets that shouldn't be lost to posterity...

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  23. I lost my husband almost 8 years ago, I still "talk" to him every day. It is funny, but there is a certain section of roadway along the river that I drive over to work. I always feel like he is there.

    I think it is wonderful you had such a strong connection to her. I have a couple of older friends that I also care for, and I can't imagine life without them. I will be somewhat lost without them. But my experience with my husband has taught me that as long as they are alive in our memories, I can survive.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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  24. This post broke my heart and made me smile at the same time. I'm so glad you had her in your life. I'm so sorry she's gone.

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  25. I'm so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a wonderful friend. I bet she knew just what you were going through when you came over to "borrow some sugar". You are blessed to have met such a fine woman <3

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  26. People matter and I'm so glad that you had such a friend. I don't know that loss ever fully goes away, just a little less with time. Thank you for the post (it was beautiful) and the reminder to make time for those around us.

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  27. I am sorry for your loss. Navhelowife has told me how much you did for her mom, so I am sure the feeling between you & your friend is mutual. I say "is" because the friendship is not gone... it will live on in your memory and in ours, too, because of this post.

    It's so hard to say goodbye. ♥

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  28. I am truly sorry for your loss, and grateful to you for sharing this wonderful person with all of us. I bet you blessed her in ways you never knew.

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  29. Oh honey. I'm so sorry you lost her! And so glad you had her. There are no small acts of kindness. Every single one is HUGE.

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  30. Oh, such a lovely tribute. I'm sorry she's gone.

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