Tuesday, January 22, 2013


My friend's mom passed away last week.

She went downhill very quickly, she was "fine" before the holidays, ended up in the hospital and ICU and was gone by the 12th of January.

My friend lives in Maine, his mom lived 20 minutes from us here in Massachusetts. I knew her as well as one knows a friend's mom. Through family event interactions like his kids' birthday parties. But  mostly in online interactions, Facebook was her playground.   She was a "farmer" on facebook, and was always sending me requests to play and help build her farm. I don't farm. But to me it was always a sign that she was doing alright, she's up and playing and having her life... farming.

 She also was a rabid sports fan, a card carrying member of "Red Sox Nation" and it was always fun to read her irate or joyful statuses, depending on which side of the win/loss column the team landed on a particular night. 

Wednesday of the week prior, my friend called to let me know what was happening. I told him I'd come visit, bring him some lunch from Nick's Roast Beef in Beverly, MA (a pilgrimage location for "our people," meaning Gordon Students and Alumni). I knew he'd appreciate it. So we planned for later in the week, and on Friday morning and he told me he'd give me a call later in the day, and let me know how things were going in the afternoon.

I picked Doug up at the train, traffic was horrible getting from point A to point B. It was late, dark, and both of us were kind of wiped out. We talked about not going out there that night but calling Saturday to see if he needed anything like help with the kids. They have six of them. I could take the little ones (10 and under) to a movie or something. Doug said he'd help with stuff locally, go up to the hospital, do the bringing of the lunch from Nick's. We decided that when he called, we'd just pinpoint a good time for Saturday and a Saturday plan.

But, I didn't hear from my friend that night. It worried me. I thought maybe he was just all set or changed his mind (but now thinking of it, who passes up on someone hand delivering Nick's to your face when you're doing a bed sit?). So, I tried to call his cell at about 7pm to let him know the adjusted plan on our end, but my call went straight to voice mail. I figured that was a bad sign, so I left it alone.

The following morning, I called and he answered. Seems that a little after midnight that morning, she passed away.

And the rest of the story goes like this:

He told me that his cell phone died. It was on the charger but not taking a charge. There was something wrong with the stupid thing ... and he didn't know my phone number by heart, a sad casualty of our modern life when everything is in our phones. I can remember my home number from growing up, and my best friend's phone number, but I can't tell you my neighbor's number. I just press "Nancy" when I need to call her.

So with his dead phone, he was sitting there wondering when I was going to show up. He was starving. Hospital food stinks in the first place, and this particular hospital shuts down all food service options at 6pm. So he was high and dry, without dinner. And not really wanting to go out to get something, thinking I would show up.

Patiently, he sat waiting, and hungrily. I was a no-show still. He was watching a movie, which ended at about 11:15 and they immediately went into the next movie, the way sometimes those "theys" do it at the networks. The movie coming on was "Dan in Real Life," which my friend tells me is one of his all time favorite movies.

He was standing there with his coat in hand, planning on running out to the Richdale or 7-11 or SOMEthing just to get a little bit of food, while the opening to his favorite movie began. He muttered to himself... and decided he'd wait a little while and watch his favorite movie, for a little while, and then go out and get something.

Dozing off in his seat, obviously not that drawn in to watching his favorite movie, he heard his mom stir. He woke up, walked over to her and thought that she wasn't breathing so he touched her arm.

He thought, "did she die while I was sleeping? How stupid is that! I missed it because I fell asleep in my seat?"

In touching her arm, she startled awake and looked at him. He  sat down next to her and told her it was okay, he was just checking on her to see if she was still there.

Five minutes later she was gone, with him holding her hand.

Now, a lot of people can say a lot of things about this particular death bed situation. He and I both had a good laugh about me not bringing him food, and that keeping him there waiting, but by her side. And me not becoming a distraction in their last hours together. The broken phone, the lack of knowledge of my phone number... these things kept me from interloping.

The fact that those "theys" at the network started showing his favorite movie JUST as he was about to walk out the door to go get food was also a fortunate thing. She may have passed away while he was at Burger King getting something at the drive through. And he would have missed it because ... he was hungry. So the movie kept him there, by her side.

His dozing off and her stirring, both in just the right place and plane of consciousness to connect, and both of them waking up together at that point in time. He was able to walk over to her, touch her arm, talk to her and let her know it was okay.

How many of us get that opportunity, to be there alone with the person who carried us into the world, to help walk them out quietly and peacefully? How many little synchronicities had to happen to keep Wayne by Bonnie's bedside for that very moment.

While I personally am sad that I didn't get to say goodbye to her, it overwhelms me with joy, love and sadness all at once that my friend got to do this.

Her funeral was on Saturday morning, we had a big mercy meal at her house. We got to gather with old friends and the kids. My daughter thinks my friend Glenn is an absolute riot. He is. He's a great story teller. He drives my husband crazy because when Glenn is telling a story you "can't get a word in edgewise" but ... Doug is guilty of that too. My sides hurt from laughing by the time we left.

I remember her as always cracking jokes, and always willing to do things. She loved to swim. Whenever we were at my friend's house and she was there, she was in the pool with the kiddos. Lake, pool, wherever... she was swimming and holding the babies and encouraging them to not be afraid, to kick and paddle, swim swim swim!

When I went to the house to help on Thursday before the funeral, I helped build a bulletin board of pictures for the wake. One bulletin board was full of pictures of her throughout her life and another was just of her and the grandbabies. She was silly, would wear silly hats, let the children do things to her, she swam, she had several pictures of her riding things. Sort of like people would yell "hey! go sit on that and I'll take your picture!" and instead of going "oh, no no no ...that's stupid...." there she went. Concrete animals, an elephant, a wooden race car, a floatie in the pool... click. Embarrassing photo op!

All told, as far as funerals and "dispatches" go, this one was pretty cool. And I feel badly for my friend and his family. She LOVED his children... oh did she love them. She spoiled them rotten, she babysat them, she loved them, she lavished attention on them the way you want a grandmother to. I don't think my kids get that kind of Grandma love (in fact, I know they don't) and I was always slightly jealous of her relationship with them. But I'm glad they had it. And I know they will miss her.

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