I have become very close to some amazing older women during my lifetime. My mom, my aunts, my mother-in-laws (I’ve been lucky enough to have two great ones), and Eleanor, a woman who was our neighbor during my doctoral studies in Kentucky.
I received a call from Eleanor yesterday, telling me she had bad news. The tests came back, and the doctors found a large mass in one of her internal organs. Eleanor is a strong lady who has been through a lot, and has battled cancer before. She is a tall, stately eighty-eight years old, hailing from Long Island, New York, and has the thick accent to prove it. A devout Jew, she has faithfully volunteered at her Temple and at the library since I’ve known her, as she always wants to feel useful, to contribute to society. She has no children, but as our friendship blossomed, she told me I was like the daughter she never had.
I met Eleanor the day we moved into our apartment in Lexington. We were in the living room unpacking and arranging furniture, when we saw a tall elderly woman peering into our window. It seems that Eleanor thought she was peering into her own apartment to see if her new ‘barking dog’ alarm system was working. She was mortified….I was laughing. I liked this woman- she had spunk, and I admired her desire to be independent.
Our doors faced each other, and we talked most days. She fell in love with my dog, Guinness, and would help take care of him when we went out of town. Eleanor came to my recitals, and did everything she could to cheer me on. My marriage was falling apart, and Eleanor was a sympathetic ear and fiercely supportive. When I finished my coursework and returned to my teaching job in North Carolina, I taught Eleanor how to email so that we could keep in touch. So many elderly people are resistant to work with computers ( Mom won’t go near one), but Eleanor went at it with gusto…and lots of help from the Dell support staff.
When I moved to Birmingham and married my sweet husband, we invited Eleanor to come visit us. She came for a few days and was happy to meet Dan, see our new home, and meet the animals that had joined our family. Eleanor signs every email with, “Much love to you and Dan, and a hug for my furry friends.” (Hear this with the thick Long Island accent…priceless). I treasure her friendship, and my heart caught with the news of her cancer. She told me how much she loved me and how glad she was that we had met. I felt like she was saying goodbye.
I know now that it is time to begin my card ritual. The ritual began when my favorite aunt was nearing the end of her life. What could I do to ease her fears, make sure she knew how much I loved and appreciated her from many hours away? I began sending weekly cards of encouragement, cards to make her laugh, filled with pictures of the animals, pictures of our gardens, things to make her feel a part of life, connected. I did this until she passed away. I repeated the ritual when my other dear aunt was diagnosed with lung cancer, and have repeated it with special people in my life as they have battled serious illnesses and faced death. It is a small gesture, but it has great meaning to me, and hopefully to my loved ones. Sending love via the U.S. Postal Service.
So I will begin this weekend, sending an uplifting card, filled with pictures of Eleanor’s “furry friends”. I am not ready to lose my sweet friend- she is very special to me. I hope and pray that I will be sending cards to her for a very long time.