My friend died just two days before my birthday; I think she may have done it on purpose just so she could keep the "Birthday Card." She knew I was coming up to the nursing home on Friday to get it, but the Monday before we had to put her in Hospice; she had another stroke late Sunday night. I met with the one of the Directors at the Nursing Home on Monday and two of her nieces came up as well. We had her moved to a private room so we could stay with her as much as we needed. There was nothing more the Doctors could do but try and make her comfortable. She never regained consciousness, so I don't really know if she knew I was there. I had to gather up all her personal things to give to her nieces but I couldn't find the Birthday Card I had given to her in November. While we were wheeling her down the hall to a private room, I told her not to worry, I had the card. I half expected her to sit up and demand that I leave the card with her.
We met in 1995 when I bought a small two-bedroom one-bath farmhouse that sat in front of her brick home her husband had built for her on five acres of land. I have to admit I never ever met any one like her in my life. We spent hours sitting on her front porch talking, well actually she did 90% of the talking telling me stories about her life, her family. She talked a lot about people I had never met as if I knew them. She was born in 1925 on a farm not far from where she lived now. She, three brothers and two sisters worked very hard, it was expected but she spoke about it as if she was more of an indentured servant than child living on a farm. She completed the eighth grade and decided that was enough schooling for her. You would never know had she not told you, she was extremely smart. Living on a farm her family grew their own food, they had chickens and cows, which they would name but then later eat. As she put it, "life meets death on a farm the way it was meant to be." She explained in detail how to prepare a chicken for dinner from catching it all the way to cooking it, but I think I will leave out those details this time. I tried not to be shocked by anything she told me; I just became a listening ear for her. I grew up in a suburb, I had heard stories about farm life, and apparently quite a few of them are true.
She had strange ideas about a lot of things; she had learned a lot of "old tales" probably handed down from one generation to the next. She especially didn't believe in doctors or taking medicine of any kind, not even an aspirin. Once I had to force her to go to the doctor to get her badly cut hand stitched up. Getting her in the car was a major feat, the entire time she kept threating to jump out of the moving vehicle. Once we arrived and I got her into the Doctor's office, she complained so loudly I think they rushed her past some of the other people waiting just to try and keep her quiet. The Doctor took one look at her wound and told her he had to stitch it up. So, very unwillingly she agreed however she cursed out the doctor the entire time he was sewing up her hand. I tried and tried to get her to quiet down, but I was clearly out matched. The Doctor needed to give her a tetanus shot, but he knew he would never get the needle near her arm. He looked up at me getting my attention and nodded, I knew exactly what he had to do. I asked her a question, demanding she look at me and as she looked up at me he jabbed that needle in her arm. The wave of curse words that came out of that little mouth would have put anyone to shame, I wanted to crawl under the carpet, I was so embarrassed. Thankfully the old country doctor was use to unwilling patients, and it didn't bother him one bit-he had got the best of her! A few weeks later she caught the flu and blamed it on the tetanus shot. Nothing I could say could convince her otherwise.
I could tell you a hundred stories just like that one, about her cats, her family, how she use to wallpaper houses for a living, she would tell me she could wall paper an entire house in three hours. Born in Hawkins, Texas she moved away from the farm to Red Springs, Texas, less than ten miles away. That was her life, and that was how she liked it.
She went to the same small Baptist church for over 50 years; she could sing probably every single hymn without the hymnal book. She sat in the same seat every Sunday morning, every Sunday night and every Wednesday evening. If the Church were having a revival, she would be there every single night. I think she got an award for the best attendance once. She was never late for services but she was the first one out the front door, she would almost beat the Pastor to the door after the service barely giving him a chance to shake her hand and say goodbye.
She loved to talk about how old she was, always mentioning her birthdate, and how she could work her five acres like a teenager. She didn't grow food anymore or have animals, expect her cats. But five acres is a lot of land to mow. So when her birthday came around I give her a silly birthday card with a cat on the front. I didn't think much about it until I found the very same birthday card I gave her taped to my back door on my birthday a few months later; and that's how it started; we traded that birthday card back and forth for the last 18 years. We always wrote a little something new each year; we took up all the open space on the card, writing smaller and smaller as the years passed. Then one year she made me promise that who ever died first the other one had to put the birthday card in the casket of the first one of us that died. She boldly told me she was going to live to be 120 years old, so she would put the card in my casket!
About a year ago she started forgetting things, repeating herself over and over and she stopped attending church. Her moods would swing from happy to sad in an instant. I tried to get her to go to the Doctor, I even called her only living brother, but he didn't have any luck with her either. Finally, one day after she had fallen, I got a phone call, she said she didn't want my help, but of course she really did. After a couple of weeks in the hospital we were told she had advance dementia and there was nothing that could be done. She could not live on her own ever again. Her brother decided to put her into a nursing home close to him. The next few months as her mind continued to slip away, I did what I always did with her I just listened. When she asked me to go to the kitchen to get her something, I said sure and then changed the subject. When she asked me to hold an imagery object, I took it from her and put it away. She told me her husband J.C. was waiting for her in Heaven and soon she would see him.
Now as she lay in a hospital bed unconscious I sit right next to her holding her hands, stroking her head and waiting. Her two nieces came in; they didn't understand how I could do it, just sitting there, watching and waiting. But how could I not. It wasn't hard, I knew where she was going and it didn't matter if she didn't know I was there, I knew. I could miss a meal or two to stay with her, and when she drew in her last breath it was freedom I felt for her, not sadness.
But, there was one problem; I didn't have the birthday card. Luckily before I brought the birthday card to her the last time I made a copy of it and tucked it away. I don't know I why did that, but I think God must have known.
I don't know about you, but I am not a fan of "viewings"; people look so small in their caskets without their spirits, their souls, just their earthly bodies left. I noticed a lady there taking pictures of her in the casket this bothered me so much; I thought why on earth would anyone want a picture of someone in their casket. I have pictures of her but in my mind, seeing her working in her small flower garden, rocking outside in her chair on the porch. Petting one of her many cats. But by far the best picture of all I have is standing besides her singing from the Baptist Hymnal, her favorite song "When We All Get to Heaven", with her singing the harmony, "When we all see Jesus, We'll sing and shout the victory!"
Death takes away the body, but not the soul, not the memories, good and bad. Death can keep you from the ones you love, but only for a short time. I have peace knowing that she loved God and accepted Jesus as her Savior; I have peace knowing that she is free from her broken body and her ravaged mind. So when I am asked how could I sit there holding her hand watching her die; I answer back, it was easy, I wasn't alone Jesus was there and it was truly an honor to be with her.
Just before we left the viewing that Friday night, I pulled my copy of the birthday card that we had passed back and forth for 18 years from my purse. I wrote on it one last time, "I will see you very soon" and I placed the card in her hands just as she requested.
Sometimes people come into your life that love you more than a brother and if that happens to you, count yourself blessed, these are the relationships that God gives us, sometimes they are challenging and difficult but they are worth more than gold, they won't burn away like straw or hay, they just become more refined by the fires of life and death.
I have been writing all my life, I just didn't realize it until I was my late 40's. I hope my experiences can help other who have gone through similar trials.