Big, of course, understood, (even if it was ficticious), that a woman’s friends are everything to her, especially as we get older and more independent. Sometimes, in some ways, more important than our love relationships with our men. We turn to our friends when things go wrong with our love relationships, our jobs or with other friends. Our girlfriends are our confidantes. Only a few friends of mine know EVERYTHING about me-secrets that I would faint over it they became public knowledge-Things I couldn’t hold in-but just had to get out. My truest friends are like living, breathing vaults. What I tell them gets stored safely and kept from being revealed. At my age, when I get stressed about things, and just can’t take them anymore, calling my mother is not what I prefer. Instead, I think about unloading on my girlfriends because I know they will always listen and won’t be parental. We encourage eachother to talk, divulge, and lend our shoulders to cry on and in some way, we kind of enjoy it. We are eachother’s therapist. I love my friends deeply and with all my heart. They know who they are. I look forward to being with them as much as I can, and treat my monthly gatherings like religious events-they’re not to be missed. Because being with the girls is important in keeping a woman’s soul content. It’s necessary for the health of my mind and my well being. Without them I’d be forever lost.
My mom called me in the middle of the day last Wednesday with a pleading tone in her voice. “Would you please pick me up today and take me to the hospital to see Dorothy-she’s taken a turn for the worse, and they don’t think she’ll make it through the night.” Dorothy is my mom’s friend of 30 years and she is dying of lung cancer. I knew my mom had no way to get to the hospital on her own, because she has a difficult time seeing when she drives. I had so much to do that day-a doll to make for a Mother’s Day order and I was dug in and on a roll and I didn’t want to leave because I had a strong desire to finish and get it mailed out. But, more than wanting to finish that doll, I had a knawing feeling that I was the only way my mom would get to see Dorothy while she was still alive and I didn’t want to be the reason why she was denied that right, particuliarly since I was basically available and able to do it. I knew this was important to her, so I agreed to take her to the hospital.
While in the car travelling to the hospital, my mom reflected on her years of friendship with Dorothy and, through tears, told me Dorothy is her only girlfriend and she will be so lost without her. My mom is going to be 80 in November and Dorothy just turned 71. My mom kept saying, “I never thought I’d be seeing this day-I thought she would be burying me. Why does God take the good ones?” I really didn’t know what to say, so instead, I just lent an ear to her painful memories.
We got to the hospital and didn’t know what to expect, because she hadn’t seen Dorothy since before she got diagnosed with cancer just before Easter. With trepidation, we entered the room and saw Dorothy lying in the bed, asleep with her mouth wide open and drawn in, and she was beginning the shallow type of breathing called ‘chain stoking, which is characteristic of impending death. I recognized it from going through this when my mother-in-law was dying of cancer. They can hear you, all you have to do is go up to them and say their name and they open their eyes for a few seconds and acknowledge you then go back into what seems a semi-coma.
The tears came quickly for my poor mom. She absolutely hated seeing her best friend lying there helpless and ready to die. She just kept saying, ”What am I going to do without her? She’s my only girlfriend.” It tore my heart out listening to her. I imagined the future and being in her shoes. What if it was one of my precious girlfriends lying there dying? I would be absolutely besides myself with grief. My friends are so important to me-now more than ever in my life, I have needed them like a daily dose of vitamins. What is my mom going to do?
I urged her to go by Dorothy’s side and talk to her-to let her know she’s there and that she should tell her the things she wants her to know before she passes. This was her only chance. She stood there, stunned, tears running down her wrinkled cheeks. All she could do was gently and lovingly rub her friend’s arm from elbow to wrist, incapable of saying a word. “Mom,” I encourged, “Talk to her. She can hear you.”
“Dorothy…it’s Ann. I’m here. I love you.” Dorothy very briefly awoke, nodded her head and told her, very weakly that she loved her, too. Oh, my God, it was so sad. Tears welled up in my eyes and it was all I could do to keep from crying, but I had to be strong for my mom.
We sat there for a few hours and watched her rest. I sat at the foot of her bed and watched Dorothy’s chest rise and fall, and I could see her heart beating through her hospital gown. Her poor heart was working as hard as it could, but soon, very soon, it would beat it’s last. Her breaths were distant and long, and I found myself breathing in time with her. I felt short of breath because her breathing rhythm wasn’t enough for me to sustain myself comfortably. I imagined if that’s what dying felt like. (Trust me. In a quiet room with a dying person, there’s not much to do and your imagination can run away with you.) Each breath was followed by the next in what seemed like an eternity. She appeared to be gasping for air because she was only breathing with one lung-the other was full of cancer and wasn’t functioning. As she lay there, I got fearful, and kept thinking she was going to die right in front of me. I watched her and thoughts flooded my mind of when she was healthy-she was so funny, and full of life. She and my mom were both career waitresses. Dorothy had just quit working less than a year ago. These women both worked hard their entire lives and had a real commonality. They understood eachother. They confided in eachother, cried together, and shared laughter and joys. It was all about to come to an end.
The nurse came in and asked Dorothy if she wanted her to call her daughter from Pennsylvania, and she slowly nodded her head yes, and said very stongly, “I love her!” I won’t ever forget that. I plan on telling her daughter Diana what she said. I know it will make her feel good.
My mom called me yesterday and told me Dorothy passed at 7am while her priest was praying over her. She died peacefully and with God. Now my mom is friendless and my heart truly aches for her. What is she to do? She’s almost 80, and it’s probably too late for her to make new friends, at least the the kind with deep bonds of trust that’s shared between two women that only comes after a long time of sharing and caring. After 45 years of life together, my mom and I have the same elements of a friendship, hewn from decades of familiarity, and from weathering difficult stages of life together, finally popping to the surface in one piece and still loving eachother. We see eachother as equals now. I’m still ‘the kid’ but in some ways, my mom is now seeing me as a confidante-a friend. I find myself turning to her at times of stress. I love her. I enjoy her company. It’s time for me to step up to the plate and take her under my wing. My mother needs a friend now and that friend is me.