“I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I read this quote the other day a smile broadened across my face and my across my heart. The first person I thought about was my mom’s best friend, Joy. She and my mom met back when they were both the moms of busy young families. They spent a lot of time shuttling kids to the same school games and church youth group events, and shared a camaraderie when their husbands both worked a similar rotating shift schedule that left them with out their spouses on so many evenings. Riding the waves of life, they supported each other through the highs and lows of marriage and raising a family. As their children went off to college, married, and had families of their own, the twosome became closer than ever. It was that type of family friendship where the wives were friends and soon the husbands were friends, the daughters were friends and the sons were friends. Their family are the kind of family friends that when you say something like, “Remember the ‘Great Clam Chowder Disaster of 1986’?” everyone laughs and the story telling begins.
During the time that my mom was sick there was a steady stream of visitors that came to her bedside. Family from near and far, friends old and new, people from church and work, old neighbors and new neighbors, there was almost never a time that there wasn’t a visitor. She had so many visitors at the hospital that the nurses soon made sure she got the “big” room, complete with sofa and picture window. It was a comfort to know that so many people were supporting her and supporting the ones she loved. Many, many of those treasured family and friends ministered to her by sitting at her bedside, preparing meals for her husband, and babysitting her grandchildren so her own children could take some precious and few moments alone with her. My mom had amazing friends and family who showed their love for her by stepping up to help when we needed them most. It was a deep comfort to know we were all so cared for. I am humbled by the love shown to our family when we needed it so much. It was ministry at its most beautiful.
Before mom’s diagnosis I had no idea how draining caring for a patient could be. At a time when I was being pushed past any preconceived ideas of my own emotional limits, I was also feeling inadequate about caring for her in a very practical way. Early on it became evident it would take a monumental effort to remember all the many details of her care! With every hospital stay there seemed to be another name to add to the ever-expanding list of care providers. There was an endless revolving list of her current medications and another list nearly as long of ones she had reactions to. It seemed redundant to maintain a list of the specific procedures and tests she had undergone at the hospital where she was a patient, but often times nurses and doctors were not aware of recent changes from one shift to another and important pieces of information would get left out. I began compiling a notebook that functioned as a running document of her care. I felt like it was the one thing I could do. Organization was a skill my mom prided herself in and it felt like a way I could help her maintain her dignity at a time that her dignity was being stripped away. It was nice to see the flash of pride appear on her face when the paramedic came to the house or the nurse at the hospital was admitting her and we would present them with precise notes about her condition. “The Notebook” as we referred to it, was a love letter of sorts to this meticulously organized woman began by me, her not so organized daughter.
Physically, she was becoming increasingly fragile, and her stamina was very low even when she was having a “good” day. Her diminished physical capacity made it absolutely necessary to help her with everything from the mundane to the most private tasks. Soon her house was fitted with an arsenal of equipment for helping her do everything from walking to bathing. New devices appeared in the kitchen for feeding her and in the bathroom for caring for her Jejunostomy. All of these changes were happening rapidly and with every new piece of gear it felt like a stronghold lost. A walker, a shower chair, an IV pole, a bag for her waste… every few days a new introduction and each introduction meant another casualty of capability. The home makeover was another step in the march toward the inevitable, but with each step we were blessed with the unwavering presence of Joy.
I do not recall anyone ever asking Joy to be so involved in caring for my mother. I don’t think it was even necessary. She was just being Joy, my mom’s best friend. Joy knew the details of The Notebook as well as, if not better, than the rest of us. No one had to point out the subtleties of the placement of a pain patch or tell her which pillow configuration mom preferred on that particular day. As each new change came and each new apparatus appeared in the house, Joy learned to master it. If there were a need for a meal to be delivered, or an appointment to be accompanied, or a craving to be satisfied, Joy would find a way to satisfy the need. Joy was my mom’s hospital advocate on countless nights, while I took the evening to take care of my young family and get some much-needed sleep. When there was a new turn for the worse, Joy would lovingly sit me down and tell me about it. Together we took the painful step forward. Joy was my partner in the awkward three-legged-race called ‘loss’. Without her constancy and love, the suffering of our entire family would have been so much greater.
Her presence in the midst of my personal grief is a gift for which I can never adequately express my gratitude, and that is where the real beauty in what Joy did is. All those late nights spent next to my mom’s bed so that my dad could take a shift at work. All the nights the phone rang after midnight, followed by a hurried rush to the hospital when Joy still had to be at work in the morning. All the times she was the one in the bathroom helping to change the Jejunostomy bag because I could not bring myself to do it. All the times she met me in the hallway of the hospital to be the one to break the bad news so my mom or dad would not have to. She wasn’t there for her moment of recognition. She was there for love.
So again I think about the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.” and my thoughts turn to Joy, and I offer up a prayer of thanks.
Love you Joy! Happy Thanksgiving! Have a blessed day!