As I write this, it is a day before my neighbor and friend will begin her final journey. She is planning to stop eating and drinking in order to put an end to what has been horrendous emotional and physical suffering for many years.
By the time this gets posted, we will have said our final goodbyes, and I am fairly certain she will have died.
She called me at work yesterday, and asked me, quite insistently, to come over last night after I finished having dinner with my family. Honestly, I was so tired from a long day at work, I wasn’t up for a visit. But there was something in her voice, a voice that has called me many times for help over the years, that was different. I knew that I could not beg off.
So as my husband was cleaning up, I took a deep breath and walked the few steps across the street that I have walked many times before, often with a prescription in hand that I’ve picked up for her, or an extra challah that I’ve baked on a Friday night.
Her husband guided me upstairs, and I sat down on the bed right next to her. She actually looked quite fit, and happy, compared to many times in recent months where she barely looked alive. She grabbed my hand and my arm and made hearty physical contact with me. We looked into each other’s eyes, and I asked her what was wrong.
She told me that I needed to read her letter. In it she described the unbearable pain that has afflicted her over the years, both mentally and physically. I had known about her bi-polar disorder, and her severe Parkinson’s, but I had not known about her respiratory challenges as well, which have plagued her since she was a child.
In the letter, she referred to her conditions as “thieves,” in that they have robbed her from her loved ones. But I also know that she was robbed from her loved one – one of her beloved sons – when he was a young man. He died of cancer, and sharing stories of that loss and the loss of my own young baby boy is what brought us close together many years ago.