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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year, Barb!

“What?” I exclaimed in disbelief. “They may put her on a ventilator?”  I clutched the handset and pressed it close to my ear, praying the conversation was just a bad dream.

But it wasn’t.

“The doctor said there’s not much they can do,” my friend Liz related, the tone of her voice revealing her stress. “Barbara’s breathing problems have worsened.”

“But I know she would never want to be on a ventilator, or any life-prolonging machine.”

“My thoughts exactly!”

“I’ll meet you in the hospital in a few minutes.” I hung up, feeling a lump in my throat, never a pleasant feeling. 

My friend Barbara, who I had known for several years, was at the end of life.  In her mid seventies, Barbara was a family friend who had become one of my best friends.  We went out often for dinner, or shopping, or simply a cup of coffee. 

“A colombian supreme coffee!” she would exclaim at the coffee shop, sporting her signature smile. 

I loved being around her.  She was fun, witty, and so full of life, at least prior to being saddled to supplemental oxygen. 

I walked into Barbara’s room in the hospital.  She looked more deteriorated than when I last saw her.  She gasped for air and tried, but couldn’t talk.  The nurse came in and put the BiPAP mask on her for a while.  

I was devastated.  

Memories of Barbara teaching Tai Chi and swimming lessons to other elderly ladies in the subdivision where she lived flooded my mind.  The woman that lay in the bed was not the Barbara I had known for years.    
I held her hand, fighting back tears.  I forced a smile as she gazed upon me.  I felt like a deceiver, knowing Barbara recognized that smile—a sad one—not the cheerful smile we had shared during our dinners, or at the movies.

Over the next few days I continued to visit Barbara.  Family and doctors talked about Hospice.  Barbara was aware of what was the subject of the discussions, and she had expressed she was ready to meet the Lord. 

“I’m glad our paths crossed,” Barbara said, holding my hand. “I love you.”

Tears rolled down my cheeks. “I love you too,” I managed to say, with broken words—and worse, with a broken heart. 

After saying our good-byes, I left the hospital, tearful, my mind swirling with confused thoughts.

This can’t be happening to me.  I shook my head as I realized I was losing my best friend.  My “adoptive Mom,” as some of our friends sometimes teased. 

I turned my worried thoughts into a fervent prayer, longing for comfort in the midst of my despair. 

In the following  days, Barbara’s condition unexpectedly  stabilized, and the hospital Physician decided that she should be sent to a nursing home.  He recommended long-term placement, and Hospice care.    

As the social worker at a nursing home, I wasn’t certain about how I would feel having my best friend as my patient and long-term resident.  I was unsure I’d properly handle the emotional load on top of my professional responsibilities.  Barbara had been so full of energy that I couldn’t bear the thought of watching her die.

Barbara’s family discussed the options for nursing home placement.  I preferred not to take part in that discussion. 
But her family decided she would come to the facility where I worked.  I appreciated the family’s trust, yet I had to warn them about my emotional involvement.  I had to warn my co-workers, as well, since I needed their support in keeping the balance.  

Barbara was admitted as a long-term resident.  Her family helped her to adjust to her room. They moved as many familiar furnishing from her home as possible so her room would be warm and inviting. 

After a few days, I felt happy that Barbara was there.  I visited with her daily, and we often met for lunch. 

“Sometimes I feel so down...so lost,” Barbara said to me one day, softly. “But when I see you around here, it makes me feel better.”  She held my hand. “This has been so hard for me, but you have helped me a lot.”

Her eyes welled with tears.  I hugged her and told her how much I loved her. 

As the weeks passed, Barbara was gradually able to walk more and more throughout the nursing home.  She decided to put a hold on the Hospice consultation, and instead, she wanted to have physical therapy.  Her strength was visibly returning.  Her breathing became less labored.  She started to participate in the facility activities, as much as she could tolerate, and made new friends.  Barbara became a popular resident. 

“She is so sweet.” I heard her nurse commenting. 

Barbara was also known for her good sense of humor.  She delighted the staff with her witty comments. 

Barbara remained faithful to our church and beliefs.  She continued receiving communion, and on the Sundays she felt up to it, I took her to church, and afterwards breakfast at our favorite restaurant.  Barbara loved it, and seemed happy.

“You no longer need  to be in a nursing home,” Barbara’s Physician told her, months later. “You can go back into the community.”

Barbara and I were so excited with the good news.

She had recovered! 

“It’s a miracle!” Our friend, Liz, rejoiced. 
“Yes, it’s a miracle.” I said. “The Lord heard our prayers.”

Barbara moved into a retirement community a year ago. We have continued being best friends, and see each other often.  

I stopped to see Barbara today.  As I walked into her apartment, the aroma of coffee embraced me.  As usual, colombian supreme coffee was being brewed. 
We sat comfortably at the dining table, our coffee cups in front of us.  I sweetened my coffee with sugar.  Barbara used Splenda.  Then we engaged in a non-stop  conversation about books, food, weather, hair styles, the wine and cheese party she’d attended the night before... and finally, on our individual New Year’s eve plans.  We laughed often. We were happy.
“Barb, I’m so glad our paths crossed.” I flashed a genuine smile as I took a small sip of my coffee, glancing over the rim of my cup at Barbara’s face. 

“Yes, my dear. Me too.” Her grin sparkled through the steam rising from my coffee cup. 
“Happy New Year, hun!”
“Happy New Year, Barb!”


Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a beautiful story of friendship -- and of miracles -- Doris! Best wishes for a very happy and healthy New Year for both you and Barbara!

Bica said...

I love this post, Doris. Barb had a miraculous recover. What a blessing you were there with her through it all, and that you now can share more wonderful moments with your best friend. A Blessed New Year to you both.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

What a miraculous story! You were afraid of how you would handle it, and yet you were the positive force she needed, and God knew it.
Happy New Year, Doris!

A Plain Observer said...

I braced myself for a sad ending, instead I rejoiced in this lovely story.
God hears our prayers.
Un feliz ano para ti, mi amiga

MunirGhiasuddin said...

I have missed you a lot.
This is a wonderful tale of a great relationship ie friendship. I think that you must have done much more than your share of good deeds, (enough good at least a hundred of us combined would be able to do).
Happy New Year to you and yours (again a lot of your patients as well!)

Rita said...

What an inspiring tale of miracles and friendship! Happy New Year to the both of you!!! :):)

Jules said...

Oh Doris what a story to read ending one year and starting another. Just totally a miracle. :)

Jubes says HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Big Mark 243 said...

What a wonderful story!! I hope to find someone as caring as you in my later years... heck, I could use you right now..!

Happy New Year to you and to Barbra..! I am a big believer in fitness and physical therapy... it lets the fighter in the person come out and Barb is a fighter..!

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Doris,

One more story to prove that prayers do get answered! This is incredible. So glad you both enjoy still this special friendship as a bonus to what was expected at first...
Love to you and wishing you a Happy New Year with good health, love and peace.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing yet another beautiful story. I am happy for you and your friend. May you both continue to be a positive influence on those around you in the new year!

hyperCRYPTICal said...

What a wonderful story Doris. Thank you.

Have a wonderful New Year too!

Anna :o]


Miracles do happen as you so excellently written. Thanks for sharing.

Happy New Year.

Arkansas Patti said...

What a blessing she went to your facility. It is hard to imagine what would have happened to her will to survive had you not been there.
This is a happy story and thank you for telling it.
Happy and healthy 2012 for you both.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Reading this post, I had tears in my eyes, expecting to read that you had lost your "adopted mom" and dear friend. How wonderful that she's gotten stronger, and you still have each other. What a wonderful gift that is. Here's wishing both of you a very happy new year.

Deb Shucka said...

What a lovely story to start a new year with: the power of prayer, love and friendship. May you two have many more years together.

Linda said...

What a wonderful story to start the new year. As always, thanks for sharing.

Karin said...

What a beautifully written story - with a joyous ending! The photos are wonderful! All glory and honor to the Lord. Wishing you both many more years of meaningful friendship!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Doris .. Happy New Year to you both and your families .. a wonderful heart warming story.

But Doris .. the most important paragraph and sentence are:

""I visited with her daily, and we often met for lunch.

“Sometimes I feel so down...so lost,” Barbara said to me one day, softly. “But when I see you around here, it makes me feel better.” She held my hand. “This has been so hard for me, but you have helped me a lot.”""

This feeling of loneliness at 'the end' down which path all dying must go .. without us there - because we're not on that path at this moment.

It's essential that those of us left understand that there is loneliness as we lose our faculties .. and it's at that time - the worst times in our life that our family and friends give us time: plenty of it ...

It's emotionally draining I can attest to that - but essential .. and by being around we are there to give a smile, a brief chat, an open heart to so many others who are not fortunate enough to have that family or friend care.

Great great post Doris .. and one that could be repeated often - so that we can appreciate we need to be there .. not withdraw to wait the inevitable. It's their life that is ebbing away ... love them.

I'm so pleased Barbara is able to enjoy herself again .. a very Happy New Year as you so rightly say.

Happy New Year all round .. cheers and a hug for Barbara and you - Hilary

Retired Knitter said...

This is a wonderful example of how life is what you make it.

My mom just went into Assisted Living after a very hard year (and 5 years) of living with me in my home. I struggled terribly with this decision, but our choices weren't broad. She could climb the 20 steps into my house. So we found a beautiful and excellent AL and made the move.

Interestingly, mom has adapted and began to settle in. I am still struggling with the guilt and loss but she has moved on. She has taken hold of her own life and made the adjustment.

Life is what you make it. I need to refocus and make something of my own life now. Mom has set the example.

Thank you for this wonderful post.

Happy New Year to you and your many readers.

A said...

Oh my, I can't stop crying... so beautiful.

Anonymous said...

That is SUCH a wonderful, wonderful story, Doris. A fantastic miracle indeed. Happy, Happy New Year to both you and your awesome friend!!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

DUTA said...

That's the perfect story for the beginning of a new year - optimistic , happy-end kind of story.

Miracles do happen if we believe in them and pray to God to send them to us when in need.

Happy New Year to you, Doris!

Amrita said...

Praising God for Barb 's recovery. What a sweet deiendship both of you have. I want to emulate both of you

therapydoc said...

Oh my. THIS is a marvelous blog. Thanks. I'm linking over here.

Mary Aalgaard said...

What a joyful outcome. How great that she's doing so well and that you have your friend there to share a cup of coffee and lively conversation.

Arlee Bird said...

Such a sweet story. Life can be sad, strange, and wonderful. Doris, you are such a blessing to so many people. Keep up the great work you are doing. I wish you a great year in 2012.

A cat's memoir?
Wrote By Rote

Rita said...

What an absolutely beautiful post of friendship. Life is so good when we have special friends! I have so enjoyed getting to know you through your blog and also through our e-mails, my friend.

La Petite Gallery said...

I had my Mon in a nursing home in Maine.
This was such a great blog.