I have a friend who I’ll call Jane. She is in her 80’s, and we first started hanging out last year because she needed help with grocery shopping. We would walk together (very slowly) to No Frills, pick up some food, walk back to her rooming house, and share some tea and cookies (or pop and crackers, depending on the week!). She always offered me something to eat, even if she wasn’t feeling well enough to go out. And she always wanted to chat.
When I met her, she was living in a house with about 7 other seniors. The conditions weren’t great, and she often told me that one of her housemates had “sticky fingers”, so she always kept her door locked. While she made plenty of loud complaints about her housemates, she also made a point of celebrating everyone’s birthday. She would buy ginger ale and a cake, and get everyone to sign a card for the birthday person. She also gave me a card for my birthday, graduation and Easter.
I’m sure she would have given me a card for Thanksgiving too, but in the late summer Jane had a stroke. Her ability to eat, speak and move the right side of her body were taken away. When I went to see her in the hospital, all she could do was cry, and all I could do was hold her hand and tell her that I loved her and that we missed having her around The Dale. It was brutal to see this vibrant, hilariously chatty, relatively independent woman confined to a bed, unable to communicate except via her tears.
A few months ago, Jane was transferred to a long term care facility across the city from where I live. I still get to see her every couple of weeks, and these visits are precious to me. I’ve realized, over the last year of our friendship, just how much Jane has taught me.
She taught me how to slow RIGHT down, and be in the moment. When we went for groceries, I needed to change my quick, long stride to match her shuffle. This was surprisingly hard to do, in our fast-paced world, but so good.
She taught me the beauty and importance of hospitality.
She taught me to celebrate everything, in the midst of crummy circumstances, and to celebrate everyone, even if they cause you frustration.
And last week she taught me another lesson. I was reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to her, when her feeding tube machine started to beep. A nurse came in, made some adjustments, and left. I read another paragraph, then it started beeping again. The nurse came in again, pushed some buttons, and left. This happened at least 4 or 5 times. By the third time I was getting annoyed, but when I looked up from the book, I saw that Jane was giggling! This was huge on a couple of levels; it was the first time I’d seen her laugh since her stroke, and she was laughing instead of getting annoyed! By the fourth and fifth time, we just looked at each other and chortled! In that moment, she taught me the power of humour over annoyance.
I’m so thankful for Jane, my friend and teacher.