I first met Linda, her eldest daughter Annie, and the rest of the family when I came to provide respite for Annie. Annie was struggling to get through University exams and care for her mom at the same time. Linda’s husband worked long hours, and her son was getting ready to leave for University in another province.
Many times I would arrive and Annie was in her pajamas, just home from a full day of classes, exhausted. In getting to know Annie, I learned she loved shoes and interior design and many of the same TV shows. We’d sit with Linda and chat about the latest plot developments, food, home decorating, job interviews, and school. Not too long into our visits Annie would excuse herself for some personal time.
Linda and I would read books, watch TV, or listen to classical piano playlists. We’d laugh when her mostly grown son ran down the stairs, his weight and speed making the walls shake. She thought it was hilarious how loudly my knees crack when I crouched. Sometimes, on bad days, I would find a reason to reach for something under the bed just to make her smile. I would give her hand a rub, fetch her water when she was thirsty, and try to make her as comfortable as possible. We’d spend time going through photo albums together. She’d pick her favourite pictures and I’d tape them to the wall. Eventually we had a mural stretching over 2 bedroom walls!
There were hard days too. Linda was sad when her son left home. Too, there were days when her physical situation would be overwhelmingly real to her and we would sit in silence, her eyes squeezed shut, me holding her hand. There were episodes that left everyone shaken and exhausted. Those were the days I would get in my car afterward and cry: It was hard knowing that these episodes happened even when I wasn’t there and Annie had to manage alone.
I visited with Linda for almost 10 months. Although she was never able to speak a single word, we became very close friends, and she taught me a great deal. From the beginning of our friendship I was gifted with the freedom to assume only the very best about Linda. This in turn gave me permission to be my very best person.
Being with a person who’s dying lets you focus on what’s important, not the “noise” or the drama. It lets you bring your very best to the bedside. There’s room only for compassion and love. This is the greatest gift the dying have to give.
While I’m so sad that Linda is gone, I wouldn’t have missed getting to know her, or her family for the world. Today her son is enjoying success at school, her husband’s learning a new hobby, and Annie and I still stay in touch, bonded by the gift.