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Today I noticed something like solace in my friend’s voice when she called to share the story of her mother’s passing. It’s a love story, really. After suffering for years with dementia and painful medical complications her mother’s time had come.

My friend’s parents, although still married, lived in separate care facilities that could meet their needs. Her father’s physical problems required very different care than the ruthless dementia of his life partner.

Every day for four days my friend held her mother’s hands while sitting at her bedside, re-telling happy stories. Occasionally the nurse would join them and listen. Whenever my friend would leave the room, her mother’s hands would tense and stay that way until she returned.

After three days my friend asked the nurse why her mother had not yet let go. Her pain was obvious, although she remained unconscious. The nurse replied after a moment, “Is it possible she’s waiting for someone?”

The only person her mother hadn’t communicated with in her final days was her husband. The dementia had kept them from communicating at all for years. He was too frail to visit. The nurse and my friend arranged a phone call.

When he called she held her phone to her mother’s ear. In the silence she could hear her father speaking softly. He told her he loved her, that he would be ok, and that he was so grateful for all that they had shared together in this life. He told her it was okay to let go.

She died later that night.

The sadness my friend described was not the shallow, attention-seeking pain so often experienced by those of us who have not known or witnessed real connections with each other. While she was relieved her mother’s physical suffering had ended, her sadness encompassed all this love had represented – its birth, its youth and fertility, and now, its death. We spoke about our own loves, our expectations and fulfillments. And how fortunate she was to have been born of such love, and to have been there to facilitate its passing.

Today I noticed: a fat, fuzzy bee walking in circles on the concrete in my backyard. My neighbors cat watched it too. Its wings did not move, it shuffled from place to place.

Today I noticed a headline, but no real story about a train accident in India. The train hit a jeep overflowing with people returning from a wedding. Twelve died, including the bride. I imagined the story in many ways: a young bride finally free of her parents’ smothering love, even though she was secretly terrified to live without their familiar smells and routines. Or a mature bride finally experiencing the relief of social acceptance, already pregnant and bursting with secrets. I imagined the others in the jeep – her favorite young cousin wearing a dress in a way that made her seem much older, or a brother’s best friend with shy hands, whom she dreamt of often, or the spineless father she had been trying to escape and had once set on fire by accident. Then the train passengers – I imagined an engineer working three jobs to measure up to something his long dead mother still demanded as she haunted his apartment where he lived alone. He was estranged from the brother who had gotten married that night because they had argued violently over who was to care for their ailing mother every night until she passed. I imagined a male passenger who had been planning to leave his wife because he thought he was in love with another woman, a woman who looked like this bride, now dead.

And why twelve? Who was left behind, and who hadn’t wanted to get in the jeep to begin with? Who made room for them and did any of the jeep riders survive? It feels slightly shameful to wonder so much, because in the end these people will likely be forgotten, unless they were loved or hated by someone who still lives.

Today I noticed: A small red-faced boy pushing his bike up a large hill in the rain. He was so focused on the task it was as if this was either the most or least important event in his life.

Today I noticed how different I am from my friend, who rescued a large, slobbering dog who had escaped from her yard and was nearly hit by a car. I did not want the animal to be harmed, but I did not understand her need to save it.

Today I noticed the tears in my friend’s eyes when he told me this story: He and his elderly wife had been caring for their great grandchild since his birth three years ago. The boy’s mother, their granddaughter, was a drug addict who could not stay clean. Although they tried caring for him, they suffered from many health complications and at 70 and 73, were ill-equipped to care for a growing toddler.
Finally, after the girl’s last attempt and failure, to pull her life together, they granted the courts permission to adopt him out. They were greatly saddened and were not looking forward to the process. As they returned home from the lawyer’s office their neighbor offered to take the boy to the park.
While the neighbor played with the boy in the park she ran into a married couple she had not seen for many years. They introduced their 6-year old son to her and the two boys ran off to play together. While they were catching up the friend related the story of the boy’s troubles. The woman began to cry and told of her recent miscarriage, and how she and her husband had just been discussing looking into adoption.
In short, my friend’s problems were over. Their grandson has now been adopted by their friend’s family. They still get to see him and spend a few days a week with him. The only sad part of this story is their granddaughter, who they have not heard from for several months.
My friend says he talked to many people, mothers, women, fathers, grandparents, recovering drug addicts, anyone who would listen about whether he was making the right decision. Now, he says, he knows it could not have worked out any better.

Today I noticed: A pair of very expensive sunglasses left on the window ledge of a small coffeehouse. I kept waiting for the owner to return. The longer they sat there, the more intense my urge to quietly put them in my purse grew. I didn’t trust myself to hand them over to the baristas. Imagining getting caught in the act only distracted me for brief intervals. Luckily the friend I was conversing with never noticed my wandering attention.

Today I noticed: How I struggled to keep my opinions to myself when an acquaintance shared this story: Her 94-year-old father had been diagnosed with a large, malignant brain tumor in early January. His condition deteriorated rapidly and she had taken unpaid leave from her teaching job to stay with him and her 86-year-old mother. The two have been married more than 60 years.
Her father missed hearing the initial diagnosis because his hearing aid was not working, and he was distracted by the sudden blurred vision in his left eye. Until two weeks ago, he still exercised, walking and riding a stationary bike daily. Now his tumor makes his legs unusable. He is angry and frightened.
The opinion I had to keep to myself had to do with she and her sister’s decision to keep the diagnosis a secret from their dying father and their mother.
She was obviously uncomfortable telling me this. Perhaps someone else had recently disagreed with her – maybe her sister. She emphasized her rationale by repeating the question, “What good would it do? What good what it do?” (to tell them.)
I have never been in her position. Initially I kept quiet out of respect. Out of a slow-moving empathy I hugged her and told her she obviously knew what was best.