February 17, 2020

I had a friend

My friend and I go back to the early 70s, but I knew of her for much longer through chance meetings with both her and her husband. An articulate woman, she elevated me with her attention and interest in me, my family and writing goals. She always had a smile and a kind word, a hug, an encouraging nod.

She was older by a generation, married with children, an author and an active writer. The couple frequently drove to my office - "just stopped by to chat", they would say. 

My friend
and I attended writing workshops together, and once, she invited me to a party held at the home of a local writing legend - a tall Victorian house expansively decorated for Christmas, even the scents announced the holiday. Bookshelves lined the dark wood walls and were filled with leather-bound tomes. The atmosphere was scholarly and quiet with occasional bursts of laughter, the striking of a match to light pipes - no cigarettes there - and men with corduroy jackets with, yes, leather patches on the elbows. People milled around visiting, not sitting and relaxing in the leather chairs which filled the rooms of the home. She openly and happily introduced me to her friends: published authors, photographers, the hostess - a well-known teacher. My friend shared with these "celebrities" my writing goals ... while I stood feeling inadequate yet pleased with her praise, confidence, and love.

I once confided to her that I wanted to write a book about my experience and musings. She encouraged me to set up my own publishing company, which I did, and even had a graphic artist create a logo - free. The book completed and self-published led to a desire to write another one - a story from the diary of my grandmother living in the woods in Marquette in 1938 during an intense series of winter storms. Eager to share this second book with my friend, and, as it had been over a year since we had contact, I discovered that she had been placed in an Alzheimer's unit in a local nursing facility.

Seeing my friend in the realm of dementia

I was let into her unit by her nurse who led me to my friend's room where she cheerfully announced my presence. She was sitting in a chair looking out the window and slowly turned around and stood up. Her face was blank as she seemed to be reaching into her memories for who I was - then it seemed to click and she lit up. "Connie, it is so good of you to visit," she excitedly exclaimed as we hugged. I experienced denial, big time, but had to finally realize that my good and dear friend had dementia. She talked, disjointedly, with an occasional recognition of who I was. I held out my second book for her and she stood and held me telling me how proud she was of me. Then spent time in desperate disappointment that she had not written a book about her dear mother – something she had talked about for years, collected notes to use, but ran out of time. She retreated into the jumbled recollections of her disease. 

I felt shock and the betrayal of dementia - the memory robber. Our old familiar and warm relationship ended that day, or perhaps changed as I continued visiting and holding her hand, talking to her of old times and friends. I'll always hold my dear friend closely in my heart and cherish memories of our times together. I hold onto her words about how proud she was of me, and I of her. I continue to feel awe in that she enveloped me as an important part of her life – a big sister. I miss her. You would have liked her.

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