I usually call my friend Phyllis once a week, sometimes, once at two weeks. Once a month, I like to send her flowers. She is the sweetest, kindest, 88-year-old-lady I’ve ever met. She is beautiful; she has silver-white hair and blue eyes, and in spite of her age, she is still sharp, witty and funny.
She lives four hundred miles away, but few weeks ago I visited her at the assisted living facility where she moved 3 months ago. She had to leave the house she lived in for almost thirty years with her husband because she couldn’t live by herself any longer. I can only imagine how hard must have been for her to make this change. Her husband – the love of her life – died four years ago. Since then, every time I call her, Phyllis talks about her love for Fred and about how happy they lived together for 65 years. It is amazing to listen to her stories and to understand how present is still her husband in her life. If we talk about her cat, Maggie, Phyllis somehow ends up remembering that Fred found the cat and brought her home. If we talk about presents or vacations, she remembers Fred’s habit of surprising her with unexpected trips in exotic places. If she starts talking about food or friends, the story takes us again to Fred. And even though sometimes she tells the same story again and again, I like to listen to her and feel the excitement and love in her voice when she talks about her life with Fred.
Besides her husband, Phyllis lost already two of her children. Sometimes it is hard for her to understand and accept it, but she says she still has faith in God. She is not bitter, and she is trying to make the best of it.
I wish we lived closer so I could visit her more often (and learn from her wisdom), but I’m happy whenever I get to talk to her on the phone. She never complains and she is never tired or upset. Moreover, she has a sense of humor that I haven’t seen at people my age. She loves making fun of herself, and she always makes me laugh.
I ask her:
“Do you have friends here, Phyllis?”
“Yes, I have a few. One of them is 100 years old. I’m going to find her secret and then I’m going to tell you too.”
She used to have a group of four other ladies in the old neighborhood, and they would meet once a week to play Bridge. She was always the champion! I ask her if she still plays Bridge here, at her new place. She answers:
“Oh, this is so disappointing… They have no idea how to play Bridge!”
I ask her:
“Phyllis, do you take a nap in the afternoon?”
“No way, I would miss all the action!”
The assisted living facility place was nice and welcoming, and the people working there were all friendly and kind. As I got there earlier than I expected, I waited for Phyllis to finish her lunch and then I handed her a bouquet of flowers and ice-cream. (Ice-cream is her favorite dessert). She walked me to her room and showed me the place she now calls home. Everything was clean and very well-organized, and I quickly made friends with Maggie, the cat. (Phyllis pointed out that Maggie doesn’t like noisy people, so I guess she must have liked me.) Here and there, around the room, she had pictures of the departed children and, of course, of Fred.
We talked for a while about her new life there and about her schedule, I made some jokes and encouraged her, but then I had to leave.
She walked me outside to my car, and when we said good-bye she suggested, jokingly: “I could jump in the car and leave with you”. And we laughed, but through her laughter I thought I saw her eyes glistening with tears…