I thought I would be at my hermitage for a week end retreat today. I reserved it soon after the election. This was my first free week-end and I knew I’d need it by now. I do but I’m not there. Last night a friend called. Her husband was put on life support and she’s given permission to take him off. “I need you.” I didn’t tell her my plans, how happy I was leaving work that day knowing the next morning I would escape for three days of quiet, walks in the woods, time to sleep, read, think, write.
But my friend needs me, and that’s more important than what I need right now. I’m not so unselfish that I let other people’s needs override mine, but this time is different. I listened as she told me how this was happening…she can’t be there when they take him off the machines. She doesn’t know when that will happen. Her blood pressure is dangerously high and she can’t take it. For the last year her husband has been in and out of the hospital and nursing homes.She has been his advocate and defender and she's exhausted.
My friend’s English is limited so dealing with the medical establishment has been challenging. People underestimate her. They hear the Mexican accent and make erroneous assumptions. But she chose to not perfect her English because the only reason to do that was to make herself more acceptable to others. She’d been doing that her whole life and becoming a US citizen meant she was free to be herself.
She came to the United States forty years ago to escape the tyranny of a husband and a father who didn’t appreciate who she was. The first husband cheated on her and beat her. Had it only been her she might have figured out a way to live with it, but they had a daughter. She couldn’t allow her daughter to think this was normal. She came to the U.S. (legally) and cleaned houses to send herself through cosmetology school. Later she opened her own school to teach more than hair and nails. She recognized the need women had to uplift their self esteem. She did that first with her students, teaching them about how the brain works and the power of your thoughts to shape who you become.
My friend’s granddaughter is coming in today. Her brother-in-law and nephew are coming too. She doesn’t know when. I asked if she wanted me to come with her to the make funeral arrangements but she didn’t. Someone else was helping with that. For a moment I thought with all these other people coming to help I could go to my Hermitage for two and a half days and see her late Sunday afternoon when I get back to town.
I told her to be honest with me…answer how you feel, not what you think I may want you to say. “I had plans to go out of town and be back on Sunday. But I can change those plans if you need me.”
She did not hesitate. “I need you Sharon. I need you.”
So I am waiting to hear from her. I don’t know if my friend’s husband has been taken off life support. It’s possible the doctor is waiting until other family members come. Over the phone it is harder for me to understand her. And she’s upset. She kept saying she didn’t want him to be in the basement for very long. “You understand?” It took a minute to get that she meant the morgue. That’s why she needed to talk to the place "where he goes in the ground". One of the nurses is taking her to talk to the cemetery where he bought plots eighteen years ago. He did it before his triple by-pass. His heart was so bad the doctor said if he made it through the surgery this might give him a few more years. Seven if he was lucky.
My friend didn’t accept that.
I watched as she poured positive thoughts into him. She gave him assignments and chores. “He has to feel useful. He needs something to look forward to doing.” He had once been an adventurer. He had sailed, biked, and walked around the world. “Find us an affordable cruise.” They took one every year and soon after coming home, he was on the internet looking for the next one. Once, when my friend was out of the room, he told me he did this for her. Cruises were too tame, too many people. “But it makes her happy.” From what I can see, it's what made him the miracle man. His doctor told him that at every check up. Even his last one.
So instead of being at a secluded cottage in the woods, I am sitting in front of a fake fire at a coffee shop. My phone is next to me but so far no word from my friend. Verizon texted me that I am doing well with my data usage this month but should I chose to increase, its easy and only $15.00 more. My daughter called to ask if I will pick up the pizza order on my way home.
I know the call will come. I don't know what I will say when it does, but that doesn't matter. She just needs to know I'm here.
I thought I needed the retreat to refresh and restore. Every day since the election I’ve spent hours trying not to think about it. Being alone away from television and internet access may have helped, but I'm not sure. I might have fallen further into the pit of despair. But knowing I have a friend who thinks I can help her through the most painful time of her life, makes me feel oddly hopeful.