Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mixed Emotions

Today, I found out that a good friend of mine passed away on November 7th. She would have been 95 this coming Christmas Eve.

My friend Ethel

I started visiting Ethel over 13 years ago. I signed up with a wonderful organization, Friend to Friend, that matches volunteer 'visitors' with people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

I made a one year commitment to visit Ethel, and another woman, Lilly May. Lilly May passed away several years ago.

Ethel was in the early stages of macular degeneration, and the volunteer coordinator at her retirement home thought she could use a friend to help her adjust to her new limitations. Although Ethel had a wonderful loving family, the volunteer coordinator believed it might help to have a 'new' friend to help her with things she'd always done independently.

Ethel and I hit it off right away, and my one year commitment came and went, but our friendship lived on. I did my best to visit once a week whenever I was in town. I helped Ethel with projects once in a while, and helped rig up things to accommodate her failing eye sight. Mostly, we drank tea and visited. She told me about her life and her activities, and I shared my busy life with her.

Over the past few years, Ethel's health was deteriorating at a more rapid pace. Her vision was almost gone, and she was having a lot of pain in one of her knees. Walking had become increasingly difficult, and she was getting sick more often.

I feel very sad at the loss of my friend. i spent many happy hours chatting with Ethel and sharing our lives together. As sad as I feel, however, part of me is relieved that she will not have to suffer further deterioration in her health. She had a great fear of being totally incapacitated. We spoke of her wonderings at why God was keeping her around, when there was so little she could do. She was a treasure to her family, but she was starting to suffer more often than not, and she wasn't really able to do the things she always loved doing. She had communicated to me that she felt like it was time for her to go.

Life, and death, are bitter sweet. It is hard to say goodbye and let go of my friend, and yet, I know that for her, she was ready, and had felt that her almost 95 years of life had been well spent and much enjoyed. She was at peace, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

Goodbye dear Ethel. Journey well. Enjoy sweet peace.

In Ethel's honor and memory, I repost a poem that she shared with me some time ago. It embodies her spirit.


Beautiful are the youth
Whose rich emotions flash and burn,
Whose lithe bodies filled with energy and grace
Sway in their happy dance of life;

And beautiful likewise are the mature
Who have learned compassion and patience,
Charity and wisdom,
Though they be rarer far than beautiful youth.

But most beautiful and most rare is a gracious old age
Which has drawn from life
The skill to take its varied strands:
The harsh advance of age, the pang of grief,
The passing of dear friends, the loss of strength,
And with fresh insight
Weave them into a rich and gracious pattern
All its own.

This is the greatest skill of all,
To take the bitter with the sweet and make it beautiful,
To take the whole of life in all its moods,
Its strengths and weaknesses,
And of the whole make one great and celestial harmony.

Robert Terry Weston