Monday, July 14, 2008


I received the call this morning that I have been dreading. My dear friend Mary has passed.

Last week, after I heard that she was nearing the end, I posted something about her in Richard Simmons's Clubhouse. I'm going to repeat the story here and now. I hope that I am not violating any terms of agreement, but since I am making no money from this post, if I am, I'm willing to take the chance.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I received a call last night. My dear friend Mary who lived two doors down from me for many years is dying. She's 88 years old and has been suffering from severe COPD for many years. She was a smoker until her diagnosis... she gave up the cigarettes immediately but it was too late, the damage had been done. She has lead a very full life. Mary had to move to Escondido (about 1/2 hour north of San Diego) a few years back because her health was declining and it was important to be near her daughter who could take care of her in case of emergency. We talked every day for a while and then the calls slowed down, but I never forgot her.

She was a sucker for every practical joke in the book. When Mary turned 81, for her birthday celebration I strewed rubber cockroaches on her kitchen floor. Her kitty went along, playing with the fake bugs like she would play with the real ones. Never a coward, Mary came out of her bedroom and saw them, walked directly into the kitchen, and started stamping them dead. Except that they wouldn't squish, of course. She finally realized she had been had - again - looked at me and sarcastically in a very fake trembling voice said "Dearie, you know that I am an old woman. You are going to give me a heart attack and kill me." I laughed my head off. So did she.

There was one day that she was very upset. Her daughter Beth had decided that it was time that Mary know that she was a child abuser. There was only one story of abuse that she could come up with, though, and Mary recounted it to me.

When Beth was 8 years old, she was terribly afraid of the monster in the closet. Mary was a single working mother in the 1960s as she had been widowed early. Every night she would go through the routine with Beth of checking under the bed and looking in the closet and showing Beth that there was nothing in there. Then she would position the night light just so, leave the hall light on, and run back and forth to Beth's room until she fell asleep.

Well one night she was just too tired from work to go through the routine. Beth started up. Mary looked under the bed and in the closet and assured her that nothing was there. Beth became more upset, and Mary just wasn't up to it. She looked at Beth, told her that she was not going through this on that particular night, looked at her and said "Good Night." Then a streak of vindictiveness came over her. Just before shutting the bedroom light off and leaving, she poked her head into Beth's closet and said "Good Night" to the monster. Beth was permanently scarred according to Beth.

I laughed my head off. Mary was quite upset that she had been the cause of years of therapy, but I assured her that this one instance was not the pinacle of abuse. I told her to have Beth call me; I would explain to her what real abuse looked like. And then every time I saw Mary after that, when I was leaving, I would open the door to her coat closet, poke my head in, and say "Good Night."

I called Mary this morning in the hospital. She sounded terrible. Like she was in a wind tunnel. As I understand it, her family is gathering and while she still has her wits about her, she has decided to refuse all further treatment and is only taking morphine for the pain. I had considered driving down last night but my health issues make that impossible. It was the right decision.

It was clear that this was our last conversation. It was short and to the point. Mary assured me that "I was a good girl." And she advised me to take good care of my mother. (She is quite aware of what the situation is there.) And then she said good bye. I know that it was our last good bye.

Whether she will last a day or a week is anyone's guess. She is a strong lady and a strong-willed lady. But she has decided that it is time and I have too much respect for her to try to disuade her from the decision.

After I became permanently disabled, we often discussed whether it was worse to fail physically or mentally before dying. We were both failing physically at the time and it's terrible to know what is happening to you and to know exactly what is going to happen. But after the incident of 2006 when I was left mentally incompetant due to dehydration and was unable to communicate with the hospital even as I understood what they were doing and the misassumptions they were making about me (thank goodness for Adele who set them straight), I called Mary. Reminded her of our conversations. And assured her that it was far worse to be mentally incompetant than physically failing.

I take some comfort in knowing that she knows what is happening, she is fully competant in making her own decisions, and she is in charge of her own fate.

Mary left the hospital last Saturday and passed on Sunday. A lot of people are crying for her. And more for ourselves.

We were lucky to have known her through good times and bad. For her wicked sense of humor and her ability to fall for pretty-much every joke on the face of the earth. For her unending sense of curiosity of the world. For her ability to laugh at herself (ask me sometime about 'Team' Cereal).

She is to be, at her own request, creamated. I don't know what is happening to the ashes, but I understand that the memorial service will be sometime in August at Westlake Memorial Park. That's where she wanted to go per our many conversations, so I'm happy about that.

My thoughts and prayers - for what they are worth - are with her family. I am comforted by a couple of things. First, Mary was in charge the whole way. And second, I spent some time with Beth while Mary was recovering from hip surgery in her condo a number of years ago. I had never really talked to Beth for a long time before that night, but Mary was sleeping and it just seemed to be the thing to do.

I remember walking out of Mary's condo with a sense of disbelief. Talking to Beth was exactly the same as talking to Mary! Her expressions, her mannerisms, her attitude, her take on life. I know that in Beth, Mary lives on. I kind of wish I had gotten to know Beth a bit more and that she lived more locally, but it's comforting to think that the tradition is continuing, and that somebody, somewhere, is going to have the benefit of the wisedom and good sense that Mary eminated.


hot tamale said...

How wonderful you write Laura. Your stories are priceless. I liked Mary just from the bits I read. Im sorry for your loss of your friend but I also believe Mary is still close by. I had to chuckle about saying goodnight to the closet, what a great sense of humor.
love ya

LI Laura said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry for the loss of your dear friend.


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