Even when we don't know what to do or say, this powerful story shows us that sometimes just being there for someone is more than enough.
My friend, Arlene, was always unapologetically frank and opinionated. A life force to be reckoned with, she made her presence and preferences known in most situations. She was a single mom who moved heaven and earth to raise her daughter in Israel. She was also an artist and writer with something to say. The teacher in her was constantly trying to educate the world.
As a potter, she forced clay into form and as a painter, gave it beauty. As a poet she searched for and found the perfect words to describe her vision and experience. With her discerning eye, she also found treasures - in yard sales, flea markets and in people. She surrounded herself with color and artistic expressions, items unnoticed or not readily appreciated, as she might say, ‘by the average Joe’. Her home was a shelter for painted pottery. She rescued dolls and displayed them prominently in glass display cases. She collected miniatures and all sizes of teapots. She painted women; pregnant, dynamic, colorful and ageless. She made quilts blending colors and designs with her unique vision. Her passion for order and beauty was expressed in recent years in mosaics. She gathered around herself friends for different occasions; those for eating out, others for art classes, others to write with and others to argue with. She lived alone and kept a window open for her occasional pet cat. She was always on the lookout for perfect gifts and bestowed them graciously.
Then she dropped a glass of water. It shattered and woke up her sense of fear. She somehow managed to call me for help. “Phyl, something’s wrong with my hands.”
She had a stroke. And another. At first, she could still form sentences. A shower embolism affecting both sides of her body confused signals from her brain. When I first saw her, she cried, “I had a stroke!” I could only compare her condition to so many others I had come to know through Grannies on Demand, helping traumatized families and women, paralyzed by strokes, and feared this fate for my friend. From hospital to rehab to nursing home, she was reduced to short syllables and loud shouts. Instead of getting better, she got worse.
Arlene died two days later. I don’t know how much my visits helped her. but they certainly helped me. I couldn’t be at peace if I hadn’t seen her.
During the pandemic, most people are afraid to visit hospitals. People get sick and spend scary days and nights among strangers, just longing for a familiar face. I try to be there for strangers. Of course, I would be there for a friend. I also arranged for another of my Grannies on Demand team to be with her when I couldn’t so she could watch a friend’s daughter’s wedding on livestream.
When I visited her at the nursing home a few weeks ago, she was able to repeat words and could finish the lines to most songs. I offered her small bites of apple and she repeated my name. I described the beautiful home she was in, surrounded by mountains, trees and flowers. After a few minutes she said surprisingly clearly, “It is beautiful.”
Soon she was no longer able to swallow. Or maybe she just didn’t want to. The doctors thought her mind was gone. I did not agree. She was trapped and unable to communicate but I believe she was aware.
Sometimes we are afraid to come too close to pain and illness. but it is much worse to stay away.
When I last visited her at the hospital, she was in a deep sleep, snoring loudly. Her mouth and tongue were parched. I tried to wake her, and she half opened her eyes.
“It’s me, Arl. It’s Phyl. Do you want to say hello? She moaned, “OWWW, owwww, aaaaah,” then slept again. I stood by her bed, stroking her hair. After a time, she said, “Hello!”
I cried, “Arl, hello baby, I’m here, I love you so much.”
“Phyl, owwww, owwww, owwww.”
“Are you in pain? I will get the nurse. I will get you something for your pain.”
The young Arab nurse, in brown hijab and surgical mask, was compassionate. Glancing at her chart she said, “They ordered pain patches. Thank goodness. She shouldn’t have to suffer. It will work quickly.”
While waiting for the treatment to work, Arl said, “Phyl, save me.”
There was nothing I could do. I sang prayers more to comfort myself than her. I stroked her hair and forehead, wet her tongue with those little sponge sticks (dipped in her favorite iced coffee) and waited for the pain to subside. Soon she was calmer, breathing quietly, hopefully dreaming about being anywhere else, rather than waking up to this nightmare.
Sometimes we are afraid to come too close to pain and illness. but it is much worse to stay away. Being there for someone is sometimes all we can do. It is the biggest gift we can give.
Meet Phyllis Becker...
Phyllis Becker has been accused of being "Hallmarky" or a Polyanna. It's because she looks for the good in people and situations, encouraging others to see the silver linings.
Phyllis lives in the center of Israel, teaching English. She runs a service providing help to all ages in all situations. Her group is called, "Grannies on Demand". Her team does anything needed from driving kids, feeding the cat, to helping the elderly and ill.