Louise and her wonderful husband, Paul rang our doorbell about six years ago, bearing an apple pie, and a neighborly welcome. We had just moved into our new house, our first house after spending our lives moving around in the military and other situations that kept us in apartments.
They lived across the street and had ventured across, inviting us to their church and chatting. It was a nice visit but I was resistant to the idea of changing churches. We had lived in our previous apartment, 30 miles away, for six years and I was still unwilling to think of attending any church but the one Amber and I had gone to for so many years – the place where she met her best friend, where she’d had her 18th birthday party, and where my husband and I had renewed our wedding vows. Still, my husband thought I should think about attending closer to home.
Even though I didn’t take her up on her invitation to church right away, we did get to know she and her husband over the next couple of years. We tried to help them as much as we could. The entire neighborhood loved them, it seemed. The foster child of our next door neighbor mowed their lawn, the next door neighbor on the other side helped fix their mailbox when it got hit, and their neighbor who lived behind them pitched in to help them push their trash bin back and forth on trash day.
I started to develop quite a love for this lady, and respect for her quiet husband. We were out of town when we got the call from her that her husband had fallen and broken his leg. Sometime after that, her dashing husband of 54 years passed away, and she was left behind, broken-hearted.
It wasn’t long after that my husband and I suffered our own tremendous loss, when we took our daughter to the emergency room and didn’t bring her back home. After that, I started attending Louise’s church with her, and was glad I did.
Today, I went to see her. She’s now in a nursing home but will soon be transferred to an assisted living facility. She is nearing 90 years old, but she is still sharp, fun to be around, and tells the best stories. Sometimes, she talks about how she and Paul first met, at their church youth group so long ago. Sometimes, she talks about her time working in missions in West Virginia and trying to open up their teaching of the miner’s kids to the African American children and the opposition they faced. Sometimes, she talks about the children’s home she worked at for a year, caring for a handful of 7 and 8 year old boys and how she came to love them. She talked about how they had the rough breaks in life, and needed extra attention. She talked about how Paul would come to visit in his Navy uniform and the boys’ eyes would light up, and how her handsome fiance’ would teach them manners by example, opening doors for his sweetheart and helping her with her coat. Sometimes, she talks about her children, and the funny things they did while growing up. She also talks about people from church, a place she’s belonged for 50 years. Today, she talked about how lonely she is, though, without her husband. She talked about how she still can’t believe that when he tripped over a rug getting up from his chair, and broke his leg, that it would mean she would lose him. She talked about fighting to get her husband in the Naval hospital, and about how they called her on the telephone, asking for permission to take blood, and how moments later they called to tell her he had passed away. She talked about how matter of factly they gave her that news and how they didn’t understand how much she was hurting, how badly she wanted to be there, though they talked about wheeling his body away to the morgue and how she demanded that they let her say goodbye.
“He was the love of my life,” she said, and my heart broke with hers. “54 years is not enough time.”
I am about to turn 54, and I really do understand how hard it is to accept loss. And, I am beginning to understand that getting old is not for the weak of heart. It is hard, it is humbling and it is often heart-breaking. I hope we can all have some respect and compassion for the older people in our neighborhoods, churches, and lives, and understand how difficult it is for them to face the changes that life throws at them as they age. Louise laments the day she had to stop driving and had to sell her beloved little red VW. She also struggles with the idea that she has lost her independence, and the ability to make choices for herself about where she lives and what she does, and even what she eats. She longs to go back home, where she and her family lived for so long, where she and her handsome sailor raised their three kids, and where she has neighbors who love her. As much as we all know that she now needs to be someplace safer, I pray we can at least understand her feelings and let her express her sorrow once in awhile without telling her what is best for her.
I love my neighbor Louise. I love her laugh, the twinkle in her eye when she sees someone she loves, and how she enjoys the little things in life, like the chance to pet a dog, a hug, a church bulletin… She has enriched a lot of lives by just being herself, faithful, neighborly, inviting, and respectful. I pray that she has happiness and peace for the rest of her days, and that she will one day be reunited with her love (but not too soon – for my sake).