Friends to the End

The other day I stopped to visit one of my favorite neighbors, an 87-year-old widow who is still living at home alone. She had just heard that her long-time neighbor and friend, now living in a local nursing home, had been given about two weeks to live. We agreed I would take her later that week, for what was sure to be a goodbye visit. I dropped her at the door of the nursing home, armed with a sack containing the favorite Dr Pepper and some chocolate (One does not come to call without bringing a gift!) and went to park. She made her way past the nurses’ station despite the efforts of the well-intentioned nurse who attempted to head her off on her way to the friend’s door, because the friend wasn't feeling up to company. The tenacious staff member found me and told me the same thing. I assured her that at 87 and 88, and having been friends for more than 40 of those years, they could likely work things out. I promised she wouldn't stay long.

We both thought it was a lovely visit. She got to perch on the bed beside her dying friend, sharing a Dr Pepper and memories of trips made together to Niagara Falls, Mexico, Hawaii, and Chicago. I too had heard stories of those trips, as well as other stories. The repertoire included stories of laughter, minor annoyances with each other, major annoyances with each other and more laughter. I was struck at the longevity of this friendship, despite the differences in their personalities and even their lifestyles, to some extent. But they were friends – and neighbors -- and I don’t think it occurred to them to stop being friends, even if they disagreed.

I was back in my neighbor’s home last week. Another long-time neighbor, a handyman, was there, having just finished his most recent job in the back of her house. Her yard worker of many years popped in to tell her he was getting started on the lawn. Our neighbor’s son stopped by to tell her his mother had at last passed away peacefully in the early morning. She comforted him, sharing with him the details of her last visit with his mother, including the fun they had reminiscing about their shared trips. The room of my 87-year-old friend was teeming with shared life -- many years of shared life. It was good to be in the midst of that; neighbors and friends doing life together for many years.

We went to the funeral home later that week. Visiting with everyone she passed, my neighbor made her way to the room where the body was to be viewed. “Any friend of hers is a friend of mine,” she told the handful of folks she didn’t know. More sharing of stories with her friend’s family, friends, and friends of friends.

There was a rich history between these two.

I wonder about such an enduring friendship today, in such a disposable world. A world where people are more mobile and relationships are less durable. We have technology, email and texting, Facebook and Instagram, that allow us to be connected to people all around the world, but ironically can sometimes be a barrier to lasting relationships. In his book," The Vanishing Neighbor", Marc Dunkelman cites a study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project that found nearly one-fifth of people using social media have blocked or unfriended or hidden a contact based on a political disagreement. A single tap on your smartphone, and that is that; friendship ended. No discussing your differences, no attempting to understand the other point of view, no remembering the fun times and things on which you do agree.

I suppose my octogenarian friends agreed more than they disagreed, but the uncensored stories certainly revealed some disagreements – maybe even some serious ones. I am thankful for their long relationship as neighbors and friends.

Whatever happened between them, I’m happy that they never unfriended each other. I like that.