Another person in my building died last night. Living in a building for seniors, I am increasingly less shocked, if no less sorrowed, by death. Is this a good thing?
I didn’t know Vicki well. Still don’t know her last name. My friends and I referred to her as Smoking Vicki … This to distinguish her from the other Vicki With the Little Dog. That’s the way we remember names in an 11-story building filled with people who joke about memory loss.
Smoking Vicki – who sat in her car to smoke — was someone I learned to look for. Someone I stopped to talk with. She had answers to my practical problems or questions: Where do I go to buy new tires? What time should I get to the courthouse to avoid waiting for hours to register my car? Where’s the closest UPS store? The cheapest carwash?
But I also gave her my book when I learned that her husband had died, too, years back. She read it, sitting in her car, smoking, and crying. Commiserating about the challenges of caring for complicated and difficult men as they made their way towards death, we laughed through our tears. We talked of picking up the pieces, of carrying on when the reason for carrying on had died.
Smoking Vicki was ready for a laugh, a story, a frustration. She was kind, thoughtful. There for those in need. She drove and sat in the emergency room with a resident after he’d fallen off his horse. Went to the store for Saltines or Fresca when stomach flu’s hit. Always aware of what was going on in the building and who needed what. No big deal. No flap. No hesitation. Ready to help with words and deeds.
Curious and intelligent, she listened with interest and one more question rather than waiting to reply. Still working on herself, she was usually reading when I’d approach her car window. And she’d look up, stop reading … welcoming and eager for conversation.
She’d lost 40+ pounds in this last year. Was up at 4 a.m. and off to the gym by 4:30 to get her treadmill time in while most of us were rolling over for that last sleep.
Smoking Vicki was always “coming up to the final day of smoking.” Tuesday is the day, she’d tell me. This is the year I’m going to beat this damned habit once and for all. But now, instead, the final day of smoking has come up on Vicki. The smoking struggle is over and done.
Having watched my mom struggle through her final year … maybe two, I’m getting better at standing back, finding a kind of peace underlying my tears … or is it resignation? I hear myself say, Better … kinder … for her for death to come so quickly. But for myself and even more for her friends like Carol (not Cleaning Carol but Blue Van Carol) and Ruby and all the others who called Vicki friend or mother or sister, the loss is – as loss must be – yet another break of the heart (as another grieving friend wrote recently).
We are resilient and fragile, courageous and frightened. We face loss, accept death even as we grieve it. And, hopefully, we are (on good days) a little stronger, a little more compassionate, a little more appreciative of our lives and our loves.
Rest in peace, Vicki. I will miss you, am grateful for having crossed paths with you.