The closest friend I’ve had during the past two years passed away last Friday. She was eighty-three years old.
Her funeral today, as a strange coincidence, is the two year anniversary since we met. She moved into the assisted living facility and I got her into bed and tried my best to make her feel comfortable in her new surroundings. She was in terrible pain, terrified to be in a new place, and embarrassed to have a man help her undress. I was nervous too, because I had only been working as a Health Care Aide for a month when she arrived. But there was an immediate bond, some sort of “kindred spirit” connection that we had that day. It sounds corny, but it’s true. Work in health care is about as personal as you can get with someone: wiping bottoms, cleaning teeth, giving medications, changing clothes—basic acts of care, and they made our bond grow stronger.
She and I talked constantly about everything. We are both LDS and come from the same small town and we discussed everything that was on our minds, from bodily functions to who’s related to who, and gospel topics, including controversial ones. We read scriptures together regularly, and I listened to her heartaches and her anxieties, all her fears of not being good enough, her impossible questions. I heard all the sorrows, baggage, and weight of a lifetime and tried my best to offer her some peace.
Mine is a strange but rewarding work. I guide human beings to the precipice of death and watch them fall off it, usually with much relief. They are ready for the next part of their eternal progression. I do not know exactly what the next realm is like, but I know enough to consider death with hope.
But with her, this time, it was difficult for me. We had developed a closeness that went far beyond my job expectations. I looked forward to our time together and to our visits. I peeled her oranges and brought her macaroni and washed her socks. She gave me toffees and treats to pass on to my kids. We expressed our love to each other regularly. Every fifteen minute coffee break I had at work for the past two years I spent in her room at the foot of her bed talking about life and the gospel. I was reeling with confusion when she was gone, and it surprised me. It was a sudden death, as far as sudden deaths go in such a place, and I never saw it coming.
I was an emotional wreck all week until today. When I embraced her family and after we all had a good cry, I knew it was okay. Life is only a transient, imperfect, fragile thing for all of us, and I know better now that there is more, much more. There are answers ahead, where relationships are made sure, and spiritual wounds are healed, and the brightness of truth bursts over the horizon to light our eternal souls forever.
I love her. Service does that. Just six days before she died, she asked for a priesthood blessing. With my grandfather, we anointed her head and I spoke words of comfort that I knew did not come from me, but from the Lord. Then I went on holidays for the week and didn’t see her again. It was the last thing I did for her.
I am beginning to see that experiences like ours—human love, kindness, and service—is one of the only things in this world that actually mean anything. All the rest of our frantic scurrying and ambition is nothing but “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.” I am grateful for the experience I had to learn that truth better. I will miss her terribly.