Unavoidable Losses

My  oldest and best friends seem to have disappeared. I miss having those long-term female friends with whom I shared life’s trials. Many are sick, some are dying and there seems to be no cure for some of them. Maybe there simply is no cure for AGE.

Early in my married life I met a woman in Alaska who became a very dear long term friend. Our husbands were associated through business. When my husband and I travelled to company conventions three times each year we were able to maintain a friendship with them. As couple friends we vacationed together, visited each other’s homes, met the children. She and I continued writing and meeting when possible. We held meaningful discussions about world affairs, differences in our country’s political system and with lots of fun and laughter each time we were together.

Forty years into that friendship I learned she was having tests. An unusual untreatable leukemia was found. Internet searches turned up a new treatment being tested in Seattle. She was eligible! So began her trips from Ketchikan to Seattle. For nearly two years it seemed to be going well and the test results were encouraging. And then they weren’t. About that time her husband showed signs of early Alzheimer’s.

On two memorable occasions I drove to Seattle, stayed with her and drove her each day for treatment at the clinic. Once that part of the day was over we made the most of the rest of it, talking and laughing each step and mile of the way. Restaurant meals in interesting places were a part of it, visits with her friends and relatives who lived within driving area, shopping for clothes to take home, simply exploring that marvellous city. After my second sojourn with her I suspected things were not going so well. I heard that against doctor’s advice, she made her annual trip to Kawaii. We talked when she returned; I spoke with one of the children who told me she was clearing up her office. It was my sign; only a few days later she called to say goodbye. We had had the best of times but both my husband and I miss her still.

I once had a professional friend. We co-chaired big events, we did short trips together. Our husbands were friends. We discussed and read about spirit. I considered her my soul sister and I think she did me, gave me a picture captioned, “Friends Forever.” Slowly she faded from a dementia disease her mother had suffered early – lost, forgetful. Thankfully her children live near and they had given her precious grandchildren that gave focus to her days. To her I have ceased to exist —.

A new friend entered my life. She moved here from the east to be nearer family. We sought family history together and wrote personal stories about them, organized an all-candidates political forum. I learned how to create a website using MS Publisher and side by side, she and I made it ‘go live.’ One sad day she learned the harsh truth: pancreatic cancer would give her only a brief time to enjoy those grandchildren. Within six months she was gone; I had lost another soul sister.

A close neighbourhood friend loved to talk and we laughed as we walked together. Our small walking group all appreciated her, for she was filled with love for everyone. Although she suspected something wasn’t right in her own body, love for her good husband made his health her priority until after their winter vacation. When the big C diagnosis came she fought, and walked on with us.

She followed doctor’s advice: accepted surgery, chemo, and radiation. As her local support group we walked with her, now more slowly, and continued talking and laughing. When she could no longer walk briskly, instead, we drove her to interesting places where we could enjoy fun together. Salt Spring Island to see the farms, large gardens to see new blooms, seaside restaurants to enjoy real food, even a wheelchair stroll through pathways of her very own home garden retreat, all seemed to sooth her pain. In Palliative Care she talked and laughed with us, all the way to the end.

On the Friday before Christmas one year, while I was vacationing on Maui, a friend of 20 years sent a brief e-note, “I’m having some heart trouble, waiting for tests, if they ever get around to doing them.” The next day she was dead. Now, who will I discuss club resolutions with, share my room at conference, and worse, at the end of a convention day, who is left for me to drink brandy with?

My most recent loss is a friend with whom I discussed children, compared notes on education systems, errant sons, and fiercely competitive daughters. Over forty years ago our five – year – old girls decided it was ‘not fair’ that there wasn’t a district soccer team for them; their brothers who played were only two years older. My friend’s husband agreed to coach a team of girls under six. Those same girls became members of the under-six girls relay team of our Summer Swim Club! A relationship developed between the couples – couple friends are few in any life – and then the family moved to Ottawa.

My daughter and I visited, kept in touch. We had two Mom and Daughter weekends together. The family had always planned to return to this island; we found property for them, sent pictures, they bought on our recommendation, and, on their return, built their dream home. And so our friendships continued.

When her husband died of a dreaded brain cancer she and I still had marvelous times together. We travelled to New Orleans, shared advice, our troubles and triumphs, always over good red wine. In an effort for her to have more time with a grandchild – she had only one – I shared my three whom she knew well. My friend fought her cancers with everything she knew. She hung on to life for a short six months more. We’ve missed her dreadfully.

A friend whose deceased husband was our “best man,” 55 years ago is no longer the same person. We grieved his passing but that loss continues to affect her immeasurably. Depressed, over-self-medicated, obese, suffering arthritis and effects of knee and hip replacements she sleeps badly, eats poorly, moves only with difficulty, and now appears to have suffered several mild strokes. My longest, best friend, with whom I shared every step taken by our growing family: discussions on sewing, cooking and canning, raising children and understanding forester husbands, appears to now be giving up on her life. There are brief glimpses of her former self, but our great plans for sharing new experiences together, including travel, will never be.

I have a huge support group of newer friends but I desperately miss those long term friends. I have children and grand-children; I have love and continuing good health. I may be old, but despite grieving my losses, I am still here and fully alive.

Towels

“Fairmont is committed to conserving our planet’s natural resources and we offer you the following option:

           Each day, Housekeeping Services will make your bed using your existing linens.

            Every third day, fresh linens will be provided. If you would prefer fresh linens daily, simply place this card on your bed.

            This initiative is part of our ongoing Green Partnership program. Thank you for helping with our environmentally conscious efforts.”

(This message was displayed on a small card in coloured ink of MIX paper from responsible sources) www.fsc.org CO92711

***

Equipped with hair drier, electric kettle, Kureg coffee maker, refrigerator and microwave, our room was supplied with individual bottles of shampoo, conditioner, various skin creams and lotions, teas, coffee pods and a never-ending supply of bottled water delivered each day to the refrigerator.

And so began this recent winter vacation, so different from any others we had experienced on our favourite of islands. Each step during the day we noted differences that, as independent and reasonably logical renters, we were familiar with. Inconsistency in the stated policy of the Fairmont Hotel was noticeable at every turn. Service of a full buffet breakfast each day was enjoyable but, by the third day, became ‘ho hum’ after being subjected to the required seating ritual once more.

Seeing brief intervals of a courageous sun one morning we sallied forth to the adult pool to expose our pale bodies to sunshine’s benediction. But before stretching upon our chosen lounge chairs the pool attendant offered each of us, not one, but two towels. Later that day we chose an alternate space at beachside. Once again there were the towels, and another convenient towel bin to deposit them in when we left.

Another day with clouded skies and heavy rain seemed a perfect day for a full body scrub if we were to have one of those full relaxation experiences. It went like this: Lay on a towel, be covered by a towel, be scrubbed with sea salt, rinsed with steaming water, wiped with additional towels, more body ministration with scented oil, smoothed in and wiped off; more dirty towels thrown to the basket; now a steamy hot application, next, the plastic tenting over the entire body and steam piped in until my body and all the dry towels were soaked.

Before leaving the room I asked the masseur how many towels she estimated she used in a day. Her answer: lots!

Maui in the Morning

The light steadily strengthens until it bursts into a brilliant sun ball over the top of Halelakala. It shimmers down upon mortals like me, out early enough to witness its magic. It is a benediction, without denomination, from the mountaintop. Giver of heat and light, the sun is what I crave. Stiff from a six-hour international flight and uncounted hours waiting in car, ferry, airports and rental kiosk, my body opens itself to the energy offered.

My morning walk continues past hedges of rioting bougainvillea and hibiscus; only constant trimming tames their growth. “Another perfect day in paradise,” is a familiar comment.

Perfection yes, but much more complicated than that. We assume that perfection has no flaws. I know Maui has grievous flaws. There are poor and sick people on Maui; groceries are expensive; a drug culture thrives. Just as at home, politicians argue over roads and trees and taxes. Big dollars have big power. Like indigenous peoples around the world, Hawaiian natives are struggling for their birth rights. All that and more are evident here. Still, my Maui is a perfect paradise.

“What makes it so?” you ask.

For 45 years I’ve tried to find the answer. I only know that each time I step from the plane, Maui’s magic is upon me. My spirit is uplifted. My perception is enhanced. My attitude is adjusted. It’s impossible not to relax.

The secret is in the air, a light fresh balm to a body’s clogged passages, filled with delicious scents found nowhere else on earth. Everything that grows on Maui blooms at least once during the year. It means that each breath yields scents from a tree, shrub or flowering plant, all mingle on the gentle breeze with Perfume da Pacific Ocean. The ocean is never very far away.

A turn at this intersection and I’m on grass beside sand dunes. Here the floral scents are overlaid by salt spray, and, after major storms, odours of rotting seaweed, but always there is lightness in the air. On surrounding hills, where warmth and tropical rainfall decays all fallen leaves and blossoms, one huge composting facility is created, one more aroma added to the mix.

The annual rainfall of Kiehi, where I walk, is lowest of the island—a desert micro-climate on a green Pacific oasis. To breathe this mix is such relief after alternately breathing cold outside air and heated, dry indoor air in Canada. Temperature and humidity opens bronchial passages and encourages deep breathing. Who wouldn’t prefer to take their morning exercise under these conditions?

I am reminded once more of why I keep returning. Exposure to Maui encourages a kind of openness, a willingness to consider new ideas, opinions and opportunities. Nothing seems hopeless or impossible. Best of all, at the deepest level, my psyche shifts. A perfect Maui morning directs me along the path of life.