irrepressibly It’s never too late to make a new friend, or to visit someone you love and make lasting memories, or so I learned. It might seem that by the time you’ve landed in a senior residence facility you might have made all the friends you’re going to make in this life. But this wasn’t true for Elaine and Betty, who met eight years ago when they moved next door to one another at Brookdale-Arlington (formerly Town Village), a senior living community, in Arlington, Texas.
Last summer I set aside a week to travel to Texas to visit my two elderly grandmothers. It’s no simple task to leave one’s own family and four kids, but with my husband’s blessing I set off to devote some time to them.
One the first morning after my arrival, after checking with my grandmother to find out her schedule, I set my alarm to get myself ready to meet Lala (Laura Simmons), my maternal grandmother, for breakfast at 7 a.m. sharp.
She was tickled that I would show up so early.
I want to meet your friends and see what your normal routine is like,” I told her.
Secretly, I’ve always loved seniors. When I was little, I’d visit my Great Aunt Lillian at her nursing home alongside my paternal grandmother. I loved the easy way of being with seniors; their excitement over small and simple things; their gratitude for a willing conversation.
We went through the buffet line and got our breakfast. Lala shared that she hoped several of her friends would join us, and they did.
When we sat back down at the table we had preselected, Elaine and Betty were already seated – both dressed nearly in the same pink outfit.
I remarked, “How delightful that you both match!”
They said they often dressed alike without calling each other. It was like they were on the same wavelength.
Well, we are next door neighbors and have been best friends for years. We often come out of our apartments without having discussed what we were going to wear–and we find we’re wearing the same color,” exclaimed Elaine.
I asked if I could take their picture after getting a few shots of Lala and I together.
We had a wonderful breakfast with lots of engaging conversation – Betty and Elaine were so sweet and such good conversationalists asking about my husband and kids and sharing about their lives. As we wrapped up breakfast and I made a mental note to print out the picture of these two “Pink Ladies” and send them each a copy.
Fast forward to March when my mom called to tell me that Betty (on the right) has been in the hospital and, sadly, had passed away.
I was grieved for my grandmother and for Elaine, who had lost such a dear friend. This is a rough stage of life – clinging to the joyful times yet so often having to mourn the passing of yet another beloved friend. Betty was 92.
It might seem so simple and insignificant, yet I find these simple occurrences – like friends showing up in the same outfit – to be gentle reminders that we’re all in this life together. It might seem like we all have different focuses and divergent paths, but we are all seeking nearly the same thing: peace, joy, hope, love, and to fill that hole in our hearts that seems to be there from the moment we are born. We’re not so different from one another; we are on the same team working through this life together moment-by-moment, day-by-day.
These two widows from different backgrounds and states, had found a special endearing friendship one door away.
She was the best friend I ever had,” recalled Elaine. “When I moved here in September 2005, I had looked at a lot of apartments, but I didn’t know a soul here. I thanked the Lord that I picked this apartment because I moved next to Betty who was my next door neighbor. I just felt that God brought me to this apartment, even though Town Village is a big place and there were other apartments available.”
She shared with me the first day she moved in and what an impression it made on her:
The movers were moving me in, Betty and two other neighbors came out and introduced themselves to me. They invited me to breakfast the next morning. The next day, I was so tired from the move, but I knew if I didn’t show up for those strangers who were kind enough to invite me, I would feel terrible. So I got up and went. Several years back, Dottie and Hank both passed, then it was just Betty and I.”
Betty and Elaine shared everything and confided in one another about the joys and challenges of life.
If she had a problem or something she was worried about, she’d call me over. I was there for her and she was there for me. We kept getting closer and closer,” added Elaine.
Elaine had undergone two eye surgeries, and Betty’s eye sight was also bad and had worsened over the years. That didn’t stop Elaine from helping her friend.
I’d buy greeting cards and have her dictate her note to me, write it down, and mail them for her,” recalled Elaine. “It was a simple way I could help my dear friend.”
After Betty passed away on Friday, March 21, 2014, residents at Brookdale-Arlington asked if they could keep the photo – now framed – in the special nook area to commemorate her life.
We were so much alike and felt the same about so many things – we got along so well. We went to church together here every Sunday morning.”
Not all of us find a best friend this late in the game. Elaine feels blessed to have had such a close friend for eight and a half years.
I don’t want to get so close to anyone any more – it’s so hard to lose a friend like that. I miss her terribly.”
Although it’s been hard, Elaine has felt the support and love of other friends, like my grandmother, as well as staff and even Betty’s family who she says is like family of her own. They still have her over for Sunday dinner as they often did when Betty was alive.
At the end of the day, taking time for friends and savoring the time we have with them now is one of life’s biggest joys. Little kids, big kids, and even “older” kids can make new friends and experience the joy of companionship that comes with knowing and loving someone well.
Lauren Hunter is a writer who loves the big picture of God’s journey we are all on together. Married to her high school sweetheart, Lauren lives in Northern California with her husband and their four children. Her latest book is Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ.