Hands and Hearts

January 18, 2019

One of my life’s treasures is friendships that span decades — women (mostly) who’ve shared the ups, downs, and in-betweens, who can burst into laughter at the mere mention of a childhood memory and whose knowing glance and touch at long-ago or present pain is a balm. Trusting these friendships will last into our old age brings me hope and comfort.

As Mom’s mind continues to decline, her world shrinks. While she has many dear friends and one remaining sister, her speech, memory, and processing abilities are so diminished that she’s unable to stay connected with most.

Joe and Betty are the exception. Friends for more than 60 years, back in their medical and nursing school days, they’ve stayed close and have a comfort and ease with each other like no others.

So a couple of weeks ago, we drove north to their home in Maine for a visit and sleepover. Of course, we brought our knitting. Mom’s latest garter stitch scarf is made with some beautiful Malabrigo (or maybe Manos del Uruguay), a Christmas gift from beloved granddaughter Nora.

Joe is mostly home bound, his Parkinson’s-like disorder has stolen his movement and slowed his speech. Strong of body and mind, Betty is his main caregiver, assisted lovingly by their son and daughter-in-law who live nearby. She’s a talented knitter, too, working on several hat and scarf sets for Special Olympics Maine.

As Betty and Mom got supper ready, I pulled my chair close to Joe’s and settled in with our wine (me) and whiskey (him) for a chat. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, he shared his perspective on medical training — how he became a pediatrician during his Navy service and later a pathologist — and memories, many of my father, who was one of Joe’s closest friends and a trusted colleague.

Joe was my and my brothers’ pediatrician until I was about 6 or 7. I told him that one of my earliest memories was me lying on our kitchen table at age 3 or so and having a doctor — was it Joe? — lance my close-to-bursting ear drum lest it burst itself. He didn’t recall that procedure and suggested it was another doctor. But he did recall clearly performing his very first lumbar puncture (spinal tap) on me when I was an infant and suffered a febrile convulsion.

Slowly and haltingly, he shared an intense conversation with my father, who had asked him to do the tap, telling him that he’d never performed the procedure and explaining the risk of infection and complications. Despite his current limitations, he clearly conveyed the urgency and intimacy of that long-ago conversation. I can only imagine the fear they both felt at the time and the utmost trust they had for each other.

As Mom dozed on the drive home the next day, I went over our visit — the warmth and ease of being with people who know you so well and love you so profoundly — and my conversation with Joe in particular.

Tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of my father’s death, and while I think of him — and even talk to him — often, I realize that I rarely talk with his friends, those who knew him as an adult, a colleague, a too-short-but-still-lifelong friend. Joe’s memories gave specificity to the general “he was a great man” view of my father. Our visit with Betty and Joe wasn’t just a fun overnight; it was a gift I’ll treasure forever.

10 Responses to “Hands and Hearts”

  1. Arlie Corday Says:

    Such a chain of love!

    Like

  2. Patrick Dober Says:

    Wow, such an eloquent and profound memoir moment.

    Thank you Mary Ann for sharing your gifts of observation, respect for our seniors, and finding the silver and gold lining in places where you may turn.

    Speaking of such, Rest In Peace dear Mary Oliver. And the great Kevin Hill.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Melissa Powers Says:

    Lovely. Taking time to visit these friends is a joy for all.

    On Sat, Jan 19, 2019 at 10:28 AM Saltwater Hill Knits wrote:

    > saltwaterhillknits posted: ” One of my life’s treasures is friendships > that span decades — women (mostly) who’ve shared the ups, downs, and > in-betweens, who can burst into laughter at the mere mention of a childhood > memory and whose knowing glance and touch at long-ago or present p” >

    Like

  4. betty Stocks Says:

    Mary ANN,

    Your thoughts about your visit with Nancy brought tears and a lump in my throat. We love you both. Betty and Joe

    On Sat, Jan 19, 2019 at 10:28 AM Saltwater Hill Knits wrote:

    > saltwaterhillknits posted: ” One of my life’s treasures is friendships > that span decades — women (mostly) who’ve shared the ups, downs, and > in-betweens, who can burst into laughter at the mere mention of a childhood > memory and whose knowing glance and touch at long-ago or present p” >

    Like

  5. Sarah C Mills Says:

    What a beautiful piece of writing, so full of the love and warmth of deep friendships and your relationship with your mother. It must be so hard to accept her declining mental abilities. My heart goes out to you, Mary Ann.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. deemallon Says:

    Such a nice post, Mary Ann. Especially interesting: the early medical interventions. Especially touching: your care of your mother (off on an adventure) and the care between the couple in Maine.

    Like


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