I keep rather busy with a voluntary job that kinda grew on me… looking after a fairly large contingent of people I call my “senior pals.” All of these folks live nearby, and my cadre of those who I check on, help out, and look after has grown by word-of-mouth. First it was my mother’s next-door neighbor, then her friend, then her friend’s friend, and so on. I sorta help out by being a “rent-a-son” where the rent is cheap (zero) and the smiles are plentiful.
However, having such a large group of friends who are significantly older poses its challenges.
One of my senior pals died recently, and rather suddenly. I would show up and play bocce (and Italian field game) with him and some of his friends about once a month. Bocce is not a sport, in that sense of the word. Playing bocce is mostly a social event. Get together with friends, talk, share food, and have fun. What I like most about this group is that they all speak Italian, so I can keep up my language skills when I play with them. And eat with them. Mostly eating… but that’s the Italian in me (and my buddies).
Sal was a Bocce Buddy. He was the most vigorous, outspoken, fun-loving, charming man. He loved life, and everything about it. He showered attention on his wife, to whom he had been married for over 55 years. He loved all six of his children, all 10 of his grandchildren, and all 14 of his great grandchildren. He would putter in his kitchen and make home-made pasta that put mine to shame. He would still chase his wife with a fiendish grin with a rolling pin if she came too close whilst he was making his pasta. He always had a smile on his face, a kind word on his lips, and a feeling of genuine warmth whenever you were near him.
Unfortunately, I got “one of those calls” on Tuesday. Sal’s wife called me to let me know that Sal died, rather suddenly, that morning. Apparently, he had a stroke. She called me from the hospital, and asked me to fetch her phone book from her condo and bring it to her. One of my other senior pals is their neighbor, who had a key to their unit. I went over, found the phone book, and brought it to Sal’s wife. It was funny (or odd) that she would remember my telephone number but couldn’t remember the phone number of any of her children. She called each of them from the hospital while waiting for paperwork to release her husband’s body to the funeral home.
I took her home, and waited with her while her children were on their way. It was kinda rough, but my duty was to remain calm and stoic for Sal’s wife. I just held her hand, listened to her stories, which were told with fondness and a bit of numbness, too.
Soon enough, her daughter arrived, then a son, then another son… and I could see that I didn’t need to hang around, so I quietly left. I posted something on Facebook about how I felt when receiving such news and having to wait with a senior pal’s wife in that immediate-after, interim time.
One of my friends wrote back, with a very touching and thoughtful comment. She said,
having elderly friends is a two edged sword…you receive their wonderful wisdom, love and their gentler view of the world, but you also often lose them sooner. You have been a good friend and had a good friend and you obviously have great memories of your friend, Sal. When all is said and done, we really can not ask for more in life!
She’s so right. I couldn’t have asked for more in life but to have people to love and to care for. When it all comes down to it, it’s the people in your life that make all the difference.
Life is short: show those you love how you love them.