By Diana Carson-May: WWH– I met Bessie (not her real name) two years ago when we moved into our new home. She lived directly across the street from me. Both of our large, picture windows facing one another.
Bessie came outside when we moved in.
“HI! I’m Bessie! Welcome to the neighborhood! she yelled from her driveway, “I can’t walk very far or I would come over and say hello!”
A few days later I saw her sitting in her garage. She had an old carpet on the floor of the garage and several chairs. I decided to go over and talk to her.
She told me that she was 88 years old. Lived in her home since 1980. Born and raised in Tennessee.
She told me that she lost her only daughter when she was only 49 years old. She had two sons. One lived about 30 minutes away and another lived out of state. Her husband died six years ago and she missed him very much.
She told me that she was lonely at times and hoped she could remain in her home as long as she could.
That started our friendship. We exchanged phone numbers, even though we lived across the street from one another.
When I would see Bessie sitting in her garage, I’d grab my coffee and go chat with her. She told me all about the neighborhood and gave me the area gossip.
“Those people over there, she said, pointing her finger, “Drunks! Try to avoid them if you can.”
She told me about the one and only concert she went to. It was with her daughter, before she died. It was a Country concert and it rained that day. It was muddy and a mess, but it was so much fun for her.
She told me all about her love for gardening and how she loved puttering in her yard with flowers. She couldn’t bend down or dig in the dirt anymore and that really seemed to bother her.
We made sure her flowers beds were weeded, trees pruned and beds raked.
Her son came by frequently and we got to know him and his wife, too. They thanked us for looking out for her -to which our response was…”No need to thank us. It is what we should all do. Keep looking out for one another.”
She didn’t really cook that much for herself anymore, so we shared may dinners with her.
She loved pulled pork, spaghetti and meatballs and chicken of any kind. Her favorite desserts were anything with apple…and she loved sweets.
It seemed I was always handing a plate to my husband and saying, “Take this over to Bessie.”
She loved that and she loved to talk for a while.
We had a routine. Every morning she opened her living drapes by 9 a.m. –give or take a few minutes. That told me she was up and doing okay. Every evening around 5 p.m. she would turn on her kitchen light and that also meant she was okay. Later, when it was dark, the porch light would go on.
One morning her curtains didn’t open. I didn’t panic. I waited another ten minutes thinking maybe she slept in. I finally called her and didn’t get an answer. Then I called her family who tried to call her and still no answer.
She had fallen on the kitchen floor and couldn’t get to the phone.
That was the beginning of her having to wear a Life Call button around her neck. She didn’t like it and thought it was silly. But, she wore it.
Another morning the curtains didn’t open and her son was out of town. I called her and got no answer. I knocked on her door and she peeked at me through the curtains, but wouldn’t open the door. When the ambulance finally arrived it was clear that she was confused and disoriented. She kept calling me, Carolyn, although she knew who I was, she just couldn’t remember my name.
It turned out she had mixed up her medicine and taken too much of one and not enough of the other.
Then her son had a keypad put on the door, so we would be able to get in, in case of anything and he started having an aide come over every morning to help her. Him and his wife came even more frequently, because Bessie stuck her heels into the dirt, demanding that she stay in her home until she absolutely couldn’t do it anymore.
Bessie was no longer able to sit outside on warm days….so our chats were over the blare of the television in her living room. I loved to hear her stories and she loved telling them.
Eventually, came a time when she needed another aide for afternoon and evening.
She still kept the routine of turning the light on and opening the morning curtains.
Every single day, I checked to make sure the morning curtains were open and the kitchen light was on. I recognized the cars of her aides that would come and go.
Her son put her Christmas tree in the window and each night it would light up, then go off around 9 p.m. and the curtains would close.
I woke up yesterday morning early…too early for her curtains to open. I saw several cars and noted to my daughter that something must be wrong. I don’t recognize the cars. They left rather quickly and only her daughter in laws car remained. It was only a few minutes later when her daughter in law called to tell me she had passed and she was waiting for the funeral home to come get her.
My last memory of Bessie was of her on that stretcher in a body bag. Men in black suits. It all seemed to routine. They backed the van in the driveway and loaded her up.
The kitchen light didn’t come on at 5:30 and the curtains didn’t close. Her son put a light on in the living room. I woke at midnight and looked across the street. One light remained glowing in her living room window and the curtains were open. I thought to myself, that he must have forgotten to close them. You have to close them by 9 p.m. –and then I thought, no, keep them opening and keep the light shining…just for a little longer.
Her son and his wife said they will spend the next months, packing and cleaning….and sorting.
Sorting Bessie’s life. 90 years of her life.
I think she is happy to be reunited with her husband and her daughter and that gives me some comfort.
Yet, I think that for a long time, I will look across the street and wait for a light to come on or the curtains to open and close.
I hope that in time a new family will move in. One with children, so I can hear their laughter and remember hers.
I hope someday I can erase the memory of Bessie in the body bag.
Keep looking out for one another. So often we don’t have time to stop and chat. Make that time. It matters. Make friendships and memories and keep loving your neighbor and looking out for each other, always.