There is a scene from one of my favorite movies that reminds me of my dear friend. I won’t mention her name here for the sake of her privacy. A little history will help paint a picture of our friendship. I met her about 36 years ago. Our children (now grown with their own children) were just toddlers and each of us had yet to have our second child. We babysat for each other when our youngest children were born. Employment of our husbands took us in different directions until we re-united again when she moved back to California. Although we had not been close during those, what I call “the lost years,” we somehow managed to start mid-sentence yet again when she returned to the west coast. We had one of those friendships created from the interwoven fabric of our lives.
Some years ago, she was diagnosed with early onset Parkinsons. I had the honor of being able to stay with her for a few years to help with her general caretaking. We got along fairly well, except she would turn the AC on the coldest setting in the summertime and would wear sleeveless tops and shorts. I on the other hand, could be found in head to toe sweats and fuzzy slippers (in 90 degree heat outside!) just to keep warm in her home in the summer. I teasingly referred to her home as “the meat locker.” And in return, she bought me a bright pink fuzzy pajama set and jokingly said I looked like a giant pink bunny when I wore it in the middle of July.
Again, time passed. I remarried and moved out of town, but remained her friend. Slowly, the Parkinsons has taken more of a toll on her than any of her family or friends were prepared for. I know I wasn’t prepared! She is now in a nursing home in the town I live in. And so every time I visit her, I see the roses on the walls of the nursing home.
The movie scene I am referring to, is from the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes” with Kathy Bates. In one scene, her character happily walks into the room of the nursing home with a boquet of flowers to give to her friend. Her mood changes and she is shocked to find the nurse tearing off the paper roses her friend had glued to the wall to remind her of her garden back home. The nurse tells her the woman who lived there had passed away. Of course, Ms. Bates’ character breaks down and tries to take the roses back and put them on the wall again as she grieves over the death of her friend. Fortunately, it is only a mistake in communication and she discovers her friend is still alive and has taken a cab back to her old home.
I suppose I will be the only one to understand the irony here. My friend is certainly alive…well, sort of. Some days when I visit her, she is clear and coherent. Then there are days like today, when she is convinced she has bought a house somewhere and that the TV crews have been there to record the story. And then there is the baby she is supposed to be taking care of and somewhere in the mix of all of it is a scary dream about beheadings.
And so I pray for courage and strength for both of us. On days like today, I can do little more than help her practice the breathing exercises we used to do when she would grow anxious or fearful. I can hold her hand and listen to her “stories” and not try to convince her that what she is telling me isn’t real. To her, all of it is very real! The deterioration of the mind is part of the Parkinsons. The ravages of the disease itself, in combination with the medications, creates a hell on earth for my dear friend.
And then there are other days when she is more like the friend I’ve always known. On those days, we laugh about our beach trips and shopping excursions or share pictures and stories of our grandchildren. Those are the days I tell myself everything will be okay. And so I go back to visit her again. Sometimes my friend is there and sometimes…she just isn’t. And every time I visit…I see the roses on the wall.