My husband and I moved into The Terraces last July, joining about 300 other residents living in independent apartments. Since then, three people we came to know and like have passed away.
All three were around 90 years old and sound of mind. They had not required one of the higher levels of care available on campus (assistance with daily activities, memory care, skilled nursing). Two left a spouse behind.
It Was Sad but Not Tragic
We went to a “celebration of life” for one of these friends, a modest although accomplished man, held at a daughter’s residence. His widow had baked a table full of sweetmeats for the party because he had been a fan of dessert. There was a lot of laughter.
The family of another friend came to empty her apartment. They were as good-humored as she had been. She used to dine, and joke, with the same people every week, a different group each day. Her former companions quietly rearranged their seating in the dining room after her passing.
We gave condolences to the husband of our third friend, a stylish, sharp-witted woman who had been a committed teacher. No longer as sharp as his late wife, he sounded befuddled. He will need help adjusting – from his son, who visits often, and from the rest of us.
People Do Adjust
When someone dies here, sometimes the spouse moves to a different apartment, either for a change of scene or to lower the cost.
Sometimes the spouse stays put, keeping the furniture and photos in place that remind her or him of the loved one. Sometimes, when the loved one’s illness ceases to cause pain and heartache, the passing proves to be a great relief.
There’s a man and woman here who take every meal together, every day, but live separately. Both had moved here years ago with their spouses, and the two couples had been friends. Then the woman lost her husband and the man his wife.
They commiserated with each other and gradually slid into a kind of intimacy based on shared experience as well as a friendly face across the dinner table. They’re an item, in an elderly way.
The Secret Sauce
People here seem to take transitions in stride. Granted, they’re protected by the community, enjoying both the services provided by staff and the collegiality of other residents. But that doesn’t explain the calmness that prevails.
I think it’s a version of the attitude I see in my elderly friend, Betty. When I visit, she orders me to turn the dog loose, sit down, and enjoy life. Betty pays attention to now, not to past or future. She doesn’t have to meditate to achieve a state of mindfulness. At 93, she has simply earned it.
The coronavirus, on the other hand, has most people here on high alert. Before masks were required in the hallways, many people wore them anyway.
They were wary of chatty neighbors who clustered in corners to share a glass of wine. Succumbing to an alien virus didn’t fit into anyone’s life plan, and people here like to plan ahead, or they wouldn’t have moved here in the first place.
In June, I wrote that only one person, a staff member, had sickened on campus. Since then, 23 residents have tested positive for Covid-19. One asymptomatic person lived in my building, but the other 22 lived in the higher care facilities.
Three of those people died, all over the age of 95. Two were already at the end of life, and the third, a spunky 98-year-old, had gone to the hospital for a different condition and caught the virus there.
We Are Okay
If last year’s pattern holds, I may lose several more friends in the next 12 months at The Terraces, but probably not from Covid-19.
I confess to dwelling on the natural losses more than my neighbors seem to, but I’m much younger, and I still chafe at physical constraints. If I spend more time with my friend Betty, though, perhaps her attitude will rub off on me. It would be wonderful to live exclusively in the now.
How do you celebrate, or mourn, the passing of friends? Do you do it differently, based on the friend’s personality? Have you noticed how others mourn? Is it different? Let’s have a conversation.