When Jon first started taking Red to do therapy work at The Mansion, the assisted living facility in our town, I didn’t usually go with him. He works at keeping boundaries between him and the people he visits. He thinks and writes about it all the time on his blog, figuring out what his role is and what it isn’t.
The first time I visited the Mansion, I was really uncomfortable. It reminded me too much of visiting my grandmother, which was an obligation imposed on me as a child, something I had to do everyday that was difficult. She was not the warm and loving stereotype of a grandmother.
When Jon told me about Connie, a resident at the Mansion, and how she loved to knit, I wanted to meet her. I don’t remember the first time I talked to her. But I do remember that I immediately felt comfortable with her.
Because of back problems Connie had a hard time lifting her head, but it was the most natural thing in the world for me to squat down in front of her so we could talk more easily, usually with Red between us, Connie scratching his back as we talked.
That’s how we became friends.
My visits to Connie became a regular thing. I didn’t think of my time visiting her as volunteer work. Connie was my friend. For about a year I would see her about once a week.
We didn’t talk about everything in our lives. There’s a lot I don’t know about Connie. She told me about how she used to sell her knitting and some of the bigger projects she worked on. She talked little about her work as a nurse or her family. I told her what I was working on and about the things happening at the farm.
Sometimes we would go through the letters that all the people from Jon’s blog had written her. Some of them I knew too and we would share the friendship.
Connie was sharp and tough and although she had a hard time moving around because of her many health problems, she had a wicked sense of humor , an impish smile and self-determination that was inspiring. She knew what she wanted from her life and what she didn’t want and she let everyone else know too.
She was also a caregiver. Once all those people on Jon’s blog started sending her wool, she didn’t stop knitting until it became physically impossible for her to do.
She made mittens for everyone on the staff at the Mansion who wanted a pair and then she knit hats for babies and Kidney patients in local Hospitals.
Connie also helped me feel comfortable enough to spend more time at the mansion with the other residents. So this place that used to bring back bad childhood memories now became a place that felt inviting and warm. It was filled with people I came to know by name, people I have come to care about.
I don’t know if that would have happened if Connie didn’t welcome me into her life the way she did.
I’ve known Connie for about a year. And I knew in the past few months that she was dying, because she told me. Not in a self-pitying way but honestly, as a statement of fact. And I would sit and hold her hand and listen and let her know I wish I could help and was sorry for all she was going through.
Connie taught me how to do that too. How to hear what she was saying and not try to make it better with meaningless platitudes.
Connie also showed me how a person, even with little means, can die well. She continued to make decisions about her life and her death until the end. The people around her knew how she wanted to die and respected her wishes.
It seems to me, she knew when it was time for her to let go and was able to.
The last time I saw Connie she was as alert and sharp as I have ever seen her. She cuddled with Red and whispered to me that she had a jacket for Gus in her room that she bought for him. She didn’t want Jon to know, it was a surprise. Even then, she was thinking of us.
Connie died on Tuesday night.
There’s an ache in my heart and a sadness behind my eyes. I will miss Connie. But it brings me comfort to know that she didn’t spend a long time suffering in a nursing home. She always told me she was ready to go when God was ready to take her. And I believe that’s just what happened.