I had lunch the other day with a friend (Ill call her Jane; she’s a private person). Now in her upper 70s, Jane lived in my neighborhood when we arrived in 1989. A few years ago she moved to a retirement community across town.
We have enjoyed each others company since the day my family moved in. Jane spotted my two young daughters chasing each other out in our front yard, barefoot and tousle-haired, wearing their blue sleeveless nighties in the middle of the afternoon.
“I thought I was seeing fairies,” she still says.
She also said that day: “I tend to keep to myself. I won’t bother you. But I’m always here if you need me.”
Jane and I became soul friends. I often dropped by her place for afternoon tea and a chat on her screened porch. Her quiet house was a balm after the chaos at mine. The mother of a grown daughter, she was an independent, professional woman who relished living alone. Before I knew her, the solitary life scared me.
We shared favorite books, gardens, and art, and took care of each other’s houses and pets when one of us was away. We get together for holiday meals – no frills, the focus is on friendship not the food. Hers was always the emergency number my children memorized, the contact person outside the family listed on all their forms, even in college, and beyond.
So when she asked me recently if I would share the duties of being her Health Care Power of Attorney with her daughter (who lives out of state), I said, “Of course.”
It made perfect sense: Jane stood by me during the decline and deaths of both of my parents. I was the reference she put down for her frail, aging mother when we moved her to a nursing home. We have never shied away from difficult subjects: illness, financial fears, our spiritual yearnings, or the death of my infant son, and her first husband.
Jane’s independence is anchored in simple realism. She has little patience for those who can’t face facts.
At a book reading she and I attended last winter, an older friend complained to us about her retirement community: the early meals, being surrounded by old people, the feeling that she was living in some sort of prison.
“Shes rebelling,” Jane said later. “Waste of time. She hasn’t accepted the phase of life she has entered.”
I admire the grace and candor with which Jane has chosen to age. She expresses again and again her gratitude at being able to live in a facility that offers care and yet, for now, leaves her alone.
Jane’s daughter, in town for a visit, was also at lunch the other day. The three of us discussed various health-care scenarios and how we would respond. We talked about the recent disappearance of a man from his retirement community; the police found him three days later in the nearby woods.
“We should all wear identity chips that track us, 24/7,” Jane said. “When somebody comes up with one, Ill be the first to sign up.”
Jane’s Health Care Power of Attorney makes this and other preferences clear and official.
Over a shared dessert, Jane said, “You’ll know when I shouldn’t have any more food and water, even if I’m out of it and don’t.”
Her daughter and I nodded.
“You’ll work well together,” she said and smiled.
After lunch, I asked what they were doing for the afternoon. Both women shrugged. “We’ll just hold hands and see where the day takes us,” her daughter said.
“It’s wonderful,” Jane added. “We never make plans when we’re together.”
But plenty of plans are in place, just in case.
Carol Henderson is a writer and teacher. Contact her at email@example.com