Lauretta has been a constant source of inspiration to me from the beginning of our amazing friendship. We are of different faiths, she is Catholic and I’m not. She has taught me more about religion than any book, bible, or clergy. I would ask her questions about her faith, her devotion to her beliefs and get answers that made so much sense to me. During some of my darkest days with her at my side, she always reminded me to have faith.
When my mother was so ill with cancer I lost my faith. She would remind me in her calm caring way about faith. It was a struggle for me during those fourteen years of being my mother’s primary caregiver trying to have any semblance of a higher power. I prayed, but I thought it wasn’t heard. Now I realize twenty-five years later that it was heard. I had fourteen years with my mother as horrid as it was for us, but there were “breaks” in between the surgeries and struggles. Humor and laughter tangled itself in the sadness, exhaustion and pain, as the patient and the caregiver. Funny how retrospect works.
Lauretta had her share of illness, back issues, surgeries along the way. She persevered. We watched some of our dearest friends and coworkers pass away. We mourned and went to pay our respects together. When one of our family members passed we grieved as the days passed. We supported each other when the waves of anguish overtook us. At this time in our long friendship it was a given that solace and comfort were assets we possessed whenever they were needed. I have always thought how fortunate we are to have met. To have bonded like family ( some families).
Charlie and Lauretta loved to travel. Now retired they took wonderful trips to places she always wanted to go. Charlie was more like me happy to be home, not keen on traveling, but Lauretta’s enthusiasm got him going. And he was always happy he went. They met some of the nicest people along the way, some have become friends. They sat in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris ( before the devastating fire). They walked along the endless tulip fields in Amsterdam. Went to Monet’s garden, Giverney ( brought me back lavender seeds for my garden that thrive today). Ate Wiener Schnitzel in Germany. Walked the sacred streets within the Vatican. Amazed at the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies. Took train rides through America and saw the majesty of our beautiful country. Many beautiful excursions over the years. She is my geographical expert. If I ever have a question about the location of a place, worldwide, I don’t Google it, I call Lauretta!
About two years ago Lauretta went to the dentist for a regular visit. They saw “something” on the x-ray. Lauretta had cancer. My heart hurt. But with todays medicine and the advances that have been made clinically, I leaned on the facts not the emotions. I knew if I gave into how I really felt, it would destroy any progress I had made in how I thought about cancer. And I prayed.
Philadelphia was the location of her multitude of physicians..her “team”. She got second and third opinions as any smart patient would. Her surgery was extensive to say the least. Her jaw had to be resected to remove the mass. They had to take a piece of bone from her leg to reconstruct her jaw. We waited for hours with Charlie, her sister and brothers. Her sons came later in the evening as we knew the surgery would take many hours.
I was no stranger to surgical waiting rooms. I had sat in so many over the course of my days, it was all too familiar. The uncomfortable chairs, the TV on a station that was obtuse. The newspapers other people had read and tossed, the outdated magazines. I always wanted to write a letter to the CEO of each hospital surgical waiting room I had an experience in and let them know my thoughts about “their” facility. I wanted to make suggestions/recommendations for more comfortable seating, more soothing artwork, anything to aid in the waiting for a loved one having a procedure. The coffee or tea offerings are repulsive, with their fake condiments and poison additives. Let’s make the visitors and families sick while they wait. Fish tanks are popular now in waiting rooms. Just doesn’t cut it for me. And the phone, oh that phone on the desk or wall where they call you to either update you on the status of the patient or say the doctor is ready to see you. I hated that phone.
She made it through the surgery and as Charlie walked me into her room, I saw Lauretta. Not the tens of tubes doing their job, not the swelling of her face, neck, hands and toes. Not her leg that was wrapped in roll upon roll of white gauze. I saw my dearest friend sitting up, quite loopy but ok for that moment in time. I cried. I took her hand and told her how proud I was of herI kissed her forehead as a reminder she was surrounded by love. I knew her road too full recovery would be a long one. A recovery that would include Radiation and Chemotherapy.
I thank God for Charlie and her family. Her sons stepped up for their mother. They did anything that needed to be done, as did their wives. I thought this is how a healthy family unit comes together and functions for one of their own. I was and am so proud of all of them. Not an easy task. I have learned through caregiving for very sick people, the family structure is vital to a patient’s successful recovery physically and mentally.
I will not minimize Lauretta’s recovery journey that still exists today. She has overcome adversity because of this cancer like a champion. She tells me her faith has helped in the positive progress she has made. It goes without saying that her family and some friends have played essential roles in her health today. She goes for chemo treatments every four weeks now, second round. Has regular pet scans to monitor small growths in her body and to rule out any additional issues. She has difficulty with tasting food and sinus issues, BUT she is ok right now and that’s all we really have. She draws strength from her inner core, her family, her faith. She pushes forward like a warrior against an enemy.
If not for Lauretta’s influence and support in my life I would not be the person I am today. Faith and friendship have sustained us. We have laughed at so many things from the start, she always says I’m the only one who gets her jokes. We have golden memories we share about silly things, like sheet cakes, decorating our “patient room” hospital office bathroom and taking way too long lunch breaks to play Canasta in the break room! What we have is a bond that has gotten stronger over the decades.
Through all she has endured she always makes time for me, no matter how she is feeling or where she is. My life has been diverse and filled with loss, hospitals, hospice, caregiving, single parenting, lost love, troubled ex-husbands, troubled ex in-laws and my own illnesses. Lauretta ( and Charlie) have always been there.
Lauretta is a solid presence. Through all she has endured she is a survivor not only from a disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in her body, but of life in general terms. She is a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, sister, aunt, cousin and friend.
Anyone fortunate enough to be on Lauretta’s path in this life is blessed by her presence. The life lessons she has shared with me throughout our friendship are anchors that keep me stable when needed. What are the odds of meeting someone randomly at a job interview and maintaining a lifelong friendship? Odds are slim I think. What brought us together? What has kept us together? Why was she with me the on the unexpected evening my mother was in distress and dying and no one could reach me?
I saw a shooting star in the darkened sky the night my mother passed, I had just left being with Lauretta. As I was getting on the parkway about a half a mile from my mother’s hospital room, I thought should I go see her to kiss her good night as she seemed different when I left her a few hours before. I said to myself, no I will see her bright and early in the morning. That wasn’t how it happened. At that very moment she was dying. I never saw her again, the person I loved most on this planet was leaving just as I saw the shooting star. I take comfort in the memory of being with Lauretta that evening. I think now that was how it was supposed to happen all along.
Gratitude. Faith. Trust. Friendship.
A Woman of Substance