One of my mother's closest lifelong friends has dementia. Gail was the one who rang the doorbell at midnight the night my parents divorce was final, greeting my mother Alice with a bottle of champagne to toast the start of a new life. She drove my mom to chemo. She cheered her up when things looked down. She was just quirky enough to help my mom laugh when there seemed to be little to laugh about.
Gail has been one of my closest friends since my mother's death almost 28 years ago. She took me prom dress shopping, lending me her beautiful earrings to wear. She helped me shop when I went away to college; checked in with me regularly; celebrated my wedding and the birth of my sons, and always had a spare bedroom or sofa for me whenever I visited. She was one of a small circle of women who made a promise to my mother that they would be there for me and she kept that promise. I have always been grateful for that precious friendship and the link to my mother that has helped keep her memory alive.
I have told friends that losing your mother young is extremely difficult and life-changing. While it does not define me, it is a part of the fabric of who I have become, as I'm sure it is the same for many others. I make no promises to my sons that I will live forever. And while I'm not all doom and gloom to them, I have been honest that no one knows what the future holds, so we must always get back up on our feet, no matter what, and keep living, happily - no matter how hard it may seem, and honor those who came before us. Like anything constant though, you take for granted the connections and memories. I am learning now, as I get older, that watching those who were my mother's friends start failing, is almost equally as painful, but it is also another lesson of love.
I love the movie "You've Got Mail." And, no matter how times I've seen it, I cry every single time at the scene when Kathleen Kelly closes up the Shop Around the Corner for the last time and takes the bell off the door, only to look back and see her twirling with her mom from years past. Her character later emails Joe Fox and says, "I feel as if a part of me has died, and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right." My family and friends and so many of my mother's friends always helped to make it right.
I've come to realize that as my friend Gail has forgotten to call me over the last few years, I'm starting to grieve not just for her, but for my mother all over again. Selfishly, I can see that the memories Gail and I once shared are slowly disappearing for her and soon my mother will be a distant memory to her as well, if she remembers her at all or ultimately, if she remembers me. The last time I spoke to Gail, who is now in a nursing home, she said to me, "Your mother would know what to do with me." My mother was a nurse and while I was sure that's what she was referring to, I replied, "Oh Gail, you used to drive through the neighbor in that convertible with the top down and that dog or yours in the passenger seat and my mother used to say, "What are we doing to do with Gail?" And she laughed and laughed and said, "I don't remember that, at least I'm not sure I do, but that made me laugh. I just need to laugh. If I can just laugh until the end, I'll be okay."
So, as sad as it is that the memories are fading for her, maybe it's not so much the memories that are what held us together all these years. It was a bond and even though the memories are broken, the bond remains, long after. This one person named Alice gave Gail and I a connection that grew into a true friendship - a gift from heaven, a lasting legacy of life well-loved. To be well-loved, even after the memories are gone, that should be the legacy, I suppose.