Late Friendships

We moved to Lake Norman three years ago and are now comfortably settled in our home and neighborhood. We know people. They know us. Each day someone stops for a visit in the shop and a myriad of topics are discussed: Children, grandchildren, religion, politics, sports, reading, and so much more. Our life here on LKN is made richer by these friendships formed late in our lives and the lives of our new friends.

However, friendship is usually thought of as something from childhood or college or a time when folks were younger, such as when rearing children. Those friendships formed during the struggles of youth and learning are invaluable as we travel through the paths of later life; we depend on those people because they have, over the years, become permanent posts in our lives on which we lean. They are now part of our root system because they, years ago, helped form us. But since retirement, my wife and I have discovered new friends in our late years. These new friends are retired as we, and they are intricate parts of our lives whether individually or as a couple. Yet, I sometimes wonder what these newfound friends were like thirty or forty years ago. I wonder if, had we met at age forty, would we have been friends. But I do not wonder too much, I just cherish the friendship because those types of questions never can be answered. To wonder about such things is as useless as holding onto regrets of a past action. Although each new friend late in life has a past, as do I, the present is what I know unless I learn when the friend shares some of his  or her past.

But one new friend is different, however, because she was in a writing group with me. She, at the bidding of her two children, was writing her life’s story. So each week during writing group, she shared parts of her life. All of it: The despair when the custom-built home that she and her husband had built burned to the ground. The shock of her divorce. The early life on a southern Georgia farm. Her love of classical music. Being the wife of a medical student in Washington, DC. Life as a single mother for her son and daughter. Her sister’s schizophrenia. Her love of literature and painting. And more.

Yvonne’s rich life from a Georgia farm to New York City to D.C. to Florida and finally to Mooresville interested the writing group and me. Her’s was quite a story, but I was most impressed by her late life, when she, my wife Mary Ann, and I became friends.  Every Sunday she sang in the church choir. Each Wednesday she shared the communal meal before joining the writing group before going to choir practice. Her life revolved around family, music, painting, reading, and telling her story. All as she battled her cancers. But if one did not notice her dry mouth as she read or sang or spoke, her cancer did not show itself, yet it presented itself in many ways, and she gracefully stiffed armed it like Thurber’s Rex: Her resolve is legendary with those who know her and she is not to be defeated except on her terms, which have now arrived.

            In 1st Kings, at the end of his life, King David says to his son Solomon, “I go the way of all the earth.” Yvonne’s journey is now where that kings was, and she has asked her daughter to move her from Levine in Concord to her home-to her library. A simple request that will offer dignified death surrounded by family, cherished books, her two loving cats, her paintings, and the last revision of her word-processed story that her children and grandchildren will read, and through which come to know and appreciate her well-lived life.

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