Ellen and I met when we both worked in the offices of New England Life back in 1978. It was my first job out of college and I never felt like I fit in with the other girls in the office. Then Ellen arrived, we discovered we shared the same birthday, we enjoyed each other's company, and we started to hang out. She was my one friend in an office of male salesmen and their female secretaries.
Ellen and her husband Frank had moved to Cleveland from Boston. A few years after they moved here, Ellen's father got sick and Ellen gave birth to her daughter Bonnie. Ellen and Frank then returned to Boston.
We kept in touch with each other twice a year - sending each other a birthday card in July and a holiday card in December. Ellen had given birth to a son, Lee, and Frank had started his own business, which was doing very well. We were having some rough times with my own family, and I must admit there were times when I would get Ellen's bi-annual card and just stare at it, thinking I didn't want to open it to hear how wonderful everything was in her life.
I'd like to say it was a few years ago, but time flies, and I'm thinking it was 8 or 9 years ago when I got an email from Ellen out of the blue. I don't even know how she found me, but we began a very dedicated email relationship. Friendships change when you go from twice a year cards summing up the year to several emails a day (so what are you making for dinner tonight?...what's your weather like today?). I began to call her Betty Crocker for the healthy meals she prepared every night (always with a salad and every part of the food pyramid). We began to really know each other. One time a few years ago, Ellen's computer was down and she had Frank email me from work to let me know she wouldn't be on the computer. Frank could not figure out how we could rely on email so much ("why don't you just talk on the phone?"). I laughed at that. Cause anyone who understands the beauty of email knows it's totally at your own convenience. You can thoughtfully take your time about what you say, or you can quickly type an email full of typos and no one cares, but it's like getting mail 5 times a day. It's wonderful.
Seven years ago, Ellen's mother had a stroke. Up until that time, her mother had been living a very active life, in her 90s, at the assisted living facility where she lived. The stroke was disabling, and she had to move into a nursing home. And thus began Ellen's journey of helping to take care of her mother. After some not-so-nice treatment by a nursing home aide, Ellen was determined to spend as much time with her mother as possible. And so she went every day, for 7 days a week until she finally reduced her visits to 5 days a week. Ellen's sister was of no help whatsoever, so Ellen was on her own. I know it was very difficult, especially as her mother began to lose her interest in life and just wanted to sleep. Many times over the years there would be a setback, and Ellen would fear it was the end. With both of her kids away at college, she was resigned to deal with the end on her own, with Frank.
Last month, Ellen was visiting her mother at the nursing home and she tripped over a nursing cord. She broke her shoulder in 4 places and has been pretty much incapacitated. She had a shoulder replacement surgery. Driving was out of the question, and even being a passenger in a car was painful.
So our emails were suspended. And I missed them so much. Well Ellen finally arrived back on email last week. And I came in to work this morning with my usual email from Ellen. She would usually email me very early in the morning, before she went to see her mother. And since she's been out of commission, she's not sleeping so I guess she's up early in the morning. The first email told me about the call she got from the nursing home this morning, saying that her mother had taken a turn for the worse. The second email sent 40 minutes later, was to tell me that her mother had passed away.
Ellen's daughter graduated from law school in the spring and is working, much to Ellen's delight, as an attorney in Boston (taking after Ellen's father). Her son just got his master's degree a few weeks ago and he was taking a slow ride back to Boston, visiting friends along the way. He was set to arrive in Boston at the end of this week, but when he got the call today, he came right home. I am glad the family is all together.
Ellen had been expecting this for many years but said it was still so shocking when it happened. She had made a promise to her father when he was sick that she would take care of her mother. Her mother would have turned 100 in 3 weeks (she refused a party - when Ellen suggested one, her mother replied that she wouldn't be there). Ellen kept this promise to an extreme. I have never seen such devotion of a daughter for her mother. As her mother declined physically and mentally, it became more taxing to spend every day there, but it never stopped Ellen. Very occasionally, she would take a "vacation" day just to have some time to herself. But really, it was 7 years of giving her life to her mother. I am so impressed with her strength and the extent to which she honored her father's wishes.