I visited my dear friend Ruth at the hospital recently and was reminded of the gift of friendship. I wrote this letter to her to honor our bond. I hope you give your friends a big hug the next time you see them.
My hands finger the turquoise pendant you gave me as I step into your hospital room for a visit. The curtain is partly drawn around your bed and someone seems to be feeding you lunch. I perch on a chair looking at your socked feet and take in deep breaths waiting. A stand-up fan whirrs in your direction, even though there’s an air conditioner in the window. When the clanging stops, I rise and peer around the plastic barrier.
“Hi, I’m Rosa, Ruth’s friend,” I say to the nurse while my eyes take in your delicate figure pressed against the pillows.
“Hello. I heard you were coming,” the nurse says before she rolls the lunch tray away and leaves.
I turn squarely to face you and sadness rips my heart. You are rail thin, the ravages of Lewy body dementia wracking your body. Your cheeks are sunken and flushed with heat. Your brown eyes wander, then widen when you see me. A grin crosses your lips. It’s the same bright smile you flashed every time we saw each other in California, delighting me with your friendship. I want you to recognize me, even though I was told you might not.
I wrap you in a big hug over your hospital bed, your fragile frame limp against me. My forehead creases seeing the oxygen tube in your nose, how weak you seem compared to the vibrant, beautiful woman I had known for twenty years. You tense up when I hold you, so I pull back.
“It’s so great to see you!” I say excitedly. “I brought you some flowers.”
“Oh, thank you,” you say, your fingers gripping the sheet tight. I set the small bouquet on the nightstand.
I reach for your hand, trying to fill the space that has separated us for years due to Covid and your move to the opposite coast. “I’m in Maine for vacation and drove down to Boston to see you,” I say. “I’ve been wanting to come for a long time.”
“Oh yes. That’s great,” you say, holding my gaze with your gentle, yet probing, eyes. Your body shakes a little. “Rosa,” floats out of your mouth into the air.
Relief washes over. You still remember me. I inhale deeply, wanting you to recall more, willing you to get better.
“Remember, when we first met at Mommy & Me Music? You were my first ‘mommy’ friend.”
“It’s been so long,” you say.
You showed me that I could appreciate being a stay-at-home mom. You were a lawyer too and had decided to stay home to raise your children. You helped me reevaluate my assumptions about success and modeled how women could make the choice to forego their careers and embrace it. You encouraged me to write and keep my brain stimulated.
“Remember PV Juniors? We had the fundraiser downtown at the California Club and no one believed it would succeed?”
“Wow wee,” you say, as if remembering something fun.
You encouraged me to join this women’s philanthropic organization. The year you were President and I was a Vice-President, we caused a ruckus by holding a major fundraiser downtown instead of close to home. That year we raised over $200,000 for local charities and scholarships. You helped me make a difference.
“Remember you were my tennis partner?” I say, trying to keep the memories coming.
“I remember vaguely,” you say.
You convinced me to play tennis and we became doubles partners. We were in the lowest “D” level of our women’s tennis league, but I didn’t mind. You made me laugh and kept me active.
“I came to wish you a happy birthday Ruth. It’s your birthday this Saturday.”
“We’re so old now,” you say, chuckling.
Your eyelids droop, then close slowly. I glance around the room and photos of your family cover every surface. Your colorful costume jewelry hangs on pushpins on the bulletin board. You loved stylish necklaces and nice clothes. You loved dressing up and being social. Even now, you are dressed in a pastel orange shirt and plaid shorts.
Everyone enjoyed your company. You were funny, and I know your humor is still there. You twitch and mumble as you dream. I’m hopeful you will get some of your memory back.
After a little while, you wake up startled.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“Life is hard,” you say.
“You should go back to your nap. You’re doing great. You have nice nurses taking care of you.”
“They’re always here but they never look,” you say, your eyes sagging at the edges.
A lump catches my throat. I want to be here for you, the way you were always there for me. You showed me how to be a good friend. Friendship shouldn’t be taken for granted. We should foster them wholeheartedly because they matter.
“I’ll try to visit again soon,” I say, and I mean it. “I should say goodbye now.”
“Don’t forget me,” you say, drifting back to sleep.
Tears well in my eyes and trickle down my cheeks. I squeeze your hand and kiss your forehead, your turquoise pendant dangling from my neck.
“I’ll never forget you.”
What I’m Reading
Fiona & Jane
by Jean Chen Ho
A witty, warm, and irreverent book that traces the lives of two young Taiwanese American women as they navigate friendship, sexuality, identity, and heartbreak over two decades. The author is coming to our book club later this month!
Photo of the Day
New friends at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in NYC – I pitched my novel at Pitch Slam and have some agent interest! Yay!
Thank you so much for sharing this beautifully written piece. I can’t wait to read it to my mom when I see her ♥️
Thank you Grace! You are a beautiful, shining light for your mom and an inspiration for all of us. Love you!
Rosa, this is such a meaningful and touching piece. Thank you for sharing the pictures and the story of you and Ruth. I won’t forget what she said to you — thank you for sharing her words.
Her words are precious and I jotted them all down on my phone as she said them. I wanted to capture her voice and for everyone to hear her dignity. Thank you my friend for reading and not forgetting what Ruth said.
Dear Rosa, Your visit with Ruth cannot go without tears. You’ve gathered the details of such a painful experience, one most of us would rather avoid for fear, perhaps, of awkwardness. Not you. Thank you for making the trip down to Boston to visit with Ruth, and for taking your courage and skills in hand to share this with us. These are holy times.
Thank you Grace for your generous comment. I felt I had no choice but to portray my beautiful friend in all her vulnerability. She deserves it. I didn’t know if I would have the courage to share her story but when I wrote to Ruth’s family about it and they were supportive, I decided to go for it. It’s been so wonderful to see the outpouring of love and support, offers to visit, send letters and flowers, and prayers. These are holy times for sure. Thanks for reading and it was great to see you again in Maine!
Rosa, this is the most beautiful tribute to your beloved friend. How cruel life can be — a bittersweet reminder to take nothing for granted. Thank you for sharing your story and the experience. Would love to see you soon xoxo, julie
Hi Julie, thank you for honoring Ruth by reading my letter and for taking away the message to take nothing for granted. Miss you my friend and would love to see you soon too! Let’s plan something. Xo Rosa
What a beautifully written tribute to dynamic Ruth and a powerful piece on friendship and aging. It made me cry. I love you, friend.
Love you too my friend!
Wow Rosa. Thank you so much for sharing these heartfelt words and details of our dear friend Ruth. So full of life , compassionate, kind, caring and generous. Breaks my heart to hear and see but also very grateful you shared. Beautiful smiling Ruth with the gorgeous shawl is how I always remember her and on the tennis courts the only one who said ‘sugar’ verses the other when making a mistake. Sweet through and through. Seems so unfair to be challenged w this horrible disease.
Thank you for visiting her. Love Lisa
Hi Lisa! “Sugar” is definitely a Ruthism for when making a mistake. She is so sweet and never dwelled on sour feelings. Thank you for remembering her and sending good vibes her way.
Dear Rosa, thank you for sharing the tender loving details of your visit. Love and well wishes to Ruth, Grace and the rest of the family. ♡
Thank you Linda! Hope your family is doing well too.