Our friend Ed came to dinner the other night. It was a Tuesday evening small dinner party. We also had friends S & G join us. He is a local musician and instructor of music at our university. She is also a musician and teaches steel drum. Back in the 70s, S was a high school student an hour south of our town. Ed was a teacher at that school. That’s where they met. We have had Ed and S & G over for dinner together once a few years before. A lot happened between that time and this.
Ed looked really good. He said he had gained 20 pounds over the past year. He was hoping his Tai Chi exercises would help him lose some of it. Ed is quite a character. He is single, near 70, and is active physically and mentally. He teaches classes at the local senior center. Like most people, he has some interesting, happy, and sad parts to his life. I want to share with you thoughts I wrote about him and his journey during the most recent years. His journey has taken him to the depths. Now, he seems to be back.
We had not seen Ed in about three months. He lives on the other side of town about ten miles from us. Ed and I were colleagues at our local high school. He taught math and computer programming languages. I taught physics. So, we had many things of interest in common. Many of the kids in our classes were in both his and mine. We both retired from the classroom within the last few years. Ed is the kind of person we all wish we could be. He is smart. He enjoys having really good conversations with lengthy give and take. You get to make your points and he never butts in. Ed appreciates other people and the contributions they make to society. He loves to learn. He is always taking classes of one kind or another. Last night, he was telling us about the new Tai Chi 2.0 he was taking at the senior center and how he had taken Tai Chi 1.0 five times before he could figure out the 108 or so moves.
The last time we saw Ed three months ago he was thin and small and sad. The most recent six years have not been easy for Ed. His wife of over 40 years died last summer of cancer. Marcy was the light of his life. She was outgoing and drew people to them naturally and easily. They enjoyed moving through life together and couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. Six years ago, Marcy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery and chemo seemed to give her a second chance. They knew it might return and prepared for the possibility. Living in fear and dread of what might happen was not their way. Instead, they were determined to live and enjoy every day. But, the last year has been heart breaking. It was January 2011 they found out her cancer had returned and was in her lungs and brain. It quickly took her life by July.
Ed came to dinner last night. He looked taller. He had gained back weight. He seemed much happier and animated a little like he used to be. I said to my wife after he went home “Ed sure was talkative tonight, wasn’t he?” We talked for a while about some of the things that seemed to have helped Ed get through these last several months and emerge healing and healthier.
Earlier in the day, our son emailed to ask if we wanted to see him. He lives in town and attends grad school. He knew Ed and Marcy as our friends and as a teacher at the high school. Ed and our son share interest in flying. Ed started flying RC planes a couple of years ago before all hell broke loose in his life. Our son wants to be a pilot. Our son came over with his big basket of dirty laundry. I guess that is why we ‘wanted to see him’. After starting a load, he rummaged around in the kitchen a while. “What do you need?” we asked. He wanted to make some cookies. So, he did that.
Earlier in the day, I made an Irish soda bread to go with the beef barley soup Melanie was going to make for dinner. As the meal was served, it was very simple, we passed some sliced cheese and apple slices. We buttered the bread and dug in to the soup. Soon Ed remarked about how he was now buying soup ingredients from the food co-op grocery store. It was a lot less loaded with sodium. Melanie and I agreed. He had another big helping. After dinner, I cleared a few bowls and served four big cookies my son baked. Ed relished his.
Our son left soon after dinner. We retreated into the living room for more conversation in comfortable seating. Melanie asked about the holidays. She wondered if he had traveled to see his two kids and their families. He said he stayed home but the kids came to visit. “It was really difficult to get through the holidays this year” he said. The bereavement group he was part of since Marcy’s death had warned him it would probably be the case. “They have been so good to me” he said. He explained how some in the group have been in it for eight years. He felt that long term experience was valuable to the group. Grieving over the loss of a loved one isn’t finished at some specified time. Something can trigger emotions when you least expect it. And, it can be years later. How you cope is something that experience can teach.
Ed continued to talk about the wonderful people who had helped him in other ways. Melanie and I didn’t say much. We asked a few questions. Ed was rolling along giving his accounts of the pain and the help he has received. Several times he said “They are such good people” referring to hospice in our community. He spouted several statistics about how many people die with no one at their side to hold them or their hand. He praised the work done by the volunteers and staff who are available within minutes if you need them. They train you to administer the drugs needed by your loved one. He was moved by their statements to him of “We are here to help you through this.”
Not every community is as blessed as ours. Ed said that our hospice assisted over 500 people last year in their journey through their last days. He was ever grateful to them for helping him be with his dear Marcy, at home, free of pain, and peaceful. She knew he was there. Hospice helped them take those last steps together with dignity.
So, Ed came to dinner last night. He seems to be getting better. He shows signs of enthusiasm for living that had left him a year ago. He still has a long way to go. But, he is moving in the right direction. And, we are so happy for him. As he zipped up his coat to go home with a bag of four big cookies in hand, he turned and said “I should have you guys over for dinner sometime soon.” With a smile, he asked “Do you like burritos?”
We are looking forward to the next time we can have dinner with Ed.