I had the very great pleasure of meeting a woman today who has terminal cancer. I had contacted a number of owners in a condo building I’m hoping to find a place in, to see if anyone was interested in selling. I decided, in my letter, to tell them a little about myself. Former lawyer, selling real estate when I’m not writing mysteries. Said I was on my own, an empty nester, hoping to find a place in a pet-friendly building. Tired of all the snow.
The woman’s daughter called me. She sounded genuinely pleased and relieved to have heard from me, and invited me to come over today. And so it came to be that I met these two remarkable women. I’ve spent the rest of the day reflecting on them and on dying, and how we choose to face it.
They were both funny, feisty, engaged. Not bitter about what was happening but planning for it, getting ready.
“Do you know what’s going on here?” the mother asked. I shook my head. “Well, I’m dying,” she said, although I’d gathered there were health problems from the oxygen tank and the line attached to her nose. “Lung cancer. It’s terminal.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said, and grinned at me. “So was I.”
Her daughter has moved into the condo and sleeps there on a cot. No-one’s sure how much time she has left. Weeks probably. Not likely to be months. But she loves her apartment, and her view of the water, and she’s determined to stay there as long as she can.
She insisted on showing me around the place, despite her weakness. It had been renovated some decades ago by the second wife of a rich man.
“It shows, don’t you think?” she said. “More money than brains. But I love this place. I just love it.” She opened the closets to show me expensive, custom fit locking mechanisms. “In a closet, no less,” she said. “Imagine having that kind of money to waste on something no-one even sees.”
It turned out she’d had a spaniel, too, long ago — there was a picture of hers on the wall that was a dead ringer for my beloved Chip. We talked about how much we had each grieved their deaths, although she described hers as a rascal. “Did whatever he wanted,” she said. “Never listened to me; he was stubborn. But I’ve always loved spaniels.”
She showed me the table where her friends drop by to play bridge: for the first time in my life, I wished I played. She showed me her decoy collection: I used to carve decoys, years ago.
I went over there for what was supposed to be a cursory walk through. An hour later, we were still finding common ground, laughing at the crazy real estate market, at trophy wives who have more money than brains and at the dogs we’ve both loved, the smart ones and the ones that aren’t quite as clever.
I got up to leave, reluctantly, when I felt I was tiring her out, but she surprised me by doing a little dance at the door. “I’m 80 years old,” she said, taking my hand firmly. “Do the things that are important to you and don’t give a damn what other people think. Because you never know. You could die tomorrow. So could I.”
We told each other what a pleasure it was to have met. I told her to let me know if there was anything I could to do help. I had hoped to find a condo: I found an indomitable spirit instead.
“It’s hard,” her daughter said as she spoke to me outside the door. “It puts a lot of the burden on me, as the only child. But yes, she’s terrific. And at least this way, we get to say goodbye.”