Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Loss of a Good Friend and Neighbor

Ruth Clapp moved to Cape Cod in the early 70s, as did my parents. She and Martin had a house built on a two-acre lot nearby. Bea and Ruth became quite close. They shared an appreciation for culture, democracy, and good books. For a while, the two neighbors were on the same town committee.

Two years ago I took Bea to Ruth’s house for a final visit. Martin had passed away, and Ruth was moving to assisted living in Maine. We went in the car, although she lived just across the street. Ruth was attached to an oxygen tank, and Bea used a walker. How poignant when they said goodbye! Mother was what she called "a little flakey" that day, but Ruth knew perfectly well that they would never see each other again.

Bea was 8 years older. We all assumed she would die first. But life is not predictable. Ruth passed away this winter. Her death occurred the night Bea went into the hospital.

I relate the news once we have driven Bea back to Wellfleet, after she is settled into the comfort of her own room. I wait for as "right" a moment as possible. And then I have to tell her several times until it finally sinks in.

When I tuck Bea in tonight, I announce that I am going to the Clapps’ for dinner, invited by Ruth’s daughter Madeleine, who now owns the house. I cannot help but remember past dinners where my father, Martin, Ruth, and, of course, Bea were present, enjoying each other’s company. Now she is the only one still alive.

Bea says tentatively, as if seeking corroboration, “Ruth died, didn’t she?”

“She did.”

“Ruth was such a nice person!”

"She was."

I remember speaking to Ruth about old age and the approach of death. The idea of living on for years did not appeal to her once quality of life deteriorated. Sometimes I cannot help but wish Bea felt the same way ...

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