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The Last One on the Bench

My mother’s friend passed away a month before the end of 2015. I was in the car with my sisters on my way to a writers round table when I said, “Hey, there’s Mama’s friend!” She was on her way home, I guessed, because she was only a few steps from her door, pushing her walker but not with her usual agility of someone much younger than her ninety-some years. A few days later, I learned that she had died that weekend. A quiet death for a woman who was humble and kind. A life well-lived and a person well-loved. My mother has had a few neighbourhood friends, but over the last ten years or so, most have died or have become ill and had to move into nursing homes. My mother’s friend who recently left this earth was a lovely woman who had a brilliant smile and clever mind. Although she was in her early nineties, she still made it out almost daily and my mother would sometimes meet her for coffee at McDonald’s. Despite the fragility of an advanced age, she somehow found the strength to join the world every day and, what was more remarkable, she did so with a huge grin on her face. I admired this about her: her optimistic nature. We all go through low and high points, but when someone who has lived long, witnessed many things and gone through hardships, I am inspired by this utter optimism even more. How do they keep going? When the world becomes a busy place of deadlines, hills of laundry and dishes, bills and commitments, what helps you get through everything? I would have to say a certain amount of optimism, faith and a circle of people, whether they are family, friends, or complete strangers, who encourage and assist. A simple compliment or kind gesture can push others forward. Have you ever noticed the fatigue in someone and when you have given them a sincere compliment, a beautiful smile overtakes their face and it is almost like the weight of their problems has lifted for a minute or two? My mother’s friend was generous with her compliments. Sure, there are a thousand things to make us wake up in bad moods, but every time I saw my mother’s friend, I knew she was one of those rare people who sees the goodness in others and the possibilities of a new day that are waiting outside your house or apartment door and maybe this was why she made a point of going out daily, even on days that were frigid and grey, and engaging others, strangers and friends alike, because she understood this concept of possibilities and unexpected friendships. Her age did not slow her down or deter her positive nature. Besides going to McDonald’s, my Mom and her friend would get caught up on a bench in front of a downtown church. Another friend or two would join them there and they would talk about the old country, share memories of their youth, chat about Lebanese food and talk about the hardships they faced when they first arrived in Canada and how they somehow managed to carve out new lives in a new country. Of course, there was always that longing for the villages they left decades ago and which would always be engraved in their hearts. I suppose their gatherings on that wooden bench reminded them of their earlier lives, a life before immigration, before husbands, before children. Like friends in a schoolyard gathering, chatting and laughing after a day of school. On my way from work, I would often see my mother and her friends squished together on that bench. I would approach them, say hello and exchange a few words. But then some years ago, one of those ladies died a peaceful death in her apartment and another moved into a retirement home in a different neighbourhood. Since the recent passing of her friend, my Mom sits alone. Now winter has arrived and because of the coldness and sometimes icy conditions, my Mom finds it difficult to get out with her walker. The bench remains vacant. Maybe in the spring with its new beginnings, new friendships will arrive too. Or, at least, the memories of old ones will always fill my thoughts as I pass that very spot.

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15 set 2023

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