02/23/2015 11:58 am ET Updated Apr 25, 2015

When Friends Become Family


After her husband passed away, I was lucky enough to inherit my neighbor, Miss Trudy. An elderly lady with no relatives, Miss Trudy now lived on her own, scooting around on crutches through her Craftsman bungalow. She had bad knees that would sometimes give out and couldn't support her weight going up and down stairs. When she left the house, it had to be in a wheelchair.

It had been years since Miss Trudy could drive, so I volunteered to take her to her appointments. Once a week or so, I would let myself in to the back door of her place and call out her name until she answered back. I would help her get dressed, and check to make sure she had all of her essentials tucked into one of the Christmas gift bags she liked to use as a purse.

Miss Trudy would walk slowly down the backdoor ramp to my station wagon sitting in her driveway. I got very good at heaving her wheelchair into the back of the car and slamming the rear door down quickly before the chair could slip back out. She would ease into the passenger seat, and off we'd go, as she said, "like a turd of herdles."

Her mind was still sharp. A former scientist, she was a quick thinker. Her brain was being betrayed by her broken down body and myriad medical issues. We drove all over the valley going to doctor's appointments and shopping missions and we talked. Even after knowing Miss Trudy for a couple of years she would still surprise me with sentences that started with, "Back when I lived in Alaska..." or "That time I was at a conference in Helsinki..." Before she met her husband, she had purchased the house she still lived in. A young, unmarried woman buying a house on her own in the 1960s was out of the norm, but she was special like that.

She watched General Hospital every day in her big chair. She gave me updates about the goings on of the characters of Port Charles. "That guy is the other fella's boyfriend. They're having a big discussion about whether or not to have a threesome."

She spent holidays at our place as an honorary member of the family. We eventually moved off of Miss Trudy's street, a few blocks away to a new house, but we kept up our routines as she became less and less mobile. She had the papers drawn up to make me her durable power of attorney for health care.

Late one night our phone rang. It was Miss Trudy. Her knees had both given out and she had fallen. She had crawled to the phone to call us. We called 911 and went to her house. She had fallen backward and hit her head. When the guys from the fire department showed up, she complained about what bad timing it was that she was looking like such a mess with all of the cute men in her house.

I rode with her in the ambulance to the hospital. She was lucky to have no serious injuries but if she went home, it would just be a matter of time before she fell again and the narrow hallways in her hundred-year-old home would not accommodate a wheelchair. She was sent to a rehab facility for observation and physical therapy. She was now too nervous to walk on her own with the crutches or a walker. She stayed in bed all day except when the PT took her down the hall to work with small hand weights.

Miss Trudy hated the rehab. She developed bed sores and a staph infection. She would not be allowed to leave until she had healed. Her mind started slipping. Sometimes I would ask her a question and she would just repeat whatever had just been said on the TV. She would call in the middle of the night and ask me to take her home. She stopped eating. I explained to her that if she didn't start eating, we would think she was giving up. She complained of having nowhere to go and nothing to look forward to. I was worried about how many days she had left.

I started touring assisted living facilities. I fell in love with the first one I saw. It had music playing and a dog walking around. There were high school kids there playing cards with some of the residents. It was bright and didn't have "that smell." I liked the idea that if she moved here, she wouldn't have to be alone all the time anymore. She could have more company than me and General Hospital.

Staying in the rehab, she was becoming frail. She barely spoke above a whisper. I told her about the place I had found for her. I explained about the dog and the nice gardens, the games and the movie nights. She knew she couldn't go home, but she was wary about moving anywhere else. I urged the rehab to release her as soon as possible.

At last, she had healed enough to leave. We had moved some of her things from the house into her apartment, including her big chair. She required a medical transport to bring her to her new home. As she was wheeled into the lobby, she looked around taking it all in. They brought her up the elevator to her room, a plaque with her name engraved on it was already on the door. With the help of two medical assistants she eased into the big chair. "Well all right," she whispered to me, "tell me again about the gardens."