It ain’t Heaven, but moving to California is a bit like death [updated]

Our friend Kathleen is 93 years old. We’ve known her for more than 20 years. During those years, Merri has been a surrogate daughter to Kathleen, providing her with hours each week of contact and care. Mer has filled Kathleen’s pillboxes (lots of pills – does anyone really know about drug interactions when so many medications are involved). Mer has helped Kathleen manage her finances, and much, much more. A year ago, Mer found a new senior facility for Kathleen to move to that was so much better than the little room she had occupied for years. Things were looking good – as good as they can for a near-blind 93-year-old with a generous and kind heart.

Almost monthly for I don’t know how many years, Merri and Kathleen have had lunch together, along with conducting business. Three or four times a year, I’ve joined them at Paul’s Monterey Inn. We eaten a lot of Paul’s extraordinary green chile chicken soup and petite filets. After years of getting the bacon from around Kathleen’s filets, Lucky has learned to smack his lips at the mention of her name. Our waiter and our friend is also named Mark. Together, we’ve celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and the good life.

A few weeks ago, Kathleen had a nasty fall. Overnight, this independent woman lost control of her life. (Her 24 hours in the ER testify to a horribly screwed-up health care system.) Although she has recovered considerably in a short time, she will never recover her independence. It is a tragic turn – heartbreaking.

Kathleen’s two daughters have taken the responsibility they should. No one could expect Merri to do even more than she has. Still, the result is that Kathleen, who expected to die in the town that has been her home for 50+ years, has moved to California, to a facility close to one of her daughters. I can’t say this is wrong – it’s not my decision, and the decision is so difficult.

We had one last lunch at Paul’s Monterey Inn a week ago. Leaving town isn’t the same thing as dying, but when you’re leaving your home forever and saying goodbye to friends you may never see again, it hurts as much. We’ll miss her.

Update: Nothing so confounds a writer like reality. Tonight, the Universe sent a message through its agent, Kathleen: What’s your problem? Kathleen called tonight to tell us how happy she is in the new place, which is beautiful. She remains a role-model for kindness, generosity, and rolling with the changes.

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