My church lost its matriarch today. It's hard to know how to say good-bye to a woman who was in her 90s. She was ready to go, I know that. But still, it hurts. She told me more than once, "I'm tired, Claudia." She was annoyed and frustrated by the whole thing, this business of aging - she had things to do, after all.
When you met Bette for the first time, if you dismissed her as a doddering old lady who spent her days baking cookies and comparing local coupons to get the best price on ground beef, you would have been profoundly mistaken. Bette was extremely intelligent, politically aware, and very forward-thinking for a woman of her generation. She was mostly deaf and wore a cochlear implant, but she didn't miss much. She kept up with current events and cared deeply about social justice issues. It was only a few years ago that I remember hearing her speak passionately and eloquently about the United Nations. She was on Facebook, believe it or not.
About two years ago, some of the "older" ladies in my UU fellowship completed a program focused on croning. It was all about embracing the wisdom that comes with each consecutive journey around the sun. When it was Bette's turn to speak, she said, "It may soon be time for me to fold up my wings." I started crying on the spot. I couldn't imaging going to church each week and not seeing Bette there. I didn't want to think about letting her go. Because she could no longer drive, various members took turns driving Bette to and from church. My daughter and I took her home one time. She couldn't hear our chatter, but she still had plenty to say.
When my daughter was a toddler, Bette would say, "She has such a big spirit, Claudia." I remember feeling touched that Bette could see what I could see in my daughter - a bright shooting star across the night sky. As my daughter sprinted around the sanctuary and up and down the hallways, Bette would also say, "Doesn't she ever walk?" But she meant it in a nice way. She routinely mispronounced or misremembered my daughter's name but hey, I'm not going to correct a lady who's been on the planet twice as long as I have.
Bette's physical decline came swiftly in recent weeks. She made it pretty clear that she was ready to go. And so, she headed out earlier this evening. She left it all behind - the body that didn't work quite right anymore, the cochlear implant, and anything else she won't need on the other side, I suppose.
At church today, we were all a bit morose because we knew the end was near. It will be strange not to see Bette in her Green Bay Packer gear, seated directly underneath a speaker so that she could hear just a little bit better.
Honestly, I don't know how long I'll be on this planet myself, but if the old-lady version of me is half as wonderful as Bette was, I wouldn't ask for anything more than that.
Good-bye, Miss Bette. I will miss you terribly. Thank you for being my friend and . . . just for being you.