Twenty years ago when Mike was a baby of about 7 months, we were sitting at Mass and Mike was amusing himself with my credit cards, putting them into and taking them out of the pocket for them in my purse. When Mass was over, I grabbed my purse and we started to leave when a voice behind me said “Ma’am, you forgot one of your cards.” I thanked her and she walked away. Thinking this woman looked like she needed a friend, I sent Rebekah after her to stop her so I could speak with her. That was the beginning of a 19-year acquaintance and association with this woman who had nobody in the world.
Her mother had just died and she was all alone—this 56-year –old woman who was working on the diploma she never managed to get at the time of her life when most young girls graduate from high school. She and her mother had been abandoned when Beverly was a girl, and Beverly was so distraught she never learned to read or write, drive a car, or cook a meal. So when her mother died, she was truly left alone and pretty helpless.
We started picking her up to take her to Mass and did that every week for a number of years. Then we changed parishes and she preferred to go to her own. We still saw her, though not as often, and had her over for holiday meals.
An accident at the restaurant where she worked led to an early retirement on disability, so the little contact she had with the world outside her tiny house was reduced even further. Beverly had her routines which she didn’t like interrupted, and an incident in her neighborhood caused her to change her phone number and have it unlisted.
I tried calling her only to discover that the number I had was no longer good, and she forgot to tell me she was now unlisted. So after several weeks of not seeing her, I went to her house to try to see her in person. Because of the way she lived, she never allowed anybody into her house. She didn’t answer the door, and I couldn’t get anybody in her neighborhood to answer either. They were all still hunkered down because of the neighborhood incident and wouldn’t open their doors to strangers. I always feared that Beverly would die or fall in her house and nobody would know, so that was my first thought when she didn’t answer the door, which, by the way, had a broken glass. So I called the police, and they went over and convinced her to open the door. They asked her if she knew me and she said yes. The told her to call me and let me know she was all right. She did so and she was incredulous that anybody would go to such lengths for her. After that, she called me every Wednesday evening at 6:00 sharp to check in.
We saw her on and off and then last year, we went to Dallas in March. I told her I would be gone for a couple of weeks so I wouldn’t be home to answer the phone. She forgot that, and while I was gone, she left me an angry message saying she would never speak to me again because I was ignoring her call. It took a while to convince her that I was not avoiding her, but she finally commenced calling me again. Things were never quite the same after that because she wanted to rehash my neglect of her by being gone, and a few months ago, she stopped calling me except irregularly. By this time, she was 75 years old.
A couple of months ago, I got a phone call from a stranger asking if I knew Beverly. I said I did but hadn’t heard from her in a few weeks. This person related that Beverly had died and she had just come from the funeral. The circumstances of her final days were appalling—she was alone in her house in bed and almost completely dehydrated. The police had to practically shovel through papers and vermin to get to her in the back bedroom. They called an ambulance which took her to the hospital where she died, with only a nurse in attendance. The police apparently found my phone number by her telephone and gave it to this person to call me.
The sad thing I learned from this phone call was that Beverly did have family, right here in town. They only surfaced after she died. She always told me we were her family.
I relate this story because if you know anybody who is alone, I would encourage you to keep tabs on him/her. And if you have an estranged relative or friend, try to find a way to heal that distance. Nobody should die alone, and you might be the one privileged to be the one to escort that person to the threshold where hopefully the angels will be waiting.
Beverly would have been 76 on Friday. Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her.
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