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glad to have known her
I got the news from my co-worker in a text: "Sophie died Wednesday!"
"Oh no!" I wrote back.
Goodbye Sophie, I murmured to myself sadly. You finally got your wish.
Sophie had lived at the elderly housing complex where I worked. She was short and plump, wore neon yellow sneakers and cut her white hair in a boy's regular. She rarely used a bra ("I hate those restrainers," she would say. Large roomy sweatshirts made this a non-issue, thankfully). She had lost her husband and had no children. But, she told us, working in the maternity ward of the Anna Jaques Hospital as she had for many years allowed her be around the babies that she loved.
She visited us often in the management office. "You girls are my favorite landladies, except for my mother," she told us. "My mother was the first favorite landlady, and you are my second favorite." It didn't matter that she had expressed this same opinion only the day before, she said it with absolute sincerity every time.
She also had a wicked sense of humor. When two male residents from the South moved in down the hall from her, she sashayed around with delight. "I'm going to have a gentleman caller," she crowed. "I feel just like Scarlett O'Hara!"
She loved the building's newsletter, and was distraught when we made a decision to stop listing residents' birthdays.
"How am I going to know who to wish a happy birthday to?" she implored. "How am I going to give out my birthday cards?" We reinstated the birthday list the next month, and Sophie was ecstatic. Because she loved it so, I sometimes made her her own personal newsletter, complete with funny fonts and bright colors. She would thank me solemnly, assuring me that she wouldn't tell anyone else that she got her own special newsletter.
Sophie loved her apartment, and lived at peace with the other residents. But every so often there would be a clash with her neighbors over the volume of her television set, which had two settings: LOUD and LOUDER. Sophie was very hard of hearing. She wore a hearing aid, but it always seemed to be broken. She had a little money, and we urged her to spend whatever was needed to get the best hearing aid possible. Devices such as TV Ears and headphones didn't seem to help for long, or at all.
Television volume aside, however, it was nearly impossible not to love Sophie. One of my last memories of her at the building was her surprise birthday party, where she was surrounded by cake, presents, and many friends.
She started to fail some years ago. She took a fall and went to the hospital, coming back quieter and less mobile. She got a medic alert system. She gave up her car, missing it terribly, but realizing that it was necessary because of her declining health. When she fell again, she didn't immediately push the medic alert call button because, being Sophie, she wanted to get up by herself.
Sophie never came back to her apartment. She went to the hospital, then to a rehabilitation facility, and finally to a skilled nursing home. I visited her at all of these places. The Sophie who had laughed and smiled was gone. For a long time she cried hysterically every time she saw me. "If only I hadn't left my apartment," she sobbed. Gradually, she grew used to her surroundings, responding to the kindly care of the staff, but she never stopped missing her apartment.
I brought her sugar-free candy because she was diabetic, and a warm hat, because she taken to wearing a towel on her head. When I arrived she would (loudly) waylay her nurses and introduce me as her friend. But her hearing loss made communicating with her brutally difficult, so I mostly sat and held her hand and listened to her talk.
She didn't want to go on, and she said so repeatedly to anyone who would listen. She didn't want to sit there, in a wheelchair, bound to a body that didn't work any longer but wouldn't let her go.
"I just want to close my eyes," she moaned repeatedly. "I just want to see my husband again." I would nod and press her fragile hand a little tighter.
Sophie passed away about three years after her fall. When I drive by the nursing facility where she spent her final years and received such good care, I feel a complicated knot of emotions: relief that she is at peace, sorrow that she is no longer with us.
But mostly I feel blessed to have known her, this loving and joyful soul who took such pleasure in wishing others a happy birthday.
This article was originally published in the Newburyport Daily News, March 2016