I have a friend named Jules. She’s a widow and quite a bit older than me. Actually, one of her sons works with my husband, which is how we met. About four years ago, she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
The diagnosis was hard on her son, Fred, who felt a moral obligation to look after her in his father’s absence. Whether you know its coming or not, you’re never quite ready to lose your parents.
As you can imagine, her health deteriorated rapidly despite the care of cancer doctors, lung specialists, and pain management. I’m sure there were other physicians I didn’t hear about, too. Luckily, Jules’s late husband was military and left her with very good insurance coverage.
She went from a care-free senior who liked to volunteer to a bed-ridden shell of a woman who needed round the clock care in a very short time. Like any loving child, her son moved her into his tiny one-room apartment with her hospital bed. He cared for her the best he could while working full time and often overtime to help pay for her care.
His place was very small, and it seemed cluttered with Jules’s stuff in there on top of his. I would stop by to visit often. We lived close and I figured she was lonely laying in the bed all day while her son was at work. I thought it was the least I could do to spend a little time with an old woman facing her mortality.
Preparing to Die
She acted like a trooper. I never really saw her feel sorry for herself. I helped her get her affairs in order and even typed up her last will and testament. We discussed where she wanted her belongings to go and who would get her vehicle. She made sure her debts were paid and picked out a dress to be buried in.
It was sort of sad at times, but we just acted like it was all in a day’s work. As the weeks passed, I noticed the dust and clutter built up in her room. Her son worked a lot of hours and I think it was all he could do to get home and care for her. It didn’t seem like he had much time or energy for cleaning.
As we talked, I found that Jules still tried to keep a weekly hair appointment. Getting her anywhere was quite a task. She wasn’t a small woman and the cancer had drained most of her strength. She couldn’t stand long at all and had to take her oxygen with her.
She had a motorized scooter that could offer her some freedom. It came apart in three mutually heavy pieces, making it easy to store in the trunk of a car. Jules needed the help of a healthy person who could drive and help piece together her weighty scooter.
Having a flexible schedule, I offered to help her out. After all, she was my friend, and I felt a moral obligation. I thought getting her hair done would boost her moral. I know it always makes me feel good and I figured it would be once less thing for Fred to worry about.
She offered to pay me $30 for my gas and my time which I thought it was fair. I lived close and I really didn’t mind. Besides, I had the time and I thought it was the right thing to do. From then on, I would make sure she got to her Thursday hair appointment.
Having worked in healthcare in the past, the amount of dust and clutter in her room bothered me and I was pretty sure it bothered her too. I knew it couldn’t be good for her, especially in her sickened condition. So, like any good friend, I would come early and do a little cleaning before we got her hair done.
Eventually things evolved to the point where I was also changing her bed. She would get so excited when I came to change her bed and take her out for the afternoon. I know she got lonely the rest of the week but one day was all I could offer her.
I didn’t particularly enjoy doing those things, but I would want someone to do it for my mom. I knew that one day I could possibly be in the same position, and I could only hope that someone would do it for me too. Do unto others, right?
What Started As a Friendly Gesture
So that is how the whole thing started. That’s how it came to be that on Thursday mornings I would go take care of Jules. I have helped her bathe and shop and do pretty much anything she can no longer do on her own. I think it gave her a sense of freedom back.
You see, when her son was home, he was always in charge. He controlled the surroundings, the events of the day, and the food. He wasn’t being obnoxious. He was just trying to take care of his mom the best he could, and it was his house.
I always thought about how frustrating that must be. One day she was an independent adult doing what she wanted when she wanted, as she had for many years. Then suddenly, she couldn’t get dressed without help or leave the house without an escort. It tugged at my heartstrings.
The doctors always told us Jules only had a matter of months. That was almost two years ago. Jules’s son, Fred, is now in a serious relationship with a very nice woman. They have moved into a sizable house together, along with Jules and her mother. Now the four of them live together.
I have also purchased a house and moved out to the country. Now I live 40 miles away from Jules and gas is $3 per gallon. I still go over there on Thursdays and spend the day with her, but I am wrestling with my decision.
I show up around 8am to clean her room and change her bed, even though there are two other adults in the house that can do it. She prefers the way I make her bed and asked me not to schedule other things on Thursdays so that I can be available for her.
I clean her fan, wash her clothes, and even restock the little mini fridge in her bedroom. I think she sees me as more of the cleaning lady than a friend now. She saves up projects for me to do, like cleaning out her drawers or the top of her closet.
Not that it really matters but the $30 isn’t worth it to me. It works out to less than $6 per hour if I don’t put any of it in my gas tank, which never happens. It’s an 80-mile round trip for me. Plus, I lose the whole day. I feel like my work there is done now.
The End Is Near
Jules has lost a ton of weight recently and she coughs up blood every day. I know it won’t be long now but that’s also what I told myself six months ago. Twenty-five Thursdays have passed since then. I can hear her struggling for breath as she tries to string a sentence together and I want to do nice things for her.
She’s a fighter alright. My problem is that now I feel like my time with her takes away from my family. That’s the part that I’m not okay with. It’s a sad situation.
I feel like I did the right thing for a long time, and I still feel a moral obligation to do the right thing. I think it’s time for me to put my family first and take my Thursdays back. It’s not just Fred anymore and they aren’t stuck in that tiny one-room apartment.
There are two other able-bodied adults besides him to help care for Jules. It didn’t bother me at all when I lived 5 minutes away but that’s just not the case anymore. Now it actually costs me money to spend the day with her because I can make way more than $30 working from home.
I guess I’m just trying to justify taking my Thursdays back. I feel like that’s what I need to do but I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I know the end is near and I certainly don’t want her quality of life to suffer, especially when there’s so little of it left.
A Choice or a Moral Obligation?
On the one hand I fell like it’s the least I can do for a dying old woman I call a friend. On the other hand, I feel like she is taking advantage of my kindness and justifying it with the $30 she hands me on my way out the door. It’s not like they can’t afford to pay someone to do what I do for her.
I guess the question is, does she call me a friend? I really don’t know anymore. I quit visiting the other days of the week because she was saving up extra chores. I would stop by to visit and end up scrubbing figurines or cleaning her car.
I think my decision has been made. Jules is with people who love her, and I have my own family to care for. I doubt it would affect her much if I quit coming. In fact, she probably wouldn’t give it another thought unless it was Thursday morning and someone else had to change her bed.
The main thing is that I can live with myself. Whether Jules has two more Thursdays or 20 more. I will have to answer for how I treated my fellow man during my time here on earth, but I will first have to answer for how I treated my own family. I guess the question really is, have I treated them both well enough?