"At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we built; not what we got but what we shared; not competence but our character and not our success but our significance. Live a life that matters."
I found this quote writtten in a letter I sent to my mother in law about two years ago at Christmas when she first became very ill. She kept it all this time.
By the time I finally met her, we were already great friends and quickly grew to love her even more.
We started our honeymoon in San Francisco, then went to Sausalito, Napa and then spent a few days with Betty in Sacramento, taking a trip together to Tahoe to gamble for a day. I bet Tim had to pull her off the tables three different times on the way out the door. The girl knew how to gamble. She insisted on driving our rental car back to Sacramento since she was more familiar with the way. She gunned the little car onto the entrance ramp to the highway, quickly discovering she was on the ramp leading to the Burger King parking lot beside the entrance ramp to the highway. Tim drove after that.
I don't know how many times Tim and I have laughed about that over the years. Betty was a hot mess long before the term was ever invented. She was a delight to be around.
She couldn't care less about housework. Her house was tidy, just didn't really care much about vacuuming or dusting.
Betty never even noticed.
Tim and I have laughed about that one too over the years. It simply wasn't important to her. What was important was her yard, her dogs and her painting.
After retiring from the state she relocated to St. Augustine to be closer to her kids and grand kids. She a had a small house that was packed with antiques and was a bric-a-brac museum. She was in her sixties by then but strong as a work horse. She survived breast cancer and after a mastectomy had no qualms about having one flat side, rather wearing it as her badge of honor. She put up an entire six foot privacy fence around her back yard with just help from an old (feeble at best) man down the street. Then she dug two huge koi ponds, lining them and running water to them. Then she built a brook around the side and back of her house with water falls and more fish. She built benches and swings and chairs and awnings and the back yard was an absolute oasis. She had lime trees, lemon trees, a greenhouse she also built and had plants and flowers everywhere.
You could have stuffed a king sized pillow with all the dog and cat hair but didn't bother her one bit. I knew better than to try and clean for her...learned that lesson on my honeymoon!
She'd give you the shirt off her back. She was the most generous woman I ever met. She lived a simple life and never wanted for more. She had a heart of gold. She knew how my own mother had loved antiques and gave me so many (really) nice things over the years. We have a storage unit here in Orlando packed to the gills with even more she gave us when she had to give up her house and go to assisted living.
She only came to visit us once in Georgia, too worried about leaving her animals for long but had a good friend come over to sit with the herd one weekend and came for a visit.
That was back when the kids were younger, TJ had just started high school. We had our first Boxer, Rosie back then and Betty was all excited to meet her. We invited all Tim's brothers and the grand kids over for a cook out one afternoon.
The past couple of years haven't been very kind to Betty. Cancer revisited her once again, this time in her lungs...her non smoker lungs. She never smoked a day in her life.
Massey, Zach and TJ went to visit her while I was still living in Georgia. She was too weak to walk so TJ simply scooped her up in his arms and carried her to his car, borrowing a wheelchair and putting it in his trunk. They took her out to eat at her favorite place and got her out for an afternoon. Have I mentioned what good kids I have?
Massey and I went to visit her a few months ago and she was too weak to even sit up in bed.
Broke my heart.
Of course she was still alert as ever, sharp as a tack, just trapped in a crumbling body. She had a room mate, also a Betty. Their beds were about six feet apart with a curtain you could draw between them. Room Mate Betty was able to come and go, not bed ridden at all and wasn't there when we first arrived. After about an hour, Room Mate Betty came into the room and our Betty introduced me to her.
Seemed like a really nice woman, and they seem to get along well, which is a good thing when you live six feet from each other waiting to be six feet under.
So Room Mate Betty goes over to her side and draws the thin curtain, I suppose to give us some privacy. I was laying on the bed next to our Betty, stroking her head and holding hands with her. I remarked how nice her room mate was. Betty didn't skip a beat, she said "You know, she's a Republican...but a nice one."
Jeez Betty! It isn't an iron curtain she drew shut.
But that was Our Betty.
You see, Betty and I have exactly the same political views. Tim is a Republican although lately has been leaning Independent. I'm so far left I'm almost back to the right! Tim and I don't talk politics, never have. Well maybe a couple of times, but didn't turn out so well. We do our political talking in the polling booth, as it should be done.
I'll never forget the time we went to visit Betty when she first moved to St. Augustine. We pulled in her tiny driveway behind her little truck which had a bumper sticker which read "No More Bushit". I thought it was funny, Tim declined to comment.
Tim borrowed my brother's big Ford truck today and moved the last of Betty's things out of her room today. I didn't go. He told me when they were there, Room Mate Betty was beside herself crying about our Betty's death, and told Tim:
"She was my best friend in the world."
I think we could all learn a lot from how our Betty and Room Mate Betty (both white) lived together, in a tiny cinder block room in a tiny cinder block hospice which was formerly a tiny cinder block hospital for African Americans Only in St. Augustine in the 1900's. (another travesty)
We're all different, and should embrace that as a good thing instead of butting heads over it.
So happy for Betty's release and know for certain she's in a better place. She was a wonderful person with a wonderful spirit.
You will be missed by this world, which truly needs more people like you in it. You led by example and we should all stand by yours.
Till next time... COTTON