is was my next-door neighbor. Yesterday I found out that she passed away on Sunday. I’ve known this was coming. In fact, I’d known it for the past 5 years, the length of time she has been fighting cancer. Who takes chemo meds for 5 years? Barbara does. She is such a fighter. Ironically, once she started being treated by Hospice, she had a bad reaction to the morphine pain killers and they moved her out of her home and into the Hospice facility just a mile from our street. They kept her comfortable and provided space for her family to gather and keep her company which was expected to be just days. But a week went by and I joked that maybe she just wanted to watch one more Super Bowl. Then another week went by. I told her family how much Barbara taught me about fighting hard to live another day. I told them how glad I was that if she couldn’t be right next door, at least she could be down the street, comfortable until the end with Hospice care.
As an elementary teacher I discovered Judith Viorst book The Tenth Good Thing About Barney and recommend to families when they are dealing with a family death. I even envision having it read-aloud at my funeral, one more read-aloud shared with my friends gathered. Today I reread this sweet book about a family who has lost a cat. As I walked to school today, I began making my list about the 10 Good Things About Barbara.
- Barbara was a good resident of 12th Street.
- My street only runs one block and has only 9 houses on it. When we moved in 18 years ago, both Jack and Barbara lived next door. We in our 40s with 2 school-age children, they both in their 60s, Jack’s health failing. Barbara always shared smiles, gave a wave, and stopped for short chats as we stood in our adjacent yards.
- Barbara was a storyteller.
- I started getting in the habit of stopping by every few months once she told me she was fighting cancer. I’d ask how she was doing and I’d hear her latest medical plan. Then she’d tell me stories. About her kids and the teachers they had. Thinking back, a few of those stories she told me more than once but I didn’t care. She enjoyed talking and reminiscing and I enjoyed the peaceful conversation as I sat in her living room.
- Barbara liked my cooking.
- I am not a fancy cook at all. I feed my family using easy-to-make recipes. Over the past few years, I’ve made extra on some Sundays and took Barbara a serving. She raved about my chicken salad I made. I had to laugh when I admitted to her the recipe. “Take 2 cups of chicken salad purchased from the grocery story deli. Add sliced grapes and chopped walnuts.” I’m glad she liked how I “cooked”!
- She taught me how to prime her lawn mower and let me borrow it all summer long for the last five summers.
- My lawn mowers seemed to be cursed. One stopped working. We bought another and it stopped working after one mow. After getting it repaired, it again stopped working. Barbara kindly allowed me to borrow her very basic and very reliable mower. However, the first time I could not get it to start. I sheepishly knocked on her door to explain my defeat. “Did you prime it?” I looked at her blankly and she came outside and showed me this red rubber button on the front of the mower. She pushed it three times. I pulled on the mower cord. It started right up!
- Barbara was a reader.
- Barbara spent lots of time reading when she first was diagnosed with cancer. As a reader myself, I asked if I could get her books when I visited the library. I brought her mysteries and a series about ladies who met and quilted. She loved to read!
- Barbara stayed current by daily reading the newspaper.
- Both Barbara and I receive home delivery of the Washington Post. Each morning she’d read. To help her, I got used to throwing her newspaper on her front porch. And for the past year, using the plastic bag it comes in, I hung it from the screen door handle so she didn’t have to bend down to get the paper. Last week, I was leaving my house as the paper was being delivered and no paper was delivered next door. Barbara’s imminent passing started to sink in as I realized her family must have cancelled her Post subscription.
- Barbara loved her cats.
- I don’t have any pets but I always enjoyed Barbara’s cats when I stopped by for a visit. I especially liked watching how they sat, with the front door opened and stared out through the screened door. It was especially fun to watch when the chipmunks were out and would scamper in front of the door, teasing the cats.
- Barbara quilted and knitted and croqueted.
- Keeping her hands busy was important to Barbara until the very end. She made so many beautiful things. But my favorite was the adorable knitted coat she made for her great-granddaughter this past summer.
- Barbara knew Arlington as she had lived in our county all her life.
- This year I am teaching at Swanson MS, just up the street from my house. When I told Barbara about my new job, she proudly told me she attended this school in the 1940s! She told me lots of stories about so many places in Arlington and what things used to be like. As I approached the Hospice facility to visit Barbara, I smiled thinking how she could tell me all about what this building used to be. Instead, she was resting peacefully each time I stopped by. At least if Barbara couldn’t be in her own home at the end, she was in a familiar Arlington landmark.
- Barbra was the matriarch for 84 years of a good, strong family.
- As one exits the physical world, it allows time for reflection. Barbara met Jack and happily married her. They had lovely children that had lovely children and some of them have had lovely children. One life leading to some many more lives. And all have Barbara’s strong character and perseverance. She lives on in her family.
I’m lucky to have lived next door to Barbara.
I will miss her.