My Friend My Patient My Love

By Rose M. Schreiber


My friend is a tall stately gal - six foot to be exact.  Her love is the game of golf and she teaches me all the facets of it.  Soon, I too, begin to love the game, the camaraderie with my friend and with our fellow golfers. She swings a golf club like a soft feather, blowing in the wind - her body so straight, upright and graceful.  The ball goes flying down the middle of the fairway, rolls end over end until it stops - and I say "nice drive".  She just looks at me and smiles.  She doesn't say "yes, it was a good hit" she just takes the compliment inside and nods.  She then proceeds down the fairway after the little white ball - walking as if she were in a dance - graceful and in time with all of nature.  She stops to say "hello" to a bird that is eating his worm for breakfast.  (It's spring and the robins are back in town.)

My friend gets to her ball, looks at it and looks where she has to hit the next shot.  She gets it figured out mentally before anything happens physically.  She then takes a club she feels will make the green, and again she swings with such grace and fluidity.  Watching her is almost like watching a slow-motion picture.  The ball takes off again and glides high this time, with fewer rolls on it when it hits the green.  It just stops short, not too far from the pin. Again she takes off in that beautiful stride of hers, one foot in front of the other.  She looks so determined, but doesn't forget where she is or what is happening around her.  The wind is blowing slightly and she has taken that into consideration for the shot.  She is aware of all nature around her. She passes a squirrel and chuckles to it, and I hear the animal almost answer her, in its own language.  She seems to have a way to "talk" to the animals and all of nature around her. We get to her ball on the green and she proceeds to put it into the hole for a birdie. I say "nice birdie".  She just looks at me and says "thanks".

The game goes on like this for the rest of spring.  There are competitive games with others all over Long Island, New York, and New Jersey.  The summer comes and we play more golf, because we can't seem to get enough of the game. It has become an obsession with me - a love affair.  I begin to understand what is behind her eyes when I say "nice shot" to her.  She has been in a love affair with this game much longer than I.  I am more verbal about my shots and swings.  She is more relaxed and just glides through the motions. And yet, I can see she is ONE with the whole of what she is doing.  She is ONE with nature.

The wind starts to get cooler and there is championship after championship to be played.  It is nearing the end of the season for golf.  The love affair is slowly ending, and my friend seems to sense it.  And I know what is happening, too.  I don't look forward to the winter months of being inside and not out in the world of nature.  She starts to get a bit more anxious with her shots.  Her game is not as fine-tuned as it was in the summer months.  She walks a little faster down the fairways.  (I walk faster, too, because I am cold!)  We have hats on now, sometimes gloves, and layers of clothing, to keep us warm.  And yet, we keep on playing at this love affair of ours.

The years pass and I begin to become a better golfer.  I am younger than my friend, but that doesn't matter, because she has more stamina.  She has taught me so much about the game, and I have watched her every move to learn everything I could.  I wanted to be a 3 handicap like her.  I am only a 10 handicap after her many years of teaching - but then I don't have the same thing she has.  I don't glide down the fairway in slow motion like she does. I almost run to get to my ball in order to hit it again.  I am too anxious. She has the love of the game - the soft caress of the club, that makes her one with it and, in turn, one with the ball.  It is like watching love in motion.  I am too nervous, and agitated with my bad shots.  She handles them in stride, and just keeps going forward.  What a beautiful thing to watch this love affair she has with the game of golf.

We both decide to move to Florida, so we can play golf year round and each day till sunset.  We enjoy our years in Florida, playing on different leagues with lots of great people; and meeting new friends, who enjoy the game as much as my friend and I.  We play in the hot summer months and love it even more, because there are so few players on the golf course - and you can hit two and three balls.  Friends come down from up north to visit us in the winter months.  (We have the cheapest place in town to stay)  It seems that we are living only to play golf - which really isn't so bad, we both say. She loves it so, and I love the competition with the other players.

Then one day - she doesn't remember where she hit the ball.  I don't think anything of it, because it is only slightly off the fairway, although she usually is always in the middle.  We walk to her ball and I show her where it is.  A few months go by and I find I am beating her at the game, where before she always beat me.  Her swing is the same, although maybe a little shorter backswing.  But she is still out driving me and still is as graceful. Lately, though, she seems to be having problems with keeping a score card, but says it is because her eyes are not as good any more - so I leave it at that.

Then one night at the dinner table, we are talking about the day's game, who we played with and telling each other shot for shot what had happened.  All of a sudden she begins to stare into space, with a shaking of her head like a tremor.  I try to get her attention, but I am having trouble.  I get right in front of her, touch her shoulder and ask "are you all right?"  She snaps out of it and then says "yes, why?"  I am frightened, because I know something has happened with my friend.  She seems okay now, though, so we finish eating.  (In the back of my mind, I don't like what I saw.)

Later we decide she should be checked out; and after many months of poking with needles, with scans of the brain and other areas of her body, the doctors say it is a Dementia-Alzheimer's type disease. She is devastated and says I must put her in a nursing home.  I say "NO", that we will go through this together - it will be okay.

Years pass and we still play golf, but not as often.  It is hard to watch her declining so.  The doctors had said the progress of the disease could take three to twenty years.  I, of course, heard only the twenty years.  It is much shorter than that, for it's only been three years.  (I now beat her at the game we love so much - wishing that I couldn't.)

I shower her and dress her - and she fights me every step of the way.  My health is declining, because she is up twenty-four hours a day, pacing and speaking a language I do not understand.  She has lost all of her vocabulary, and is getting into everything in the apartment.  I am so afraid she is going to get hurt.  It is like watching my children all over again, when they were two years old.

Soon the time comes when I can't handle her anymore because of her six-foot tall body and her strength.  Now I have found that I have a heart condition; and the doctor tells me I must put her in a nursing home.  The thought tears my heart out.  I feel I am living in a time zone of depression and despair for the both of us - and I am sure she is feeling the same way.

She doesn't walk any more.  She is in a wheel chair now, due to a hip break, and then forgetting how to walk.  Her body is bent and stiff as a steel rod, because of the illness.  She no longer moves with that beautiful fluidity. Her movements are rigid, like a robot. She no longer remembers her love affair with golf.  She turns her head toward the television when golf is on, stares at it for a moment, but then is off to some other place in her mind.  She doesn't speak anymore, not even to say "thanks" to my "that was a good golf shot".  She makes noises that no one seems to understand - except the other residents on her floor of the nursing home, who also have this terrible illness.  They seem to have a language all their own - almost like the birds and squirrels.  But she is no longer one with nature.  When I take her outside to see the ducks at the nursing home pond, she just yells and her face and eyes are full of fear.  So we now stay inside.

Each winter she usually gets pneumonia, because her swallow muscle is no longer working.  She has lost all of the muscles in her body; and because of that, is in diapers now.  She is not determined to do anything anymore. She just sits in a wheel chair or lies in bed.  When she sleeps, she makes noises and faces; and her body twitches, as if in a bad dream.  (Oh, how I wish this was a really bad dream, and we both could wake up and once again play the game we loved so much.) She stares at me sometimes without blinking her eyes; and I try so hard to see what is behind those eyes now.  What I think I hear is: I am a prisoner in this body and I long to once again  go and play the game of golf that I love".

And I feel it was only yesterday that we both were playing the game we loved.


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