My friend Ruthie died this week. She was a mother, a grandmother, a loyal friend, a professional bridge player and one of the kindest people I have known.
She was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma some years ago and her condition deteriorated in a steady progression. We all spoke optimistically – after all, there were statistics that still gave one a chance to live many years longer – we all knew of someone who had made it and was still around – and we hoped.
This past year her condition deteriorated rapidly and as she became weaker, a walker became a part of her routine. Three months ago a doctor told her she had two months to live. I had just walked into her hospital room when she told me that news and I tried to laugh it off. Her daughter was there as well and I was stunned that any doctor would tell a patient who hadn’t asked for the information such a thing. So I said
“Oh come on Ruthie, only the good die young! What an idiot that guy is. Now let’s make arrangements to go out for lunch so we can talk about some of the wild things we have done and might still do!”
And she did get up and we did go out for lunch as we did three more times over the next 8 weeks.
I met Ruthie, and her cousin and best friend Linda, who died of lung cancer seven years ago, at the old St. Clair Bridge club. My late father, Max, introduced us because he was a regular at the club and thought Linda and Ruthie would improve my game. They did. And we also connected together in so many other ways. We became very close – we shared so many exciting and happy times – and our friendship sustained over the years through the ups and downs of our personal lives.
My taste in women’s wear is notoriously limited – so Ruthie and Linda loved dragging me out to shop and laugh at the outrageous outfits I would think were nice. Luckily for me, I never questioned their judgements.
Thirty-five years ago, a woman had limited options, especially if she was Jewish. Most of us went from our homes to marriage – education usually consisted of teacher’s college or getting a secretarial job and freedom was a word we equated with getting a babysitter.
Ruthie made some difficult life choices back then…and she had very little support. Linda, of course, was always there for her – and so were her friends, me included. But some of her family were not.
Women just don’t take off if they want to, was the mojo. Women don’t have any choices once they have children. Women have to suffer in silence. Women can’t play around the way men can – it isn’t nice. And they certainly can’t just get up and leave.
But Ruthie did. And she made a new life for herself in Florida running bridge games and eventually taking over the management of a bridge club. She kept in close touch with her children and always tried to be the best mother that she could be.
Her ex, the father of her children is a great guy – and a good friend who always put the best interests of his children before anything else. A good example of responsible parenting even today. Revenge, getting even, payback – weren’t in Ruthie’s vocabulary – or his – and the kids turned out to be fabulous – and their children, Ruthie’s grandchildren, even more fabulous!
Ruthie came home to Toronto for a few weeks at least twice a year primarily to visit her kids. That enabled her friends to get together with her and play some bridge, do lunch, and share in the pleasure of just being together.
When Ruthie and I played bridge at the club they were occasions that drew crowds. Despite her quiet manner and appearance of submissiveness, she was soooo mean to me. She was the only person who would dare yell at me – true it was in a quiet voice that no one but me could hear – but she actually questioned my bridge skills.
“Why do you have to be so aggressive?” she would snap in her ladylike manner with a pleasant look on her face. But I could read her eyes. “You can only pre-empt once in a hand – you don’t take it personally if the opps jump in with a bid – you don’t have to keep pushing them up – sometimes the hand belongs to them and not to you!”
Ruthie was never quite the same after Linda’s death. Linda was a brilliant woman – one of the few women from our world who had an honours B.A. in psychology. Did I mention that Ruthie also had a B.A. from the University of Toronto? But as I said at the beginning of this blog, women’s options were limited – marriage was always the first option selected for us – anything else was unrealistic.
For the younger women reading this, and perhaps groaning and questioning, it is true. Two highly educated women like Ruthie and Linda followed a path followed by their own mothers. But oh what special friends they were to each other and to me. Loyal, fun, kind, and always there.
Four weeks ago, my third novel, The Third Hole had its launch at a great party in Chapters/Indigo. Ruthie was determined to be there and her wonderful daughter brought her in a wheelchair. She insisted on buying a book – she would not accept that her days were numbered.
Ten days ago she and I had another date. I picked her up – she insisted on using her walker – and we set off to shop at the Bay at the corner of Bloor and Yonge just half a block from her condo. She was re-decorating and was going to buy blankets, towels and some chuchiks for her bathroom and bedroom. Death was not on her agenda.
She was so weak – she could only go a few steps before she had to sit down on her walker to take a few breaths – then on we went. We got to the Bay, Ruthie shopped, Ruthie smiled, we went out for sushi, Ruthie insisted on paying and I was happy to let her to do it. She said, “well, now you owe me another lunch so I know that you will be back soon”.
Two days later she fell and broke her hip…and three days later it was over.
My first reaction was relief. I was glad that she would suffer no more. Then such a deep sadness overwhelmed me. She was gone – no more arguing over bridge hands, no more laughing at past adventures, no more gossip, no more shared confidences – and I was so sad.
It is interesting that now that I am a Senior I keep wondering about some of those words written in the Torah about another life somewhere. Up until now I didn’t believe it – it was just a crutch written to keep people calm in the face of death. But I keep thinking about Ruthie and Linda perhaps being together again and I am no longer so sure.
So I lift my glass to Ruthie … and to Linda as well. I have decided to believe that you are both at peace – that you can see how well and successful your children and grandchildren are – and that you are sitting together, playing North/South, always keeping a seat open and ready for me.
It was a fabulous ride! Rest in peace my dear friends.