Friday, October 24, 2014

Remembering Anna

Today, October 24, 2014, I lost one of my closest friends...Anna Houde/Ledoux/Vander Schaaf.  Anna passed away three days before her 72nd birthday, after a long and debilitating battle with Alzheimer's Disease.  One thing I have one wins the battle with Alzheimer's.  

I met Anna during the summer of 1981, when we both worked for Peoples Heritage Bank, in what is now the Marden's Plaza.  She was one of those people you meet and think to yourself "I could be friends with her".  She was a little older than me but we were both  married with young families and we just seemed to "hit it off".  We shared cookouts and evening get togethers, as families do.  I remember spending time in her finished cellar, playing pool, eating, talking and watching the kids play the newest video game craze - Atari - with games like Pac Man and Tetris.  I learned early that I didn't need to let the kids win, they had no trouble beating me as I'm lousy at video games.  Although Anna's three children, Steve, Stacey and Shannon were older than Greg and Wendy, they were always so good with one another.  I believe Stacey is ultimately responsible for Wendy's decision to become an Occupational Therapist.

As with any relationship that lasts for more than three decades, ours ebbed and flowed.  Sometimes we would see each other monthly or even weekly, other times months, even years would transpire.  Regardless of the time that passed, when we saw one another, it seemed as though no time had passed at all.  We could sit for hours and talk about things women friends talk about...our families, children, hobbies, clothes, food and, of course, the men in our lives.  Anna had an amazing intuition and a knack of knowing just what to say.  I never left our time together without feeling better about everything going on in my life. 

When Anna went to massage school, one of her assignments was to give the same person a massage once a week for ten weeks (maybe it was six, I can't remember) and I was the lucky recipient.  Oh, how I loved her massages.  She had a couple of moves that were marvelous and I have never received them during any other massage.   One of my friends commented that "she didn't just massage with her hands; she massaged with her soul."   

Anna taught me about "the Universe" and how to express what you wanted/needed/expected.  She also said it was very important to visualize what you wanted and to be specific.  As an example she would tell me how she had always wanted to live on the water, meaning next to it but she found herself living on a sailboat, On.The.Water!  The Universe had certainly granted her desire.

After my separation and divorce in early 2000, Anna invited me to join her and Jim on their sailboat, Justice, which was docked in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  As much as I wanted to go, I explained that I just could not afford to fly down and back.  Like the true friend Anna was, she purchased my round trip ticket.  It was quite windy during my visit, which caused large swells in the water, so we didn't take the boat out but we sure had a great time.  They took me for a tour of the Riverwalk and introduced me to grouper fingers (kind of like fish sticks) at a quaint little riverfront cafe.  We talked and laughed and I took lots of marvelous showers in the outside shower!  The one event that was always laughed about in the following years was the evening we all got dressed up for a nice dinner off the boat.  The weather was hot and humid and I had the forward cabin which had, maybe, 3 square feet of room in which to dress.  To make matters more difficult, the available floor space was in the space of a triangle.  In order to fit in my little black dress, I first had to fit in my spanks-like underwear.  Getting that tight fitting underwear on my hot, sweaty body in that tiny little space was like being a contortionist in a Cirque de Soleil production.  Not only did it take me forever and a day, I had to enlist Anna's help! 

When I learned that she and Jim were returning to Maine after living for several years in Mexico, I received the news with mixed emotions.  I was happy to know that they were coming home, as it had been too long since we had seen one another but I was concerned that it might be for reasons concerning Anna's health.  As we were returning home from Bar Harbor in September, 2012 I received a call from Southern Maine Medical Center asking if I knew Anna Houde, her maiden name, which gave me the first indication of her health status.  She had been wandering, was picked up by the fire department and they were trying to find her family or where she lived.  I wasn't much help as I didn't know they had already returned and I had no idea where they were living, nor did I have her husband's contact information.  I was at least able to tell them his name.  I asked how they got my number and the nurse told me that Anna was carrying her date book, which had my name and number.  They asked her if I was a friend and if they could contact me, she said "yes".  I knew then that Anna was not as well as I had hoped she would be.

We were invited to celebrate her 70th birthday with family and friends at her daughter, Stacey's home only to learn that it was indeed due to Anna's health that they had returned.  Although I hoped that she was still early in the disease, I soon realized that was not the case and the disease was quite advanced.  As I think back to that day, I'm not sure she remembered me at all and I was so sad that the Anna I knew had already slipped into the abyss that is Alzheimer's.

December, 2012 was the last time I saw her.  Bill and I joined Anna and Jim for dinner at The Cafe in Portland.  We had a great evening, the food was excellent but Anna saw things that weren't there, like people out in the street.  One minute we were having a normal conversation, the next minute she was talking gibberish.  Having never been around anyone with advanced Alzheimer's, it broke my heart to see how it had stolen my friend and left me amazed at just how severely this disease affected everyone. 

Anna was...a daughter, wife, mother, friend.  She was a painter and a photographer.  She was an adventurer, sailing the Caribbean and visiting far away places like Germany, Italy and China with her soul mate, Jim Vander Schaaf.  She loved to dance and she was very fond of hats in all shapes and sizes.  She was extremely intuitive, intelligent, witty, funny, stylish and oh, so much more! I miss her greatly but I am thankful that her battle is over and she is at peace.

I remember this statement at my nephews graduation many years ago and it seems to fit this situation perfectly...

"Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened."

Yes, I have cried and there will be more tears during her memorial service on Monday and possibly beyond.  However, I have more than 30 years of memories to smile about. 

On the sailboat "Justice"
Captures her perfectly
Thanks for stopping by...


1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful remembrance. Did you share it with her family?