Day 4: Companionship
Author: Melissa Barber
Happy Fourth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today I give thanks for Companionship and the great memories of a friendship.
One of my all time favorite buddies, Mr. David Harris, just recently passed away in September and I miss him like crazy. He was one of the best neighbors and bffs that I could ever truly have! Not only were we really good friends but he eventually looked out for me and Lilah and considered us as his own daughters. He was trustworthy and dependable enough to be trusted with all my postal packages, help me put together the perfect outfit and shoes for a work presentation or special occasion, remind me that he’d be waiting up to make sure I got home from a date (and peek his head out of his apartment door when I got home to make sure I knew he was serious!), and give me another perspective to an issue or concern I had. He would constantly worry and nag me about being too great of a person to be single.(My replies were always, “then tell the men that!”) One day when I was in a bind and didn’t have a babysitter, he agreed to put Lilah on her morning bus for me. He was so nervous and didn’t want to mess up or miss the bus that he had Lilah outside for a whole hour and 30 minutes waiting for the bus to come. (To this day, I chuckle at that because I know Lilah in her mind was like “why in the world does this man have me outside this early?”)
He was the perfect Mikey. (I’m dating myself. Do you all remember that commercial, “Give it to Mikey, Mikey will eat it!”) I could always count on him to be my test taster! Every Thanksgiving and Christmas he had his own feast for days from my kitchen. Interestingly enough, he always knew when to knock on or pass by my apartment door when food was being made. His famous phrase became, “Ms. Barber, it’s smelling mighty fine in there” with his backwoods Virginia drawl which would always automatically get him a plate of food and great conversation. He absolutely loved when I made my famous sancocho. Sometimes, he and Lilah would gang up on me about wanting to eat dinner at the same time. (Talk about spoiled folk! SMH!) He was that friend who cracked jokes on me for years after seeing me in pain and not being able to move for a week, after doing a crossfit class. I somehow got voted and coaxed into being his screenplay script reader. Mr. Harris worked in the movie industry in his hay days, studied videography, and had several unfinished scripts that still needed to be finished. (When, I told him that I wasn’t going to read another new script until he finished the old ones, he said that I was just like Ms. Clara because she said the same thing to him.) He would share stories of how his father’s girlfriend, Aunt Queenie, a strict, no-nonsense, disciplinarian kept his behind in check and sore when he was growing up. It was hilarious to see him fly straight when I threatened to evoke the name of Aunt Queenie and start acting like her. (LOL!)
As I look back on the eight years we spent being neighbors, I knew on our first encounter that he was going to find a way to be around. (He was a little curious–more like noisy– asking so many questions when I first joined our floor.) He and his daughter-in-law were nice and helped me to mastermind a strategy to get my huge couch into my apartment when Delilah and I moved in. He even volunteered to take all of my boxes in the basement to the recycling bins. I can’t remember or pinpoint the specific moment when I knew that I’d never get rid of him (or his friendship) but I’m so grateful that our friendship grew so organically and remained consistent until his death. (I so miss my friend!)
I think our friendship started from my genuine concern to check on him and ask about his emotional and psychological well-being, after noticing devastation in his face one morning. Something told me to ask him if he was alright and if I could pray for him. As I was praying the Holy Spirit began to reveal some things for which I needed to pray. Not only did I pray for him, I begin to pray for his wife, Ms. Clara, too. Eventually, I discovered that his devastation was from the realization that he was losing Ms. Clara, his life-long partner and best friend, to dementia and that she was “a shell of who she was,” no longer remembering or going to remember the forty plus years of their life’s worth of memories. Additionally, because the task of caring for Ms. Clara became too great for Mr. Harris, Ms. Clara’s daughter took her upstate to live. Mr. Harris was here by himself and lonely and had to re-learn some of the basic necessities of survival like cooking.
Often, he would come over to ask me how to make certain meals to try his hand at cooking or to do damage control if he put too much of a spice or seasoning into the food. Sometimes, he’d ask medical advice for Ms. Clara. Other times, he would come over because he just needed to talk and have a listening ear to hear. We became sounding boards for each other. Even in his late seventies, he was still trying to cope with seeing his mom being violently abused by her boyfriends and killed and not being able to help her, then losing his dad to heart disease before he turned ten or eleven years old, and being orphaned until Aunt Queenie chose to raise him. During this season of his life, he was very reflective and began to examine his life, think about many of his regrets and wish that he could have done so many things over or differently than he had done them the first time. His grandchildren were his pride and joy because it allowed him to feel like he was pouring into the next generation of his family and getting it right this time. I was honored that he shared his favorite granddaughter, Chloe, with me. We all had some awesome play dates together. He said that I was a positive person and role model that he wanted to influence her life. He also became another constant, positive male role model and grandfather type in Lilah’s life. He never missed a special occasion or birthday (or birthday cake!) in our lives. He always showed up for us.
I never told Mr. Harris but about a year before he got sick, I had a vivid dream that I was reading the obituary at his funeral. So I started preparing myself for what was coming. Since we started doing annual bucket lists on my birthday (finishing the movie scripts was one of the items repeatedly on the lists), I made sure that he wrote down and signed his last bucket list and attempted to do the things on the list. Some of his biggest hopes were to travel Europe again, be more influential in all of his grandchildren’s lives, kick the habit of smoking, and have a closer relationship with God. He significantly reduced his smoking habit; he finally finished one of the movie scripts; his relationship with God grew deeper.
At first, Mr. Harris was very skeptical about Christians, especially pastors for whom he coined the phrase “Holy Roller, Jack-legged Preachers” from his experience growing up in the south. (He told me some very interesting, yet disappointing, stories about his experiences and encounters with the church.) However, several years into our friendship, he said that he couldn’t believe that I was really a Christian who meant business about my faith and tried to really walk it out every day. I found it funny that Mr. Harris said I was that conscious voice of reason in his head that always stopped him from doing the wrong thing. (And he was always ready to do the wrong thing!) I got him to share more and stop being selfish. I checked his pride very often and made him examine some of the roots of his behavior so that he could transform to become a better person. (Though, no matter what, that stubbornness would not go away!) If you could even believe it, since the walls to our apartments are so thin, in the latter years of our friendship, he began to stand outside my apartment door in the morning just to hear my prayers and be part of my devotion time. (I told him that he should stop doing that because people were going to think he was weird and a stalker and invited him to physically be part of my routine). Frequently, he would join me for Morning Prayer, ask me to send him scriptures by text on which he could meditate throughout the day and ask for me to explain certain scriptures to him. I was elated as he did the work of processing his anger towards God. Mr. Harris finally realized that none of his sins or feelings of unworthiness could stop God from loving him and finally accepted Christ as His Savior. (It warms my heart to know he is among my great cloud of witnesses now!)As he started to age, kick his addiction, and get sick, Mr. Harris started to become a curmudgeon. (Whew!) A grumpy old man! He would pretend he didn’t want anybody to come see him in the hospital, but when I asked “oh, so you don’t want me to come?” He whined, “when are you coming to see me?” (Men!)
When he found his dog (Hot Sauce) who also became his new friend and companion, it became harder for him not to be sensitive and much softer around the edges. Between me and Hot Sauce, we made sure we took care of Mr. Harris and surrounded him with love, support and the best companionship. As he got sicker, I still made him some of his favorite meals and was sometimes the only one who could get him to eat, even when he didn’t have an appetite. He started to fall very often, became severely dehydrated and eventually had a really bad seizure that got him admitted to the ICU. It broke my heart one day when I found him on the floor in the bathroom of his apartment and he said he had been there for hours calling for me to come help him. (Luckily, he always left his apartment open so when I heard him calling my name I was able to get to him quickly.) My healthy, athletic, vibrant friend was so frail and almost emaciated. I picked him up, got him to the bed, cleaned him up, made him some breakfast, fed him and waited for his son to come relieve me.
One Sunday, after church, right before a major work trip, God told me to go to the hospital to say my good-byes. (My heart was sad that I would no longer have my sounding board, taste tester, or my bff to help me pick out my outfits, nag me about being single, and celebrate the special moments with me.)When we got there, he was sleep and I didn’t want to wake him. Lilah and I prayed for him. Lilah said that she saw his angel and began to draw a picture of the angel she saw. (As I saw Lilah’s picture of the angel, I knew that Mr. Harris was at the end of his journey on earth.) When he woke up and saw us, he said, “you came.” I replied, “you know I would! I’m surprised you know who I am?” He said, slightly chuckling “who is you? Ms. Barber. Of course, I know who you are. I’m sorry that I’m so sleepy.” I told him not to worry about being sleepy and that we had just come to pray for him and let him know just how much he was loved. He closed his eyes to go back to sleep.
Mr. Harris died several days later, the morning I left for my trip. His family didn’t do much to invite his friends from the building into the celebration of his life, which hurt my heart, because I would have always showed up for Mr. Harris. But, I’m happy to say that my bff knew just how much he was loved and cherished and got his flowers (from me and Lilah) every day of the eight years that he lived life in the earth, knowing us. And my life was made a little richer, more colorful and always interesting with him around. I miss you, David! It’s not the same without you.
As we give thanks for companionship, let all the companions in your life know just how much you love and appreciate them. Today, we highlight an organization, Friend to Friend America (https://friendtofriendamerica.org/) which recruits and matches volunteers to visit (one-to-one) with elderly and disabled persons living in assisted living, nursing, retirement, and adult family homes for the purpose of forming friendships. Please consider volunteering your time with this organization or for the price of a cup of coffee ($5) donate to help their cause to give seniors and uniquely-abled persons the opportunity to have friends.Love ya,Have A Great Day of Thanks