I first met Jeanne six years ago upon moving into my apartment while getting a divorce. I can't remember which one of us introduced ourselves first. We are both friendly types though, so it didn't take long for us to cement a dear and lasting friendship. She is sixty-nine now and I am forty-eight. Our age difference has created no known distinctions in our friendship though, as might be expected. I'll have you know also that we each maintain our own opinions on the various subjects of life, and respect those opinions that are different between us, you see, they complement our friendship in an odd sort of way with a spark of possibility for eventually winning the other over to their way of thinking. I won't have you think that neither of us knows the meaning of the word "steadfast" in regard to our opinions, for God has truly witnessed those moments when one of us concedes to the other's greater perspective.

There is a love that has grown and flourishes between the two of us. For me, Jeanne represents the presence of a mother I lost years ago to ill health. In these past six years, Jeanne has been the friend my mother might have been if she were still alive. We have laughed and cried together (but mostly laughed). We have shared great times in our friendship. She edits the stories I create, and she has been a true support of my work. She doesn't change my thought, only some of my grammar. As the author though, I still maintain the final word on editing!

We are in our last venture together, for Jeanne is dying of cancer. We decided not to allow this disease to effect our friendship in any negative way for we both realize that we still have a lot to experience and share in each other's friendship.

The cancer has confined her most of the time to the apartment these days. It seemed to happen all too suddenly. She talks to me about her feelings of being confined and becoming more and more dependent on others. This is truly hard for her as she has valued her independence greatly. We have conversations about death now and then, but only short ones because we don't want our thoughts to linger there longer than needed. Mostly, we joke and laugh when we are together, doing what brings us joy. She has mentioned all too often that she doesn't want to be a bother to me and if I don't want to take her for walks in her wheelchair she will understand. I would rather she understand that my perspective is that I love being with her and that taking her for walks in the wheelchair is no more a bother than it has ever been to be her friend and do things with her, we're just doing different things now, but we are still doing them together.

Today I got a late start getting up. There's a bug going around that's exhausting me. It all comes at the same time, doesn't it? Looking at the bigger picture though I know that it won't last long so I'll let it run its course. These days, I don't want to waste any time on being sick. Time is indeed a precious commodity, not to be wasted on minor things, so I resolved to keep fighting this bug. My irritations are so small compared to what Jeanne is experiencing.

Jeanne and I have sat out by the pool often to have breakfast, lunch, discussions, dinner, drinks, and watch the evening sunset together. Everyone knows I literally live at the pool, in and out of season. I'll never forget the first time Jeanne told me the "Wide-mouth Toad" joke. Ruby was there that day and the three of us laughed so hard we almost ... well we laughed too hard! It took forever to stop laughing. You can't beat moments like that! When the three of us got together sanity flew out the window! I waited until most of our friends were in attendance today in order to give Jeanne an opportunity to visit with all of them together as we did in the past; it's a regular community activity you know. Mid afternoon seemed like a good time to bring Jeanne over to the pool.

Now picture this in a funny way when I tell you, because that's how Jeanne and I thought of it. I walked over to her apartment as I have done so often only this time at a turtle's pace. She was delighted in the idea of going to the pool and had been looking forward to it all day. I got the wheelchair from the spare bedroom and loaded it with the oxygen. Everything today was taking a lot more effort than it had in the past and the oxygen weighed heavier even though it wasn't. She apologized for being so slow and I laughed and told her it was O.K. because I had to "catch my breath." Then we both laughed together because you need to remember, I'm only forty-eight and she's sixty-nine. While I was waiting for her I fixed her some iced tea to take to the pool. We muddled our way out the door, and then she needed to sit down once more and catch her breath again so we laughed some more. Once I had the wheelchair in the street it was smooth sailing the rest of the way. Jeanne sat down in the chair and after all adjustments were made, we were on our way.

When we arrived at the pool one neighbor greeted us at the gate and opened it for us while I wheeled her to the shaded side of the pool and locked the breaks in place, then rounded up some chairs. When I sat down I gazed over to her to see a big smile on her face. I know what it would be like if I couldn't come to the pool whenever I wanted to so I also knew how much she was loving every minute of today’s trip to the pool. Everyone took turns coming up and talking to her, and even though Theresa didn't get out of the pool, she shifted her raft over to the shaded side so she could chat with Jeanne as well.

After we sat for about a half-hour, having our old usual pool conversation, Larry brought Jeanne some ribs to eat. Now Larry had been slowly cooking these ribs since about noon and they looked great. Well, Jeanne was in "hog heaven" now. Those ribs were great. Larry brought me over some about fifteen minutes later and I mean to tell you they were worth the wait. Larry’s a fine neighbor; a nice guy He is as generous as can be, always sharing with others. I remember one evening he bought gobs of giant shrimp for one of our Friday night snacks. But those ribs - WOW - succulent, seasoned just right, and meaty. Boy-oh-boy were they good - just the way I like them!

When dinner was done, we sat a while longer until it became difficult for me to breathe again. This is from a combination of the St. Louis humidity, a hot summer's day and me being slightly out of shape! I was teasing Jeanne when I told her that I might need to use her oxygen. We both got a chuckle out of that one. Talk about the blind leading the blind! When she had decided she had been in the heat long enough I cleaned up our mess and we headed back to her apartment. I could tell it was a strain for her but nothing that she would have wanted to miss. I could see in her eyes the exchange of some energy for the memories of that day was a good choice. We took our time and both of us sighed with relief when we felt the cool air conditioning coming at our faces as I unlocked the door. Bonnie stopped by this evening and we all visited and recalled an earlier evening when we went out together and to the park concert, then came home singing in the car. When we arrived at the complex, Bonnie put the car in park right in the middle of the parking lot 'till we finished our last song. I'm glad for this day with Jeanne, sharing it at the pool eating Larry's ribs, joking and laughing with our other friends as well.

Every evening after work, I go to Jeanne's apartment to be with her. In just a matter of weeks the decline in her health had begun showing unpleasant results. One evening, I sat there keeping a vigil for her. It was just the two of us alone in her apartment. I had my eyes on her at all times but she was in a deep sleep now. I silently asked God what it was that He intended me to learn from all of this. Maybe I was supposed to learn that while our destiny on earth is by our own choosing, our parting is not. If it were, some of us would never choose to venture out into new realms beyond our present knowledge and experience. The only other thought that came to mind was that there must have been still one more thing as well to be experienced for Jeanne.

Surely there was nothing more for Jeanne to experience? She was out of reality and into that deep sleep. We are so vulnerable in those last days and hours of life, and so dependent on others for our existence; yet, so free of what had weighed us down in life. The similarities between our experiences at birth and death are so ironic. At those two extreme times in our lives we are totally dependent on others as well as God for our existence. I thank God that she is no longer experiencing the suffering of just the day before. She's resting now, or at least her body is, but what of her subconscious and superconsiousness. Is it talking to God right now or maybe friends and family on the other side?

On one occasion when one of my great aunts was dying, she was talking so coherently in her sleep and her conversation was so relaxed. Upon wakening though, she began to struggle once more to get the words out and to breath. She recalled that while she was sleeping she saw my dad and my uncle. My dad made her laugh, which explained why she was laughing in her sleep. I guess I won't know until, of course, I experience it all for myself.

It’s another day. Jeanne's daughter, Sharon, told me before she left tonight that when Jeanne was awake she asked if I had been there last night. Sharon reassured her that I was and then Jeanne smiled and closed her eyes to rest again. They tell me Jeanne had a tiring day just getting a fresh bath and her hair shampooed. It made her so tired she's been sleeping since.

As I keep my watch each day that passes, her body and spirit appear to be taking turns with her. There are those days when her body takes center stage and goes through the process of waning down from living. On those days her exhaustion can be seen quite vividly in her features. Then there are the other days when her spirit takes control. There, in the stillness of her existence her spirit grows stronger for its journey home. And, on those days, there is a presence of peacefulness that surrounds her. Before now I hadn't experienced the transition of anyone from their physical being to their spiritual being as profoundly as I am experiencing Jeanne's while in her presence. It has given me a deeper reverence for the many sources of energy within our universe as applied to us mortals.

When she asks me to put my hands on her and give her Reiki, each experience presents a distinction of its own. There are times when I put my hands on her back and feel that tension caused by pain gradually melt away as the calm of relaxation takes over her tired being and begins a rejuvenation process. Once, when I had my hands on her back with my eyes closed I could see a totally black spot on her back that left me with a new perception of decay. It has shown itself to be a well-defined mass of solid substance, which is an odd way to describe decay. How low-spirited the experience left me in that moment of rude awakening.

Today, December 12, 1998, my dear friend, Jeanne Hughs passed on to join other loved ones. She was an inspiration and encouraged my writing, read all my stories with a passion, and then laughed and cried as she breathed them to life in her narrations.

In the months that followed, while I continued my writings I had thought Jeanne was gone, but somewhere between her parting from this world and the end of this book of Visions, I began to realize that she was still with me. And, as I edited the remains of this book, I noticed that my editing somehow has the guidance of some of her nature and style as well. Now, some might try to logically say that she had taught me by example, and I had learned the lesson. I will more than gladly argue, with a smile on my face, that she was there in presence, guiding my hand to make the necessary adjustments in my work without taking away any of it's value. Those tweaks were too much like her to be me, and that's all that's to that! I am blessed that I once knew Jeanne Hughs.

Author's Bio: 

Michele Christina Camilla Messina Long.

I'm a simple person. I was born to Enrico Jerome Messina and Camilla Margaret Deken at 12:20 p.m. on Sunday May 7, 1950, at Saint Anthony’s Hospital in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. In 1956, just six short years later mom passed on. Dad, restless without her, moved us a lot; some boxes just didn’t get unpacked. He sent us to Catholic schools. We lived in clean, safe neighborhoods and walked to wherever. High school years were spent in this order: Freshman: St. Anthony’s; Sophomore: Cleveland High School; Junior: Afton High School; and Senior year at Roosevelt High School where I graduated in 1968.Upon graduation, I received a job offer from the FBI, but turned it down to remain in St. Louis. In 1971 I went Hawaii on vacation for the first time without family.

February 17, 1973 I married John Charles Long, on an unusually cold day mixed with sunshine and snow. By summer it seemed we ate all the hot dogs in St. Louis; saved enough money to buy our home at 1531 Shoppers Lane, in Crestwood, MO and lived there for the next twenty years. On March 12, 1974 Jason Michael Long was born to us. He was a month overdue, had a full head of hair, and all the features and characteristics of a one-month-old child. He went immediately on cereal and we couldn’t keep him fed! We were clumsy first parents but everything we did, we did with love. On April 18, 1977 Gina Maria Long was born to us. She was so tiny compared to Jason and she squeaked when she breathed. The nurse said it was all right and would stop in time, and it did! It was the year we had our Green – Go Van. Jason and J.C. came to the hospital together to bring home Gina and me. Jason loved his little sister from the beginning. We listened to a Johnny Horton eight track on the way home from the hospital and sang the songs together. When we got home, Jason sat on the sofa and we placed Gina in his arms so he could hold her. Ah! A Precious Moment!

After 20 years of marriage, in 1993 I gave John his freedom through the legalities of divorce. December 15, 1988, after a stroke, my dad passed on at 71. In 1995, John was informed that he had contracted leukemia and we reconciled. Two weeks later he died.

In December of 1998, after 30 years working at one financial company, I and a few others in our division found ourselves without employment suddenly when our boss died and new management took over. I became a self-employed consultant. One assignment was on the Y2k team for Busch Entertainment. It offered an insight into the workings of amusement parks; gave me the opportunity to travel and meet new friends. Surprisingly, I found myself inches away from Baby Shamu when it did its first trick in training!

In December of 1999, I joined Morgan Stanley, and witnessed 911 from one insider’s point of view. In August of 2002 I left to pursue a new career helping people and using my Reiki gift. It wasn’t the right time, the right place, or the right job. In December 2002, finding myself without a permanent job description, I began creating floral arrangements; consulting; and working on my web site.

After being invited to a Torah study group and sharing my first Passover, realizing that I was a Jewish soul all along; on January 24, 2003 I became a Jew, taking “Simcha (Joy)” as my new Jewish name. My writings in my book “Visions” reflect aspects of the Jewish faith long before I knew that there was a connection. Friends tell me “they thought I always was Jewish!” I can question life without whispering now. This is the most comfortable I have felt ever about my faith and my path through life and back to God.

As you read “Visions,” please keep in mind that it was written long before I had any formal introduction to Judaism although there are threads of similarities, possibly from my prior Catholic background, since there are similarities and the Catholic faith branched off from the Jewish faith. New works found in my book: “Oy!” have been written since I became a “Jew by Choice.”