To care for another person, in the most significant sense, is to help him grow and actualize himself. Milton Mayeroff
Eleanor Powers, my friend of 43 years, died on November 25, 2018.
Eleanor wasn’t a wealthy woman, she lived alone in a small home in South Minneapolis. She hadn’t had a career—I don’t know how much she had worked in her life. She suffered from chronic depression, agoraphobia, and horrific pain from arthritis. She didn’t drive and was anxious about leaving her home—but she did when she needed to.
Eleanor stayed up most of every night and watched the cable television shows. She surfed the channels and could not stand Fox News or Donald Trump. I often said to her, “You should quit watching politics on television. Not hearing all the anger would help your depression.”
“No, watching politics is good for me. I can yell at the television,” she replied.
Eleanor was a mother of six children. Bill, her husband, had died 20 some years ago. Eleanor had suffered darkness in her life. I’ll keep the details to myself but suffice to say: Eleanor had more than her share of loss, pain, and suffering. When I talked to her, she would express any angst that she was feeling and then moved on to happier topics.
I met Eleanor at an “Emotions Anonymous” 12-step meeting. I had been in treatment in 1974 and had been sober for a year. I had been going to AA meetings but didn’t feel they were what I wanted. Treatment had awakened me to my inner emotional world and I was fascinated by exploring that terrain. I wanted to go to a group that talked about emotions. EA was perfect for me. I loved the diversity of the group: men, women, all ages, some were alcoholics, others were wives, husbands, or children of alcoholics. Some were depressed, others were grieving the loss of someone or something. What they had in common was pain and suffering they sought relief from.
Eleanor and I talked at that first meeting. She gave me her phone number and said: “call me if you want to talk.”
Well, I wanted to talk. I called Eleanor night after night for weeks, and we talked for a couple of hours each time. I struggled to put my life together in my first year of sobriety, and I was sad, angry, afraid, and anxious about how my life might turn out.
I picked Eleanor up for meetings and took her home afterward. Sometimes we and other group members stopped for coffee. Our telephone calls continued but less frantically. I met Bill and he was supportive and a big help to me. Many times we sat around their table and talked and talked. Eleanor and Bill were twenty-some years older than me and had much life experience, hard-earned wisdom, and knowledge of the Twelve Step philosophy.
I moved in 2000 and spent a year in SW Colorado where I wrote, consulted, and sat in the natural hot springs, and drove the mining roads of the San Juan Mountains. I then moved to Fargo/Moorhead where I met Melanie, my wife. We lived along the Red River of the North. Eleanor and I stayed in touch. In 2009, Melanie and I were flooded out of our home. We moved to Minneapolis, MN: back home for me and a new adventure for Melanie.
I owed Eleanor so much: she had supported me through one of the most challenging times of my life. She was a lifeline to me and gave me so much of herself and helped me establish a strong foundation for my sobriety—now 44 years.
Eleanor didn’t drive, could not afford taxis, and needed help. I began taking her to appointments as did other friends. Each time I picked her up she began a stream-of-consciousness anger dump about the day’s politics. The Trump talk depressed me, but I listened so she could get the emotions out.
She wanted me to come into the examination rooms with her and take notes. More than once, I saw her cry in anguish because of the arthritic pain she suffered. She did everything asked of her by the doctors but nothing seemed to help much. She tried swimming, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Still, she suffered. She never gave up trying to get rid of the pain she felt.
As seven years went by, she had more appointments and needed more help. She went from using a cane to a walker, and finally to a wheelchair. Some of her friends who drove her couldn’t handle the wheelchair so finding rides became more and more difficult.
I worried that Eleanor would fall in her home. I felt she could no longer care for herself. I believed Eleanor should move to an assisted living facility. Assisted living was not in her plans. She was proud of her independence and feared she would be forced to change her lifestyle. Finally, in July of 2018, her children “kidnapped her,” (in her words) and put her in a nursing home (her children did the right thing). She cried as she told me about it.
About six months later she got an infection and died quickly. She was 94 years old.
What drew me to Eleanor and made me feel so responsible to repay her in whatever ways I could?
Eleanor cared and she cared for me at a time I needed someone to support me. Eleanor spent time with me. She listened to me and came to know me: my values, strengths, weaknesses, and my most difficult emotions. She didn’t judge, lecture, or try to fix or control me. She could be blunt. She could be difficult. But she always cared for me, and I could feel her caring.
Eleanor was patient in our relationship. She didn’t push, she allowed me to experience suffering, confusion, uncertainty, and let me flounder until I found my way. She was honest with me and helped me see myself as I was not as I imagined myself to be. I trusted her, and my life came together.
Eleanor Powers lived a caring way of life. I’ll never forget Eleanor and the love she gave me. My life might have turned out much differently without her.
Whenever we said goodbye Eleanor would say, “I love you, Thomas.” “I love you too,” I replied.