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I have wonderful memories and stories of my first year's volunteer work at a convalescent home, especially of Antoinette Cupulo. We had a bond that withstood unannounced absences, sickness and, eventually, death. Antoinette passed away four and a half years ago, but I still like to think our friendship is as strong as ever.
It was a humid morning when I impatiently approached the main entrance of Luther Manor. After five long minutes, a high-pitched voice bellowed through the intercom.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, I am here to visit with Antoinette Cupulo. May I enter, please?"
This visit would be sad: it was the last time that I would be able to see Antoinette before school started. I knocked on the door.
"One minute, bambina, I'm getting dressed," Antoinette called. I prepared to say good-bye. Finally, Antoinette greeted me with a big hug and said, "I'm so glad you're here. I've been waiting for you all week!" I felt the tears trickling down my face. With her hand wrapped tightly around my shoulder, she walked me to the kitchen table. We took our usual seats and she pleaded with me to tell her what was troubling me. "Today is my last day here. I am going to miss you so much. You and I have become so close this summer; you've become like a grandmother to me," I sobbed.
"Are you hungry?" she asked in a calm voice.
"No, Antoinette, I am not hungry."
"Yes, you are - and you are going to have some ice cream. What is wrong with kids today? They just don't appreciate good food. Now eat your ice cream and calm down," she said in a grandmotherly tone.
As I finished, she gently asked me to repeat my dilemma. "Today is my last day here and I am going to miss you," I repeated.
"I am going to miss you too," Antoinette said sadly. "But life is too short to be worrying over things like this. You know that I am always here for you, no matter what. All you have to do is pick up the phone or come and I'll be waiting for you."
The rest of the day was spent reminiscing, flying by more rapidly than I wished and soon it was time for me to go. As I walked home, I remembered all that Antoinette had said and promised myself I would visit every chance I had. However, schoolwork occupied most of my time. About two months after our final visit, Francine (the recreation director) called. As soon as I heard her voice I knew it was bad news.
She calmly said, "Antoinette is with the angels now, honey." I broke down and cried hysterically; Francine cried also. "Calm down. Antoinette would not want you to react this way. She would have wanted you to be happy that she is not suffering and is at peace. I called you because I knew that she would want you to know. While I sat with her all she kept talking about was how lucky she was to have met you. She said: "Becky loved me so very much and I know that she will never forget me when I am in Heaven. Even though she may not know it, I will always be with her and will guide her.'" After hearing this, I felt guilty for not making the time to visit. I have learned to cherish the time we did spend together. Antoinette lives on in my memories, but most importantly, she lives in my heart. fl