Doris Redding and Charlotte Crane, both 94 years old, boarded a van that would take them to a lunch outing last week.
They would have lunch together, and together might find their old Olathe homes, which they remember were right down the road from one another.
The outing was provided through the Crossroads Hospice’s Gift of a Day program, a field trip designed to bring the ideal day to life for the elderly under the hospice’s care.
And while the setting was different and the meal they shared was at a novel place, Crane and Redding chose to spend their ideal day as they had for the past 90 years: together.
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The two were raised in homes down the street from one another and stayed close into adulthood. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a business degree, Redding took a post as a clerk with the probate division in the Johnson County courthouse. She hired Crane, and both worked there until they retired.
Over lunch that the childhood friends shared with a small hospice contingent, the two reflected on the many chapters of both personal and cultural history their friendship has seen. Both remember seeing the Beatles the first time on TV. Crane recalls being in college when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
“I lost my head,” she said wide-eyed.
Other than that, Redding’s daughter Darrella Deubel remembers the friendship itself was a pretty low-key affair.
Sure, Deubel would see Crane all the time when she would visit her mom at the courthouse, and yes, she knew they were a true example of the expression “BFFs.”
“That they were friends since they were kids, I’ve heard that all my life,” Deubel said. “Because it was always there, it wasn’t something that always dawned on me as unusual. They were just friends.”
So they went, with careers and lives running in parallel into their advanced years.
Redding retired in the 1980s — the last person to hold the chief probate clerk position before the role was eliminated due to court consolidation — and Crane would follow a few years after.
Black Hawk Assisted Living welcomed Crane first, about a year ago. Redding is a fresh face there.
The two are usually in the company of one another. Staffers said those who know one are likely to have spent some time with the other in spite of their contrasting personalities, Crane the loquacious and Redding the more meditative.
“Doris is usually pretty chill,” said Jessica Birch, a Black Hawk Assisted Living hospice nurse acquainted with the two. “She’s always doing crossword puzzles. She told me her mom taught her to do crosswords when she was little.
“There’s something really familiar and comforting with her,” Birch said.
Then, there’s Crane, a hospice resident practically bursting with energy.
“Charlotte is Charlotte,” Birch said. “She’s always really fun to visit, tells the best stories. Now, they’re not always true stories. But you just have to be in the moment. Just kind of going there with her is really interesting.”
The discrepancies are rooted to the dementia that complicates her walk into later years.
“You have to pull yourself in the now, whatever that might be,” assisted living nurse Kathy Hamlin said, adding that sometimes involves fabrications or misunderstandings of what is or was going on.
The constant for each, Hamlin explained, is the other.
“You do love each other, right?” Hamlin asked Redding.
“You bet we do,” she replied.
After Doris pointed her hospice care team to her old street on a map, the women were scheduled to visit their childhood homes and take a trip downtown. Birch said the lunch out took a lot out of them, however, and they opted instead for pleasant reminiscing on the way home to an afternoon nap.
Hamlin said the value of having someone close by who is really close can’t be overstated. Life for the dementia sufferer is a chain of clear moments, an archipelago of definition resting on an opaque sea.
Hamlin speculated that the sweetness of seeing an old friend may even be sweeter for dementia sufferers because they are seeing them anew each time.
“They were together for some time,” Hamlin said, but the dementia cuts into the memory’s narrative every now and again. “It’s like running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time over and over again.”
In November, Redding will be 95. Crane will blow out the same number of candles the next month.
Deubel speculated her mother and her lifelong friend might see a century together.
“The doctor told mom once, ‘You might live to be 100 if you keep going like this,’” Deubel said. “You know, I think that might be true.”