There are few safe harbors in a big city, but one of the most reliable places you can rest your feet every week and not feel afraid is the neighborhood laundromat. Laundromats are busy and packed with people on a shared mission. We don’t have laundry facilities in our building, so we are forced to outsource our laundry. Because our schedules are so wacky, we use the Laundromat’s drop off service where we pay a little extra to have somebody else deal with cleaning our dirty clothes.
Martha has been dealing with our grime for a decade. She always smiles. She is always interested in what’s new. She is not just the owner of the laundromat we frequent, she is also our friend.
I was dismayed for Martha when her sister died a few months ago. It was as if half of her disappeared. At 53, Martha talked to her sister every day. She was despondent in her absence. Her blood pressure rose. Her cholesterol shot up to 700. Part of her was dead while the rest of her was dying.
A couple of weeks ago, she was hospitalized for four days. Her family rallied around her and her children kept the laundromat open — but everyone’s first concern was for Martha’s greater health.
Her doctors told her she was fine. She didn’t have a stroke. Her heart was strong. Her high cholesterol and high blood pressure were being treated with medication.
Martha did not get better. She complained about vertigo and of not being able to feel the left side of her chest. Her doctors examined her and could find nothing wrong. Blood tests revealed no verifiable betrayal of her body. How do you explain to a doctor that your patient is dying of a broken heart because of her dead sister? Is there a blood test for that diagnosis?
The decision was made that Martha would return to her home country for a three-month extended stay where the language around her was hers and where she could rest and have ongoing medical examinations if needed. Her son would run the laundromat in her absence.
My concern is we will never see Martha again and that she will stay in her country for good and not come back. As hard as it is to realize I may never see her again, I am comforted by Martha’s goodness and I already miss her so much that my heart aches in the hole she leaves behind.