A neighbor came up my driveway today, clearly determined to talk to me. This always makes me slightly nervous, particularly when I don't recall ever having talked to this particular neighbor before (not a next-door neighbor -- a slightly familiar face from down one of the local streets). She wanted to know if T. was our cleaner. I said she had been. She wanted to know if I had any news of T. I said only that she had been in the hospital recently but I had heard nothing beyond that.
T. had been our cleaner for a while when she got sick and then didn't get better. I called the agency to say she was too ill to be cleaning my (or anyone's) house; shortly after that, she went into the hospital with pleurisy followed by a long recuperation. We had a different cleaner from the agency for a while, then that cleaner was no longer with the agency, then T. was working for us again. So when T.'s health began to decline again after a series of family crises, I had a strong sense of deja vu. As with last time, I also was terrified of the idea that T. might die while cleaning our home, because while I would have preferred she call in sick, she never did, and I didn't generally have the heart to send her away at the door. And whatever was going on didn't seem to be contagious.
I was sufficiently frustrated (with the deja vu and the uncertainty about what kind of cleaning my house might ever actually get) that I started doing the cleaning myself, and giving T. special projects that I tailored to how she seemed to be doing when I saw her. Her last work for us was while we were out of town, when she took up the foam tiles in the playroom, washed them, vacuumed and put the tiles back. I was initially happy (clean tiles!), then less happy (put back very haphazardly) and then outright pissed (ants under the tiles, presumably the tiles were put back wet). I texted her canceling a Monday morning cleaning and attempting a reschedule, because I had no sitters, both kids were home as school hadn't started yet, and we had other kids over for a playdate (with their mum, my friend). I didn't receive a reply, which surprised me.
That Thursday, I got a phone call from the agency saying T. was in the hospital but no further details and offering me an alternative cleaner, which I declined, then ended the contract. I expected that some weeks in the future, I would see T. drive by the house in her truck on her way to clean someone else's house and that's how we would know she had recovered. While I had repeatedly expressed the concern that she might die, and I really, really, really didn't want that to happen and especially not in my house, I was nevertheless not expecting to be told that T. had passed away. She was only a few years older than me, the same age as my husband.
T. was completely honest, probably the most indispensable trait in someone working in one's home, all of one's home. She worked hard. She was careful, and on those extremely rare occasions when something broke, she was always forthright and honest that it had happened, never trying to conceal it. She was unfailingly kind to my children, and to my friend who was often in or around the house before or after our walks together. She took a strong interest in the daily events of our lives and remembered stories we told; she shared parts of her life with us as well. I trusted her completely, and when I sometimes had to run an errand, she was kind enough to watch one of my children while I was gone and I knew my child would be safe with her. She left us a card at the holidays. She was always grateful for tips or other minor generosities.
T. was a good person, and the world is a worse place without her. My son immediately expressed concern for her children, and I share it. I hope she has finally found the rest that she was never able to allow herself in life.