On my birthday a couple of weeks ago, my daughter started to cry and told me that, last October, while she was home nursing me after emergency surgery and the complications that followed, that she thought I wouldn’t be here to celebrate my birthday. Sigh. This child has been worrying about my demise since she was three years old.
I was in the kitchen washing dishes. She was in the living room watching a video of The Secret Garden for the umpteenth time. But on that rather nondescript morning, as the earthquake hit India (in the film) and Mary Lennox suddenly became an orphan, my too-smart-for-my-own-good child appeared in the kitchen doorway weeping.
“Mommy, are you going to die?” she asked, overwrought with grief.
“Oh, Lord,” I thought removing my Playtex gloves and rushing toward her. “Honey, everyone dies–someday.”
“No! I don’t want you to die,’ she wailed, wrapping her small arms around me as if the weight of her little body would keep me tethered to this world.
Just days after her sixth birthday, I had been hospitalized in excruciating pain. By the tenth day, when the doctor finally started listening to me and conducted the correct tests, I was sent into surgery. Three days later, nine doctors and nurses surrounded my bed trying to determine why my fever had spiked to 106˚ and I was moving in and out of consciousness. As they pondered what to do next, the door opened and my fresh-faced six-year old, who had been brought for a visit, took one look at this stethoscoped crowd and burst into tears.
Again, “Mommy, are you going to die?” This conversation was a little tougher.
“Everybody out,” I ordered. The morphine drip dulled the pain as I made room for her on the bed so I could hold and comfort her. She lay down beside me and gently touched my arms—purple, green and black from all the IV punctures. The bed rocked from her sobs.
“Don’t leave me, Mommy! Who will take care of me?”
I brushed the tears away from her eyes and held firm to the small thread of courage I had. “I keep seeing your sweet face, and I promise that I am not going to die.” It was a bold statement, all things considered, but in the hours I had been battling consciousness and sepsis, her little face had hovered like a beckoning apparition. I thought of her gentle spirit and innocence and knew that if her father raised her, she would not come out the other side as the same person. Even in my questionable state, I knew I had to hang on for my little girl.
Last year, a week after the surgery, at a routine follow-up with my doctor, I went into A-fib and watched as my now-grown daughter’s face collapsed into that of a scared six year old while my heart skipped wildly on the EKG monitor.
She views me as fragile. In some ways, I suppose I am. But I pointed out to her, as she sat on the floor next to my chair, that I am STILL here—I have survived all sorts of physical ravages, and more than my fair share of emotional upheavals. I still dream and plan and learn and love and laugh. No matter what.
Life is precarious and precious. My friend, Suzanne, came home from work last Friday to find her beloved husband of 36 years, who had died of a massive heart attack. Suzanne has been filled with light and love every minute of the nine years I have known her—until I saw her yesterday at Tony’s service. The love was overflowing, but the light was dimmed by the dark shadow of grief. My hope for her in the days, weeks, months that follow is that their love story sustains her and that the life they have lived at full tilt burns hot in her memories and reignites the pilot light. We will all love her and hold her safe until then.
And my friend Faye, mother to my friends Vickie and Michelle, grandmother to Jason and Jenae, GREAT-grandmother to four amazing grandkids, passed away last week as well. I have known Faye since I was sixteen years old. She, like my own mother, was beautiful, raucous, and wild. Age had tempered her, but never fully captured her joyful spirit. She played cards with friends the night before she died. She and Vickie are now reunited and I hope they are dancing and singing in heaven.
Both Tony and Faye remind me to live life as fully as I am able—up and until the last minute. I look wistfully at the pictures of me in my youth, or think of dancing the night away, the lovers who took my breath away, the dreams I’ve left behind. Sometimes I long for that energy, that body, THOSE knees, that abandon. But I have been dreaming of paintings I want to breathe into life, and how to expand how I earn a living. I FINALLY designed a logo and sent my business card to the printer (I have been freelancing for over two years). Last night I imagined a series of digital prints I want to create for the Etsy store I am planning. I will celebrate my friend Larkin’s 21st birthday with her tonight, in sharp counterpoint to the deep reservoir of grief I shared with Suzanne yesterday. Life does, indeed, go on. And someday, when this phoenix finally does cease to rise, I hope I will be remembered as fondly as Tony and Faye.
It is so trite, but nonetheless: each day is a gift, each friend a treasure. It is easy to get caught up in the minutiae and demands of our own lives and pass through our days on automatic pilot, or neglect picking up the phone to tell someone they matter in our life. FACEBOOK IS OKAY AS LONG AS YOU ALSO find a way to directly tell your close friends and loved ones how you feel. In person is best, but the phone, or a card or letter, or even an email “for their eyes only” will suffice if time zones, schedules, or distance are issues.
Take time to enjoy the glorious world around us—be it sunshine or storm. If you have a dream, do something to move closer to its actualization. If you don’t, let your imagination soar and come up with a dream—no matter how old you are. A BIG one. Play. Laugh. And, if you have loved and lost someone, the African tale of The Cow-tail Switch tells us that they will live on as long as they are not forgotten. You are missed Tony and Faye, but still loved, and never forgotten.
And too: Mom, Dad, Gran Gran, Po Po, Aunt Katie, Aunt Frances, Aunt Helen, Vickie, Tommy–you are all loved and remembered. Please try to BEHAVE yourselves up there. Miss you.
And Kate: when that day does finally come (someday): just remember all the love, all the fun, all the hugs and kisses, all the stories, all the lessons. Speak my name and I will be, like E.T., right HERE. And if you don’t carry on with joy, I will haunt you with my scary mom face (you know, the one with the raised eyebrow–and now a scary eye to boot!). Oh! and don’t forget to eat your wegetables! 🙂