As If It Were Today
Death is funny. It plays tricks on you. Death grabs your hand, twirls you around mercilessly, never lets you out of its dance. You become so dizzy, in fact, that a year ago might as well be today.
Today, December 19, I feel as out of breath as I did this same time one year ago, when I woke just in the nick of time to somehow walk the few feet to Mary’s bedside. To hold her hand in mine. To watch a young, caring “care worker” somehow also walk in the room, to the other side of Mary’s bed, to hold her other hand in hers. As gorgeous morning light streamed in the window, for a long two seconds, two last breaths rose and fell from Mary’s chest. And her light went out.
Mary. My second mom, my chosen mom, my close friend, my beloved friend.
Her light wasn’t something that was emblazoned on marquees or billboards or magazine covers. That made for fame or fortune or lists of accomplishments a mile long for one’s obituary. It was the quiet, bright, true light of care — care that’s not work but rather love.
You couldn’t miss her light when in her presence: bright-white-light of hair, since she was young, so you could see her coming from afar; twinkling-shiny-light eyes that pierced into your heart, wanting to hear and know all, and remembering every word to follow up, with genuine curiosity and care, the next time she saw you; bedazzling thrift-shop jewelry that she took delight in changing up every day, as joy for others.
But the light that shone especially brilliant was that which she never flashed: the simple act of constantly giving of herself to be there for others, without complaint, with pleasure, with love, despite her own pains or sorrows, which she also never complained about.
For instance, her son (pictured here) was injured during birth, and has remained basically a one- or maybe two-year-old for some five decades. Yet Mary never abandoned him, never stopped loving him, and never thought “Why me?” Instead: “Why not me?” You could tell the deep connection between the two within minutes of seeing them together, as she engaged with him in his love of toy trains and real ones. For years, when she could drive, she’d take him to the railroad tracks, park and sit there with him, watching the trains go by.
Or when Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer some years ago, she didn’t feel sorry for herself. She worried about her best friend. So she planted tulip bulbs outside her best friend’s (Barb, my bio-mom) favorite window. The two adored tulips. When the flowers would come up each spring, they would bring joy to Barb, assuming Mary were no longer there to provide sunshine instead. Mary and Barb both outlined the life span of those bulbs. A few years ago, Mary then was side by side with me, making sure that my mom died well when she got cancer.
I’m hard put to think of anyone else, save for a handful of people, who so unconditionally, completely, fully, loved me, as she did others she loved. She would have tried to do anything for me and others she loved, and often did. Through the worst of times for me these past four or so years, she patiently and actively listened, so much so that she could lend the best of wisdom and also make me feel like I wouldn’t fall off this earth because her care held me. She savored every moment we were together, as did I — often until the wee hours of the night, because she’d want to chat and chat for hours — even and especially the painful ones.
After her stroke in early December last year, she only expressed gratitude, time and again, for her life, for us aid her to die well, as she wanted, in her room, surrounded by us, her cat, and all the friends she’d made in her independent living home, where she’d blossomed into who she wanted to be those last three or so years of her life. “I came here to live.” She thanked each and every person, whether head nurse or maintenance guy or care worker or neighbor or receptionist or “laughing yoga” instructor, each and every time they came in to see her as she lay dying. And just before she slipped into the slumber that would become death, she grasped my hand and her bio-daughter’s (my chosen sister) hand in her hands, looked into our souls, and said one last time, “I love you both so much.”
Then, soon after those words, her eyes fixed on a spot between ceiling and wall, as if she could see some light far away. A light she felt comfortable walking toward. The light went out of her eyes, as her eyes held to this spot, and we knew she was gone before her body breathed its last.
Death’s trick, today, is that I feel as if I could drive the 90 miles or so down the road to see her. Or I feel as if I’m sitting on death watch. Or again, wrapping her frail body in cloth right after her death, in preparation for journey to cremation. Or that I need to remember, so she won’t be forgotten. Or that I’m about to take her out for a drive and meal, laughing, knowing that it will be hours of constant conversation that is also enduring care.
A year later, the world feels so much colder, so much lightless. The future seems not only precarious but also highly uncertain and downright scary. So many of us feel without compass in this awful new uncaring world of rising neofascism. All the more that we need the light of people, like you were in life, who remember, as simple daily act, to love and care for others as the practice of being human, of what matters in the end.
Missing and mourning you, Mary ❤
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