May 8, 2012
One of my co-workers and my man Mickey are loosely connected through a serious of sad events that occurred to a mutual friend of them both. This friend lost his wife; the next day, his daughter died.
Mickey IM’ed me at work today to ask if I knew anything about the funeral for the daughter. Since she had been estranged from her father for many years and none of his friends knew her, no one was clear about the arrangements. I asked my co-worker who told me how Mickey could find out about the arrangements.
I IM’ed this message back to Mickey: “Shawnee News-Star obits, Deanna Something.”
I stared at that message a long time after I sent it. The local newspaper online obituaries. Someone whose name was unknown to her father’s friends. My heart broke a little and I cried.
To make matters worse, the newspaper posted the wrong funeral date. It listed the services as tomorrow, but they were actually today. So even the friends of this friendless woman’s father weren’t there to gather around her sad remains as they were consigned to the earth.
Deanna, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry your sad life led you off of everyone’s radar. I’m sorry you died alone and troubled and friendless. Most of all, I’m sorry I didn’t know your name.
In my heart, I’ve renamed you. You’re no longer Deanna Something. Go with God, Deanna Glorious, and melt into the sun. Be bright. Shine.
April 29, 2012
A lady who is a friend of both my dearest co-worker and my sweetheart is dying tonight. She’s been under hospice care for some time and her family has gathered this weekend because the time has drawn near. I think it’s wonderful that she’s surrounded by love, surrounded by those she cares for and who care for her as she spends her last minutes on this plain. I know this is the kind of death most people (when they dare to think about their own deaths at all) aspire to. I’m not one of those people.
I’m not a bit afraid of death, but I have a genuine horror of lying sick in a hospital bed somewhere waiting for it to overtake me. I don’t want to go out like that. I can’t think of anything worse than letting death take me on its terms, at the time and place of its choosing.
If I have the misfortune of knowing that death is stalking me more closely than is requisite for my moral comfort, I want the presence of mind to meet that mother fucker on my terms. I want the strength to strap on my spiritual weapons and to meet death at high noon on a dusty street somewhere while tumbleweeds blow across the landscape.
“I heard you were looking for me,” I’d say.
“Looks like I found you,” Death would reply.
I ease my hand down toward my sidearm, fingers flexing. “Are you sure you want to do this, Hoss?”
Death sighs. “Got no choice, Slim.”
I nod. “Okay, then. But I have only one question for you, Death. Do you feel lucky today, punk? Well, do ya?”
When death takes me, as he naturally will some day, I want him to come out of the fray with his robe torn, his scythe bent, and his faith in his own inexorability shaken. I want him to go home battered and bruised. I want him to sit in his recliner in front of the TV and pop a beer and say to Mrs. Death, “That was a rough one, honey.”
Yeah, I’m ready. I’ve been ready for years. But I warn you now, Death, it’s going to be a cage match. Better eat your Wheaties, my friend.
April 12, 2012
There was screaming in the coach cabin, a soprano to the scream of the engines’ contralto. Miranda realized the folks in the rear cabin had a better view.
She clung to the armrests and breathed in the general panic. Before the cabin went dark, she’d seen the faces of the flight attendants as they strapped themselves into jump seats. One young female attendant was weeping. The other attendant, a slightly older man, strapped himself in with deceptive calm, as if he was participating in a drill of some sort. His nonchalance didn’t fool Miranda. She’d seen the look on his face. Acceptance. Inevitability. That’s when it hit home: They weren’t going to land in Oslo.
The frigid Norwegian Sea was below them and that was as far as this plane was going. Return your seats to an upright position and check the overhead bins for personal belongings before deplaning.
Miranda turned in her seat and pressed her face to the small window. The starboard wing was aflame, brilliant in the dusky sky.
She felt a slight touch on her hand and glanced at the passenger beside her. Carefully coiffed and impeccably dressed, the older woman raised her eyebrows.
Miranda shook her head.
The woman nodded. Taking her hand from Miranda’s, she reached into her jacket and withdrew a pack of cigarettes. Mind if I – ?
Might as well, Miranda’s eyes responded.
Oxygen masks with their ridiculous yellow cups fell and dangled. The female flight attendant already had a portable oxygen unit in place to cover her sobs. Her male counterpart did not. He stared inexorably ahead, one of his hands on each of his knees.
No smoking, no smoking, the tiny LED alerts blinked above their seats. Miranda exchanged an amused glance with the woman beside her who sat with the unlit cigarette between her lips, shuddering. The cigarette. The woman. The plane. Shuddering.
Miranda looked out the window one last time and thought about her family, her job, her dog, her car payment, her potted plants…
Thank God I’m not in coach. There are children back there. There are babies. If I was back there I’d –
April 6, 2012
And aren’t we all? From the time we’re born, we’re hurtling toward death on a non-stop flight, sometimes without inflight meal service or drinks. There is no way to divert this flight to another destination. This fragile thing we call life is going to end somewhere, someday.
Maybe I’m weird, but I’m totally okay with that. I don’t have any strong religious faith that I’m going to end up at the Pearly Gates with a harp in my hands. I only have the faith that I’ve lived my life as fully as I could and will continue to do so until my heart stops beating. The only advantage (if one can call it that) that I have is having looked death in the face and having had the time to do an internal tally of what my life was before that moment.
On April 4, 2006, I ended up in the local ER with cardiomyopathy. The left ventricle of my heart was ballooned out and my lungs were filling with fluid faster than I could cough it out. After the “sound and fury”, the rush of EMTs to get to me the hospital, and the concert of doctors and nurses, and the tests and nitro and more tests and consultations, I was left alone in my little curtained-off cubicle. But I wasn’t dead yet. I could still hear what was transpiring in the hall beyond, and I could see feet below the curtain.
I saw feet clad in what looked like shower caps. I saw those feet approach and stop outside my cubicle. Then I recognized my son’s unmistakable size 16 Nikes facing those shower-capped feet, and a pair of small battered flip flops that could only belong to my daughter-in-law. (Who else wears flip flops in April in Washington state?!?) And I heard the owner of the shower-capped feet say that my condition was tenuous at best.
Is it strange to say that, looking back, it was the best moment of my life? Not the happiest, of course, but the BEST. Because it defined who I was from that moment until now, and if I’m lucky until the end of my life?
Laying there in my ER cubicle, I had to do a quick review. I asked myself, had I made mistakes? Oh yes, indeed. Had I done wrong? Oh, you betcha. And that being the case, what kind of legacy was I about to leave behind? Easy answer!
I was going to leave behind love. No one I had ever loved would doubt my love for them. No one who knew me would doubt that I always did what I thought was best for them, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d planned. I knew at that moment that I could go without any regret other than perhaps a few bucket list items that might entertain me but which would ultimately do nothing to enrich or diminish what defined “Debi” in the minds of those who loved me.
I survived, obviously, and I survived with an amazing gift. Because I know how deeply the love in my life has touched both myself and those around me. I’ve been richly blessed with extra time to build on that legacy, but I can totally look forward to death without a qualm.
Funny thing about love. You take it with you when you’re staring death in the face. I learned that in 2006 and I’ve lived it every day since. I’m the luckiest person I know.
November 16, 2011
Of all the arguments I’ve embraced regarding why living to 80, 90 or 100 years old is a bad idea for me, I didn’t anticipate one: Burying the young.
Why are we never prepared to bury those who are younger than ourselves? Yet, in retrospect, this is obviously part of outliving our own youth. Recently I’ve heard of or seen babies buried while their 20-something parents struggle to understand the depth of their own loss. I’ve seen teens die by gunfire. It’s horrible, really. In what way does life prepare us for this? I wasn’t prepared, that’s for sure, and I never knew how unprepared I was until today when I learned of the death of a young cousin by marriage.
Tall, blonde, scarred. Heavily tattooed and pierced, Chris was a rebel. He’s gone now, leaving behind three little daughters, a wife, and a family torn by grief. He also leaves behind one tired middle-aged witch who wonders, did he ever know how much I admired him? Did he ever know that every time I saw him I thought “Viking”?
Well, he’s in Valhalla now, and I’m left without any words of comfort for his family other than telling them that he made a difference while he was here. He was fierce and gentle and strong all at the same time. I noticed. I saw. How could anyone not see? He carried himself like the warrior that he was.
The world is short one warrior tonight and just at the time when we needed him the most. But the fires in the Great Hall are brighter for his presence.
Continue to burn brightly, Chris. We’ll see your glow from here, I promise.
February 21, 2011
She would have been 88 years old today. In retrospect, it’s amazing that she made it to just shy of 82 years old, considering that she’d smoked for 69 of those years, but still I feel cheated. I want, I need more years with my mom. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel lonely for her.
You would have had to know my mom to understand what made her so special. She wasn’t a typical stay-at-home mom of the the 1960s in a house dress and curlers. She worked. She always worked. She was a waitress and bartender at night while my dad worked construction during the day. And she was the “hot mom” on the block. In her tight capris and her middie shirt, she’d stop all the Saturday afternoon traffic on our block when she was out on the front lawn pulling weeds. You could never tell from week to week what color her hair was going to be – black, blonde, red, and on one memorial occasion, lime green. But you could always count on the fact that her nails would be long and painted red, her make-up impeccable and her figure fit to die for.
When I was about ten years old, Mama suddenly decided that she wanted more out of life. She’d been forced to drop out of school at age 13 to help support her family during the Depression, so she lied to the local community college and said she couldn’t provide a copy of her high school diploma because the school had burned down and taken all the records with it. So the college admitted her with the rough equivalent of a 7th grade education and she sailed through real estate classes. Then she sailed through real estate broker classes. She was half way to real estate lawyer when she retired with my dad to raise Arabian horses and grandchildren.
Her smile was sunshine. No matter how much or how little money we had, or how much aggravation life threw at her, my mom never stopped believing in the innate wonder and glory of life. She certainly never stopped believing in her daughters or the great heights we’d attain in education, society and culture. Although my sister and I married young and didn’t precisely go on to prestigious careers, my mom always supported us and believed we were the most wonderful and accomplished daughters in the world. No matter how crappy my writing was, she’d encourage me and tell me that she couldn’t wait to hold my first best seller in her hands.
I don’t like to think about the years that she spent dying, but they are such solid proof of just how amazing her heart was that I have to think about them. I remember the nights she spent gasping for breath, when she’d apologize to me for pushing the alarm button by her bed as if her dying was some sort of inconvenience to me. I’d crank up her oxygen and help her trembling hands bring the nebulizer to her face. Then I’d sing to her. And more often than not, by the end of the breathing treatment she’d be singing along with me and correcting me on lyrics I’d gotten wrong.
If I live to be one hundred and twenty years old, I can only dream of being the woman my mother was: Beautiful, inside and out. Glamorous in a working-class sort of way. Always hopeful, always happy, always madly in love with her children, her grandchildren, and life itself.
Mama, I adore you. You were and you are the perfect woman. God grant that I’m one tenth of what you were.