Walking down the hall toward the bedrooms
I saw wonderful family pictures that helped expand my
view. I would slip down the hallway to the kitchen and
back with a drink or snack for us. Passing, I would be
reminded who the hunter or runner in the family was. Pictures
of older family members also graced the gallery. But most
touching were the family pictures from "before."
Mary had been beautiful, with long, curly honey-colored
hair. In one, she was wearing something special, surrounded
by her husband and child. This was my favorite, but bittersweet
to others who had known her "before."
Many of our conversations centered on children. Children,
in general, are a mask for the very specific. Our children
are the same age. We shared the antics of our three eight-year-olds.
They represent a cross section of all second graders.
Their laughter and their anger colored the pictures of
our stories. We never said we loved them. They simply
are the center of our universe. One major theme concerned
what was normal behavior. Is it ok for them to be so angry?
We don't remember our own childhood anger. It comes like
huge cloud bursts and fades away as quickly. Sometimes
children aren't even sure why they are so upset. Mothers
Another topic of conversation was letting go. As parents,
we understand that letting go should be a gradual process.
First we let them out of our sight for a few moments.
Later they are allowed to walk to the neighbor's house,
but only on the same side of the street. It is hard to
let go, especially when your own grasp is so fragile.
We felt the pain in saying all right to an overnight with
friends. We have had so few nights without our children.
Perhaps they need a night without us.
One day I brought Mary some Chinese food for lunch. I
was trying to whet her appetite, to keep her strong. We
sat and talked. At this meal we opened the door to our
spiritual beliefs and supports. It can be a great comfort
in difficult times and a gentle blessing on the "good"
days. It was important that her family was connected to
a church community. They had searched as a family to find
the right fit, the place of connection for each of them.
It was the spiritual side of her that I was drawn to.
As a list maker and a task-oriented person, I find it
easy to relate to the practicalities of daily life. Unpacking
boxes, now that is something you can really get your teeth
into. Faith and hope seemed so naturally a part of her
life. How do you sustain either one? Does faith go hand
in hand with hope? I'm sure there were dark days when
doubts cast shadows. What a wondrous thing it was to see
the expression of Mary's trust and love of God reflected
in her attitude and strength to get out of bed each day.
Being a private person, she did not speak of this directly,
but it was transmitted through accounts of experiences
or relationships with other people.
So we munched our way through tiny spoonfuls of cashew
chicken while we touched universal truths. It came time
for our fortune cookies. I had brought them for a touch
of fun, light-hearted messages about our luck or good
fortune. Mary's fortune referred to her soon seeing things
from the other side. It was cryptic; we both knew where
she was going. It hadn't occurred to me to edit the fortune
The conversations flowed, with very few mentions of death.
It was the shadow cast upon each word. It was the unknown
and the definite. We continued to fold laundry and share
our plans for the weekend. There was never a time without
plans or things to be done. We shared birthdays, wedding
anniversaries, Mother's Day, Father's Day and a vacation.
Even in her final days, there were things to do. She would
still have a trip home, packing, planning, arrangements
to be made. There was always a tomorrow.
After each visit, I would go home and give my children
an extra hug, just because. I would look around my house
and be filled with a sense of urgency. There is so much
to do. Mary and I are close to the same age. She had three
years to do battle with her disease. Time to fight and
pray and hope. There was always hope.
Life is constantly changing. Each time I said good-bye,
I realized it might be for the last time. Perhaps I would
be the one to die. A fatal car crash or some other disaster
could take my life. My family would be unprepared. My
drawers are a mess. The bills are not paid. Did I say
I love you?