Last night she closed her eyes to the sound of teeming rain and claps of thunder. She awoke to a deafening silence amidst a gray background. So that was it. Another day ended and another in the works.
“See, Sylvia, it all keeps moving along,” Erma reassures her friend.
“Indeed. I never said the loss was all or nothing. It’s been all and everything,” professes Sylvia.
When you experience loss, people say you’ll move through the 5 stages of grief….
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance
…..What they don’t tell you is that you’ll cycle through them all every day.
My parents were pretty private people, considering my dad had a fairly high-profile presence in our hometown and Mom, by virtue of her marriage to him and her longtime employment at a couple of business mainstays around town, also found it difficult to go incognito. They tried though, especially when it came to showing weakness, vulnerability, or just ordinary flaws. That was clearly an attribute or a shortcoming (not for me to judge) of their generation. They both knew though I’m sure that I needed to find and expose something redeeming in their terrible illnesses and in their stories, so I don’t really care if I’m judged for sharing this intensely special moment. I want you to know that when you wonder why I miss an event or say no to an outing, that this is my reason. Not my excuse. My reason for having set my priorities as I have. You set yours and I set mine. Friends accept and support; they don’t judge.
Well, on this day as I reflect on that which means the most, I’ll leave you with this. When you think there is no hope, no solace, and no good in missing something or someone because it doesn’t change a thing, a moment takes your breath away to show you that there is always hope, comfort, and good especially in the ordinary- in what we take for granted every single day-until we no longer have it at our fingertips and within earshot.
Just when you think a page has been turned in the book- the memory book, that is- life has you go back to revisit what makes your heart full, brings you peace, and gives you the momentary reprieve, reassurance, and validation you need.
I hadn’t heard my name, my given name anyway, cross his lips in many months. And tonight, as he has just begun to turn the corner on a bout with pneumonia and was well enough to have an ice cream sundae, he said it, meant it, and knew me. Really knew me. I felt it with every fiber of my being. I’ve never liked my name that much until this evening.
Listen closely after I ask him if he’s ready.
Don’t call me a wonderful daughter. I don’t need praise. I’m just sharing this with you because every single one of us needs to know that individually we can make a difference and that one brief, fleeting moment can make all the difference in our own lives.
This is what is called a savorable memory.
In a world overflowing with self-help books, Sylvia and Erma on occasion opt for support groups where women help women, listen to each other, and allow one another to speak without judgment.
“Hi, I’m Sylvia. I’m fifty-six. And yes, I’m a pauser.”
“Welcome, Sylvia,” they replied eagerly in an almost cult-like unison.
There, I said it. In a room full of peris, mid-mennies, and posts, I came clean. As beads of sweat trickled down the nape of my neck, and a small pool of salinity collected between my breasts (the rust likely to cause the bra’s underwire to give way prematurely), I proclaimed the obvious. And as difficult as the admission was, not one woman raised an eyebrow. After all, the bevy was there for all the same reasons. The commiseration. The camaraderie. And, of course, the seemingly endless supply of donuts which were appropriately labeled energy boosters and mood lifters. All of us- either dreading the onset, in the throes of this midlife rite of passage, or anxiously awaiting the day when hot flashes and night sweats disappeared and libidos returned. Yes, all of us were “pausing” at different ages of our advanced adult lives.
Oddly enough, I was smiling, but not for the reason some might think. I was neither happy to be in the midst of other women equally affected by the pause nor excited to participate in the sharing of menopausal woes. I, with a grin on my face that was likely so broad that my eyes disappeared in the elation, was like the cat that swallowed the canary. I, though profusely perspiring after my introduction, had scanned the crowd and noticed that which set me apart from many. My hair was coiffed. My clothes were stylish. I could string together sentences without losing concentration midstream. And although I knew that I had experienced the southward migration of both bosom and buttocks, I remained fairly unscathed by comparison.
And then as clear as the sparkling glass slider that I ran into at my neighbor’s exceedingly pristine home, it hit me. Smack dab right in the face. I was comparing myself to others. It was an episode of “Mean Girls” on hormone-replacement therapy. I had paused. I was pausing. And in the thirty minutes it took me to get up the courage to make public admission of my current state of womanhood, I realized that I was no longer smiling, admittedly due to recognition of my petty and inappropriate comparisons. I discovered at that very moment that I could and should beam rather than gloat because I was pausing among other wonderfully moody and semi-neurotic women. We were in this together- mind, body, and spirit.
Menopause. It’s to women-of-a-certain-age what Wednesday night poker and senior basketball leagues are to men coping with enlarged prostates and erectile dysfunction.
Nothing like the pause – and doughnuts- to bring women together.
And perhaps the group method, whether formally sanctioned or impromptu at a donut shop or wine bar, #womenhelpingwomen shows all the Sylvias that all of the Ermas are not out there judging. So, let us stop being critical of ourselves and each other, and bask in the pause!
When I was suddenly thrust into what everyone calls menopause (Orchids) earlier than my body planned, I decided someone needed to take charge on so many levels. It was time to not only change the vernacular, but to speak up and say “Hey! This isn’t an old lady’s disease! We aren’t old! We are strong and dammit, we are beautiful and sexy too!~Lisa Jey Davis, Getting Over Your Ovaries
Out on the deck and under the umbrella, before the real heat of this August day, Sylvia wondered. Would it be more of the same? Coffee, household chores, lists. Or would she experience something new today? Perhaps a first of the best kind? As she gazed out into the woods behind the house, her curiosity wasn’t piqued by the panoramic view of the landscape that had recently changed in her life. From the quiet, seamless lines of blue where sky meets water on the cove to the lush drapes of greenery that fortressed her now, the change marked a beginning and an end. Or an end and a beginning. And that is where she stopped. The order of things had her baffled momentarily, yet with the very next sip from the sweaty tumbler of iced water, she was struck by a concept that she had never really thought about until that very second. Beginnings and endings are always, always, always firsts.
Sylvia: Firsts are daunting, anxiety-ridden, and paralyzing, Erma.
Erma: Firsts are exciting, hopeful, and motivating, my friend. Just think. When something unpleasant ends, it’s the last of it. That leaves you open and eager for the next step, a new lease, a new beginning.
Sylvia: I get that, but it also signifies the end of an era, a final point in the history of a relationship or process. That’s sad, wouldn’t you agree?
Erma: Sylvia, stop. Not every morsel of life needs to be qualified as happy or sad. It’s not that simple–or in your case, that complicated. Some times, most times in fact, firsts and lasts just happen. It’s not until you look back and you are in the thick or thin of another life experience that you can even begin to really define the impact of a beginning or an end.
Sylvia: Okay, for once I’m going to sit back with my mouth shut and let you explain. At this very second, every first of my life is flashing before my eyes and as I see each of them again, I’m becoming more and more distraught. Trapped somewhere between nostalgia and progress.
Erma: Jesus, Sylvia, it’s now afternoon, and we’re just beginning. No pun intended. I’m going to grab something out of your wine fridge. So, clear your mind, and don’t think until I get back. Seriously. Do not think at all. Do not deliberate, contemplate, and above all, do not ruminate. I’m going to share with you the best and worst of firsts over a nicely chilled Pinot Gris today. You’ll see. You can’t catalog the moments of your life as happy or sad, or as beginnings or endings for that matter. You can only define each moment as a first, for better or worse.
Firsts are when and where life takes place. All of it. Every moment. Some actions and events seem repetitive, and indeed they are! That does not mean that they aren’t different though. Two moments in time are never identical. Erma learned this powerful tidbit over the last seven-plus decades, and that fact alone imparted credibility to her words, even as she explained how brushing her teeth each morning had become firsts for her. She illustrated how she had gone from grinning ear-to-ear as she brushed her pearly whites each day of her teens and twenties to watching a reflection of a waning smile as she lost enamel and gained wine and coffee stains in her forties and fifties. And now, as she thought about those decades of brushing, Erma introduced more examples of firsts. Caps, crowns, root canals, veneers, and partials. “See, Sylvia. There are no instant replays or do-overs. Each brushing is and was a first. Each day is a first.” All of this seemed obvious and a bit comical as Erma so often tried to weave a lesson with just a dash of whimsy. It should have been clear, but it wasn’t to Sylvia. Until she and Erma mulled it over and hashed it out, Sylvia hadn’t considered that firsts represent both the best and worst of life.
Through smiles and intermingled tears of joy and sorrow (none of which either woman could attribute to the rich, sweet, golden elixir or to the fact that they had consumed the entire bottle of it as they indulged in one of their ordinary chats), Sylvia sat looking out on the verdant scenery she now called home. She reflected on those singular firsts which transported her from joyful and full of hope and pride one minute to melancholy and brimming with fear and guilt the next. First friend. First sleepover. First move. First date. First kiss. First one to travel abroad. First “D” and “F”. First one to graduate from college. All her firsts. She paused, took a breath in, and then exhaled. She began again. His first breath. His first tooth. His first word. His first step. His first tumble. His first day of school. His first heartbreak. His first paying job. His first apartment. She beamed for a split second. She hesitated, looked out to the woods beyond the fence, and started again. The first time she heard the word cancer. The first night without her. The first morning they woke up to her empty room. The first time he left the water running. The first time he forgot she had passed. The first time he couldn’t remember her name. The first time he needed to be fed. The first time he looked at her and somehow spoke more clearly than ever with his eyes because the words were no longer there. All firsts. Each and every one was the very last first of its kind. The best and worst of firsts, indeed.
Sylvia (sighing) : I get it now, Erma. It’s how you look at it and what you learn from it.
Erma: That’s right. You’ve got it, my dear. Love it or hate it? That’s not the point. Appreciate it all. Every first is your last first of that kind, with that person, in that place, at that moment. Beginning or ending.