Routine. Wake up. Make coffee. Tend to dog. Drink coffee. Walk dog. Household chores. Write. Shower. Write. Periodic glimpses of social media. More chores or errands. Etc., etc., etc. Wait, Jeopardy. “This is Jeopardy.” (Oh no, Alex Trebek passed.)
Coffee and conversation with a friend. Lunch with a friend. Walk or ride the bike. Dinner or drinks with a friend. Shopping with a friend. Or maybe all of the aforementioned absolutely solo because you don’t wish to inflict you on anyone else. Read a really good book.
Wake up next to the person you love. Wake up next to a person who makes you feel loved. Wake up and laugh with a person who makes you laugh. Spend the day with someone special who gets you, makes you feel alive, and who makes you laugh, cry, and feel all your feelings without shame, guilt, or a need to apologize. (Okay, this part might be a dream, but it could be true–especially if you ever recognize that you are the person you need to love; you are the person who makes you laugh; you are the person who gives yourself permission to feel all of your feelings.)
Read everything you have written thus far and resist the urge to scrap it.
Do all of the above every God damn day of the week and realize that this is your life, but it doesn’t have to be.
Write about how God damn grateful you are to be here.
Now, think. Are you living or lying in state or in a state?
Who knew that the sixth time something happens it still has the capacity to take one’s breath away, to give pause, to cut to the core? If the first is a surprise and the third is old hat, then certainly the sixth time should be tedious and uneventful. Not the case. At all. The passing of her father’s sixth roommate in not quite four and a half years shook Sylvia. One would think that she would have grown accustomed to death, that it would have become easier to handle and accept, especially in light of the daily visits to the nursing home. Not true. Not for her anyway.
Out of respect and privacy, I’ll refer to the dear man who left this world at around midnight, late Friday/early Saturday last week, as Mr. H. He was frail, ailing, aging, and I’m hoping he was at peace. I’d like to think he left on his own terms and had made peace with himself and anyone and anything else that gnawed at him in this life, but who knows, right? I only know what I know and what I saw.
Mr. H had been at the skilled nursing residence for some time; it was his home for better or worse. He and his older brother had made the skilled nursing facility their mutual residence in their later years, living and rooming there together as each dealt with his own infirmities. They had each other and that was a lot. Maybe that was everything. I think it just may have been! When his brother died, Mr. H moved upstairs into my father’s room. In my mind, once people share space for an extended period of time whether under the best or worst of circumstances, it makes them family–automatic family because (1) you are living together and not necessarily by choice; and (2) you’ll be privy (whether you want to or not) to all of the intimate and likely not-so-pretty details of the other’s life- family dysfunction and bodily functions. Let’s face it, folks. Once you’ve shared space, passed gas, and dressed and undressed in front of another day in and day out, you are no longer strangers. Again, for better or worse. So, Mr. H became family. Although he and my father never engaged in conversation, I do think that each found quiet comfort knowing that there was life, another being, just a few feet away.
Here is why six is so tough though. I came to know one through five through their visitors, their friends and families. Whether frequently or sporadically, each was visited at some point by someone who cared. I had the honor of seeing each man engage in life at various moments and experience joy, even if only for a few minutes at a time; when a daughter or son dropped by on the way to or from work; or when a wife was able to find the physical and mental fortitude and/or transportation to make the trek. The little chunks of time shared with a loved one made all the difference. The “brothers” whom my father came to know in his own way, they were allowed to be who they had been all their lives, authentically and intrinsically themselves because of their relationships and loves, rather than who they had become as a result of the injustice and weaknesses of their illnesses. Six, Mr. H, was different. Henever had a visitor. He hadn’t had one since at least six months before the pandemic. Think about that. Not one person. No one in this world felt the need or desire to visit Mr. H. Did he really have no one?
I could write forever ad nauseum about this, but I won’t. Frankly, it’s upsetting; and those to whom I’m trying to make a point are those who failed my father and will likely fail others who hang on to a love that cannot be reciprocated or offered unconditionally. I don’t know. I’m not their judge, but I do recognize a hubris, a lack of accountability, and a seeming nonchalance about their role in a loved one’s final days. Mr. H at some point in his life engaged with the world. Perhaps he was mean, a recluse or curmudgeon. Again, I don’t know. However, don’t we as human beings owe one another something – a morsel of decency and a little tenderness, especially in the end? Just as we all came into the world being anticipated and welcomed, wouldn’t it be lovely to leave the world or to help someone leave the world knowing that it’s not all bad? He or she mattered. If all another teaches us in the course of his, her (or their) life is how not to live and what we don’t want, then they have done this world and likely all of humanity a huge service. They have made your life, my life, more meaningful.
Six was hard. Mr. H, I hope you know that you made a difference. You were family. I will not forget you. May you rest in peace. Say hello to your brother and brothers, my father among them now.
Sometimes, almost always these days, Sylvia hastens to remind herself that we only learn how to live by watching how others are treated or mistreated, especially as they approach death. How to say hello comes naturally and easily. How welearn to say goodbye? Not so easy. How will you say goodbye?
Erma: Live a little life today, Syl. Remember yesterday- all of the yesterdays- but learn from them, muster strength from them, glean hope from them, and corral courage and confidence from them. I learned this from a very wise woman- my mother- in her final stages of life.
Sylvia: Well, right now you caught me. I’m sitting here for a moment making my mental list of things to do today, and at the very top (after “have two strong cups of coffee and a daydream” perhaps) is move– move forward with a bit of abandon; move forward with intent and purpose; and move forward knowing that those you love know you love them. Yep, Erma, I’ll live a little life today– or maybe quite a lot.
******************* Now, go ahead and make your move.
She never really liked the beach, not during the summer anyway. Despite having grown up in a quaint, New England seaside village, she didn’t care for the mess of it, the lugging of paraphernalia that would end up either sand-laden or salt-water soaked, and on most visits to the beach, both; and she absolutely never relished the idea of baking in the sun, clad in an uncomfortable and unforgiving swimsuit while under the seemingly critical eyes of passersby. But now for some reason, for many reasons that rest deep within her in fact, she finds solace on the shore, dreams in the clouds, and love- yes, love- of nature, herself, and the stories she can only conjure as she lies on her stomach on the comfortably worn-in cotton throw that has seen its day at home but is only just beginning to gain new purpose and life from her recent sojourns to the ocean.
Sylvia, half asleep in the late afternoon August sun and being lulled by the gentle rhythm of lapping waves upon the shore, smiles as she feels his fingertips on the small of her back. She stirs slightly but not in a way evident to him. She doesn’t really want him to know that he has awakened her, aroused something inside of her that for the moment she wants to keep for herself. He’ll know soon enough.
She inhales fully. Holds her breath. Perhaps he won’t notice the goosebumps that she feels on the back of her neck and the tops of her thighs. He touches her again, this time with a full, gentle yet purposeful, open hand. He slides his hand from the small of her back, over her backside, and between her legs. With a long, slow exhale, she quivers. Although her eyes remain closed and her head in the clouds, she is transported and he knows it. And with the next gentle crash of waves upon the shore, his hands still at home on her inner thighs, he leans over her, brushes the hair off the back of her neck, and exacts the most intoxicating mixture of nibbling and sucking of the sun-kissed nape he has been craving.
The vastness of the beach and the ocean; the strength and rhythm of the waves; the intensity of the afternoon sun; all of it at once encapsulates the lovers. The moment his lips touch the back of her neck, all of her surroundings disappear. Sylvia is nowhere, and she does not long to be anywhere else. The gentleman and gentle man of equal age and intellect, whose eyes saw a vacancy that yearned to be filled years ago, reads her mind and body, as easily and excitedly as she has read her copy of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice each long summer since it was first introduced to her three decades ago. Time and place are of little consequence at that moment. His touch, his lips, and every fiber of her being are in sync. And with the next wave, Sylvia is on her back and he, at her unspoken but most deliberate urging, has come to rest atop her, intertwined and superbly fitted in all the right places. Sylvia, arms outstretched, happily surrenders. With his body almost rooted in hers and while his toes grow more deeply implanted in the sand, he sees under him a woman who completely adores and welcomes the accompanying mess from this day at the beach.
“Sylvia, Sylvia. Wake up. You’ve been daydreaming again. Come down from the clouds- at least for today.”
Erma: It’s been a decade, right? Since your mom passed?
Sylvia:Yes, ten years in the blink of an eye. She must have been counting the days.
Erma: Yes, she undoubtedly wanted him home with her. They had been apart for too long. They were ready to be reunited and to live the eternity they had promised each other.
Sylvia: I wasn’t ready though. I’m still not. I don’t know how to navigate the rest of the journey. I’ve gone from devastated to lost.
Erma: Time. The only answer. It won’t heal but it will carry you. It will give you the life jacket you need from time to time to endure the waves that will pummel you at the most inconvenient and unexpected moments.
Sylvia: I don’t need a life jacket. I’m not drowning. I told you I feel lost. I’m numb, shivering, in a blinding snowstorm, and I have no idea of what is ahead.
Erma: None of us knows, Syl. That’s where the notion of faith enters. And you are so far from lost– lost suggests that there is something to be found.There is nothing to be found and everything to be felt.
Sylvia: Oh, okay, then I’m right on track.
It’s been a month of Sundays since he passed, figuratively of course. Much longer in reality, and certainly it feels even more like an eternity. I’m not paralyzed or empty or broken. I’m numb.
Every morning I awake hoping that I’ll complete the journey- the journey for which none of us is ever fully prepared- the journey off and away from the path of grief and sadness. Most people describe grief and its effect as wave-like; it ebbs and flows. It washes over you. It brings you under and makes it hard to catch your breath; and as soon as you stand and catch your breath, another wave knocks you down. It’s not a wave, not a ripple or a tsunami. It is more like the breathlessness you experience on a sub-zero day in the middle of January up north. This grief, this numbness, is totally different than any other I’ve ever felt. I can’t fully compare it to anything, not yet, because I know I haven’t lived through it completely. I doubt I ever will. Although if I had to liken this trek and its encumbrances to a relatable situation, I would imagine how one feels at a “Lost & Found” bin or depot. Hopeful yet aware of impending disappointment. Each morning I wake up headed to the lost and found.
The phone rang last night. A message was left. “Your belongings have turned up. We are holding them for you at the ‘Lost & Found‘ window. Come at your earliest convenience.”
So, I awake with a controlled eagerness to pick up what has been left. After all, it is mine. It has been left for me to retrieve. I shower, get dressed, and off I go. On my way to the “Lost & Found” today. Every day for a month of Sundays.
The journey has not taken me away or off the path. I have yet to retrieve what I believed belonged to me. I have yet to find wholeness. Perhaps I never will. Perhaps it is never to be found. But for now, I’ll keep listening to the message each night on the machine. I will keep getting up to see if the depot actually has what belongs to me. What needs to be reclaimed. I will live with the numbness- not in wave-like motion but in a traipse, much like the plodding of wearing full winter armor in heavy, wet snow on a frigid winter’s day. And eventually – I hope anyway- faith will melt the snow away from the path.
I hope I will recognize what it is I lost. If not, I hope I find the strength to delete the message and move forward.
Sylvia: I’ve been sitting here with my coffee waiting for a daydream, but nothing is happening. What are you up to today?
Erma: Not a whole lot. I’m doing what I do best- making lists and micromanaging others’ lives. Sorry. Not funny but perhaps mildly amusing. And what do you mean you can’t have a daydream? Of course, you can.
Sylvia: No, I’m serious. I really can’t. I pour the piping hot coffee, sit at the head of the table, and let the steam wash over me, all the while hoping that the fresh brew will stir something delicious within. And nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a single spark or errant provocative thought. Sadly, Cam and/or anyone else who might scratch the proverbial itch is nowhere to be found.
Erma: Oh, nonsense, Syl. Cam’s there, after all you conjured him up a few times before; and if he’s not, someone else is ready to jump in, stir the pot, and get your juices flowing. You know what you really need though?
Sylvia: I’m almost afraid to ask, but you haven’t steered me wrong yet, so what the hell? What do I need to get my mind moving in the right direction?
Erma: Jelly doughnuts. You need one or two jelly doughnuts to go with that coffee. Trust me. What you need is in the filling!
It’s now a good two months into the new year, and as I have done almost every year for the last six or so, I remain true to my one and only resolution and vow: this year will be different. I, along with Sylvia and Erma, have consumed enough coffee to wake the dead on a slow day. I’ve had it black, sweetened, flavored, and iced. In a mug, a delicate bone-china cup, and an insulated tumbler. I’ve cried over it, had it come out my nose while laughing, and even choked on it. Coffee isn’t everything, but God and the gals can attest that it sustains me most days. However, sadly, it is no longer enough. I need filling. We all do!
I’ve no other choice- well, I do, but I’d rather try options that are less harmful to me body and soul- so, jelly doughnuts it is!
Sylvia: Hey there, lady. Usually I’m the one missing calls and scurrying about. What have you been up to?
Erma: A little of this and a little of that. Nothing too distinctive.
Sylvia: Oh, but the sum and total of it all is what? Huge? Voluminous? Overwhelming?
Erma: Not huge, but substantive.
Sylvia and Erma are huge believers in quality over quantity. So, although they love and eagerly anticipate their morning conversations over coffee, they are aware that life often gets in the way. They have come to appreciate all of the little things in their relationship and in other important bonds between family and friends in their lives.
Little things. Gentle gestures. They share them. They look for them. They treasure them.
What small act today will you witness or be a part of that will impact you or another in a wondrous and everlasting way?
“And for a moment she pauses. She thinks back and smiles broadly. The seconds of joy and tenderness that her father shared with her son had the most impact. She sees it every time they see one another now- it’s always in their eyes.”
Erma has had a voice; Sylvia’s finding hers. Together, these two are hell bent on helping others find theirs. Sharing “aha” moments. Snapping each other out of funks. Whatever it takes to get one another over the next hurdle, through the next day, and onto the next best part of life.
Everyone needs someone, so grab your mug (or a glass) and pull up a chair for a look and a listen.