“Sylvia, that is a Wednesday whine not Wednesday wisdom.”
“Here’s the thing though, Erma. I don’t care.”
“Sylvia, that is a lie. Couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“Erma, well it could but okay. Here’s the thing. Really, this is the thing…”
“Sylvia, before you go on, let’s just say that there is no one thing. Not a single, damn thing…ever.”
“Erma, there it is. That is exactly the thing.”
Here’s the thing about people with good hearts:
They give you excuses when you don’t explain yourself. They accept the apologies you don’t give. They see the best in you. They always lift you up, even if that means putting their own priorities aside. They will never be too “busy” for you. They make time, even when you don’t. And you wonder why they’re the most sensitive people, the most caring people, why they are willing to give so much of themselves with no expectation in return. You wonder why their existence is not so essential to your well-being. It’s because they don’t make you work hard for the attention they give you. They accept the love they think they deserve- and you accepted the love you think you’re entitled to. Don’t take them for granted. Fear the day when a good heart gives up on you. Our skies don’t become grey out of nowhere, our sunshine does not allow the darkness to take over for no reason. A heart does not turn cold unless it’s been treated with coldness for a while.~Najwa Zebian
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: We lift each other up, Syl. That’s what we do. We save each other!
Your angel, my angel, and our angels are out there. They are the lady at Dunkin Donuts who knows you get two jellies each day and who periodically throws in an old-fashioned because she sees you’re having a rough morning; the neighbor upon whom you can rely in an instant to pack up her kids, your son and father to follow you in her car as you transport your ailing mother in an ambulance to the hospital an hour away; the friend who takes care of your crazy dog because she knows you are crazy for your dog, and she genuinely wants you to have those three days of respite you have needed forever; the woman who phones you or texts you each morning to remind you of how wonderful you are because you have forgotten- she does it under the guise of a conversation over coffee, but you both know.
Angels are everywhere.
They, our earth angels, may not have wings, but they all have something in common. They recognize need, and without being prompted, they willingly, lovingly, and compassionately perform an act that brings comfort and peace to you even if only for a moment. For a split second, a minute, an hour, a day or a week, they breathe life into us.
Your angel is there…I promise. And if he/she is not, it’s because you are likely someone else’s angel at the moment. Lift your wings and fly.
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.”
Day in and day out, she tried to raise her son to be independent, kind, and strong. So, how lovely it is when she receives a simple message that reveals that he has become that man– and so much more!
When we recognize that our children become our teachers and purveyors of compassion and genuine goodness, then the world will make meaningful leaps towards being a place where love and kindness are in bloom year-round. ~K. Morgan
Sylvia carries a great deal around with her. On her mind. In her heart. And yes, especially in her purse. “The contents of a woman’s purse, or pocketbook as many of us refer to the bottomless bag of life, are sacred,” Erma declares to her friend. And Sylvia, her mind wandering to the bottom of her bag, quietly pronounces in agreement, “Mine are for sure.”
Since my mother died, I bring her with me in one of my favorite totes–yes, bits and pieces of her with me everywhere I go. Literally. Though much of her bodily remains are tucked away peacefully in a carved rosewood box she now shares with my father, awaiting their intermingling, I do keep some of “her” in one of her old medicine bottles- the ultimately inconsequential labeling has long been removed. After all, it’s been over a decade since she died and since her wish to be cremated was fulfilled. I change pocketbooks frequently too, so the little brown vessel that held one of the life-saving or rather life-prolonging concoctions she required has traveled and withstood the test of time. Those bottles don’t crack easily, but admittedly, that is not the point here.
Last week as I moved Mom from the black-and-camel Michael Kors bucket bag to the bright pink, Kate Spade satchel to the less cumbersome, multi-colored, crossbody Coach, I came to a realization. Well, two, actually. First, I’m a bag lady. Second, and more of an epiphany of sorts: I’m not bringing Mom anywhere. She’s gone from this earth. And yes, even to this day, I get a lump in my throat and a knot in my belly when I say those words out loud. Here is what I’ve been bringing with me on my travels, whether to the grocery store or local “Stomping Ground” or to Brooklyn to visit our favorite young man (there is no doubt in my mind that she would have proudly bestowed upon him that moniker). That little bottle of ashes represents my mother’s greatest gift to me. It’s the constant reminder that (1) life is fleeting; and (2) when we leave this world, everything tangible has little to no real value. Those things with the greatest meaning aren’t things at all. They are people and memories of shared experiences. The sum and total of one’s physical presence on this earth is reduced to ash, dust in the wind. The heart and soul of the person, his or her spiritual presence, lives on in those he or she loved, cared for, or touched in some way while on this earth. The ashes that I carry I’ve come to view as Mom’s ultimate lesson to me. We don’t get second chances. Make this life count.
And as I start this new day, I’m thankful for so much, the very least of which is the tiny, amber-colored, prescription bottle that travels with me. Where will I go today and who will accompany me? I don’t know every detail, but one thing I do know is that I’ll do my best to make moments count, to tell people who matter that I love and respect them, and to keep creating my life. It’s not over until it’s ash. I’ll keep adding to my bonfire.
Sylvia is reminded of one of her favorite passages– and so, she’ll keep going:
Intriguing isn’t it? One day you are the king of your world. And the next day, you stand aside, watching it all burn. Ashes slipping out of your hand, you just stand and stare, your glassy gaze fixed on something no one else could see, no one else could know…
People will talk as people do talk. And they will walk over the ashes. And the ashes will dance in front of you, reminding you every second of what was and what might have been. And you will almost give in.
But my advice is, don’t give in. Because one day, you will decide to turn the corner. Put it all behind you. Just stand strong and still as the great wind comes and takes all the ashes away with with it, leaving fresh air behind. Fresh for you to make a new world, a better world.
It wasn’t that her passions and appetites were finally coming to life. It wasn’t that she had learned that seizing an opportunity could be life-affirming. While those gifts were validating and restorative to her body and soul, Sylvia’s greatest gift was so much easier to access than any of those realizations. She just had to allow it. She had to allow herself to accept happiness in order to give herself the very thing that she thought she had lost. Herself. She was learning to count on the one who would never leave.
Wednesday wisdom: When you find yourself and believe in yourself, you will find the one person you can always count on.