Wednesday, June 25, 2014

After So Long, A Sad Update

Hey friends. Carol (my beloved Normal Neighbor to this blog), died on May 1. She had been diagnosed with colon cancer at the start of 2011, and there were lots of ups and downs and calm periods and crises, and finally it was all too much, and there was nothing else to do. I'm breaking my blog silence to tell you about it because today, her mother called me, and I went over to Carol's house, and she gave me my old wig back. It was the wig I wore four years ago and had given to Carol a while ago. But she also gave me another wig Carol got for herself, one I'd gone with her to pick out. So somehow I lent one wig and got two back. She handed me the bag with the wigs, and I looked down inside it, and in that moment, it was just so much living for one day that writing about it really seemed like the only possibility.

Right after we found out her time was short, I talked to her best friend, who had just spent the whole day with her. "How was she?" I asked. I wanted to know if she talked about dying and in what way. The whole three years of her illness and treatment, we never talked about dying and we fully embraced a narrative of cure and healing, that she would do these painful, arduous, or merely pesky things and then finally be free of it all. But with that narrative taken away, I wanted to know how she was facing it. Her friend said, "Oh, we didn't talk about any of that. We talked about normal things. She wants to get the bathroom retiled." We laughed. But I thought, if that were me, I would want to talk about it. I'd want for someone to say, "This is happening and it's real."

When I got to talk to Carol myself, in the midst of her telling me about the hospice facility she would eventually go to, I said, "How did we get here so fast?" And we both started to cry, the first time we ever cried together. Because always before there was a hope, or a meal to organize, or a thing to be done, or something else to be said. But not anymore. And she said, "I know, how?" I said, "I just wanted you to have a good summer." She told me that she didn't want to die at home, because she didn't want the house to be gloomy forever for her kids, and I said that I totally got that. Then we talked about each of her kids and agreed that everything would be okay. And then I was squeezing my face together and trying not to make any noise because I wanted to hear her talk. And she said, "Of course I want more time, but you know...I don't want to just hang around."

The very last time I saw her, she was still at home, and we didn't talk about any of that. I hugged her and sat with her for about five minutes. She was sitting up and dressed, and we chatted about where I was off to next. I don't know, something insignificant. It is a lot harder to think of meaningful things to say than it should be. I think I told her I loved her. Or maybe that had been on the phone. Then a few days later she was sleeping most of the time, and then she was admitted as an inpatient, and then she was gone.

We had a funeral and a gathering of friends and neighbors, which was good and necessary. And now that has been several weeks ago, but I have felt all this time that she was at home around the corner, and we just haven't gotten a chance to catch up. It has been like one of many summers where we're both busy, or in-and-out of town, and we may not be together for a few weeks at a time. I've seen her husband, and her kids, but always with a sense that while Carol is somewhere out of sight on that day, eventually, soon, her absence will be over and we will meet.

Then, today, her mom summoned me to the house, where she's been going through Carol's closet and dealing with her things. Her mother is seventy-five and vigorous, capable, talkative--a big presence. Years ago Carol would sometimes suggest, with good humor, that her mom could be overbearing. But now she is running the house when Carol's husband has to be working. God grant all of us a busy, overbearing grandma to step into the space we leave behind.

So Carol's mom gave me a houseplant and a plastic shopping bag with the two wigs in it, the same shopping bag I'd put my wig in to lend it. And I thought, again, "How did we get here? How did we get here?" I didn't want the wigs at all. Mine, I am sick of looking at and I promise you I would never wear it again, but I bear it no ill will, if that doesn't sound ridiculous. But looking down into the bag and seeing Carol's, I felt such a shock of recognition--like, that's Carol's hair--and it brought her sadness and her vulnerability from that time all back to me. How did we get there? How do we do the things we have to do? How did I get here? And why me and not her?

I took them and thanked her and said that I would either keep them in case someone else needed them, or that I would donate them. "You never know," she said. And I walked home and put the plant in a bigger pot, then I took the wigs out of the bag and shook them out and looked at them, then I put them back into the bag and sat it at the bottom of my staircase. Then I went to Pretty Neighbor's house and drank three beers.

Now, as I have said in this blog so many times, you know everything. If you have read all this then thank you. xoxo