Julian of Norwich

My husband was cracked open to fix his heart. His chest and leg hair shaved, holes drilled in the leg, skin sliced, and sternum sawed to get to the four pound muscle of life. And while his dry bones have been knit back together by a skilled surgeon and steel thread, the rest of us seem to be falling apart.

Yesterday I noticed soft, fine wrinkles on my cheek, creases created by a pillow. But they were there again today and now, forever. I have lost weight and hope and faith. I have found friends and love and God again. I have wailed and gnashed teeth and prayed. I have mothered and run. Written thank you notes and called my people. I have been trying to practice radical self-care. But how is there time or energy or money? I have been a single parent for three weeks now and having to do it in whispered tones. The quiet is not working and we have lashed out at one another, trying to process our pain and fear and life, leaving new scars in the process.I have not bothered with the asking of why. It does not matter to me. I cry out for the how. How do I dream again? How will I laugh or love or wait? How can I take the pain away? How do I stay kind and open to the good? My strength and energy can carry this load but I am tired and I am chasing the light, the sign of what I will become.

When the snow had melted but the girls were still home, we had tired of the outdoors. The brown mud and goosh had overtaken the crisp cold white. Coco and Anna created fluorescent cookies from play-dough. A photo-shoot ensued for Hen House linens, my girls constantly questing for fame. The colorful napkins designed by our survivor friend Katherine were placed near the art and the girls stepped outside to be in the background of the picture. As I snapped the shutter, trying to capture their vision, they began to hug one another outside. A casual arm draped over the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek and a smile. Laughter and goofiness and love was uncovered and shared –a sliver of hope breaking through the crack of our hearts. And I pressed the button as fast as I could, wanting to make this fleeting moment of love permanent. It ended as quickly as it began. But the hope remained. And the tiniest of hymns cracked through the fuzz of my head: “Love like a yellow daffodil coming through the snow. Love like a yellow daffodil is Lord of all I know. Ring out bells of Norwich and let the winter go. All will be well again I know.”

Girl Scout Camping

Camping

When I was a girl scout in fifth -grade, my troop went camping. Our leader, Mrs. Condon, an army wife back from tour in Germany, had camped with her family all over Europe and wanted us to have the experience. In the meetings leading up to the trip, we prepared. We made sit-upons out of newspaper and shower curtains: mine was a textured opalescent pink, threaded together by royal blue yarn. We learned how to detect poisonous plants, hike without stepping on snakes, wash dishes in a mess line to minimize our water and detergent impact. We were taught to hang our provisions from a tree so bears or varmints would not have access to our supplies. In the woods, we were required to carry our water container everywhere we went. I borrowed my older brother’s tin canteen, with the screw top lid attached by chain. It had two dents on the side where he had dropped it years before and a long canvas strap that crossed over my chest. The water stayed cold and crisp, the contents shockingly refreshing.

I am in my own wilderness now, staying alert for snakes and bears and things that give me a rash. The only place I find peace is outside, in nature, among trees and wind. It is there I know I cannot control a damn thing. I am not responsible for decisions or strength or driving. I can breathe and release my thoughts that have knotted around my brain and heart. I am made to feel small but part of something big.
We have a reusable grocery bag stuffed to the top with get-well cards for Greg that arrived from all over the world. We have a calendar coordinating meals and visits and errands, an army of people dying to help. And we have a congregation praying and loving and carrying on. The problem is not in finding help; it is in accepting it, of being the person in need. My days tiptoe the tight-rope of strength for my family and desperate sadness for myself. We have all had our hearts broken open and worked on. As God slowly knits us back together, I will sit and drink and ask to be open.

The Bridge to Nowhere

The voice from the wall of TVs bounced off a linoleum floor, creating an echo of manufactured sound. As my 10 year old and I weave through the aisles of Target’s electronic section, I began to feel depressed. She was insistent on buying a friend a “Call of Duty” game for her birthday. I had casually said ok to this a few days before, feeling sure we could come up with something more creative, more personal, more interactive, more…anything.

When I saw the cover, and the price, I had no problem saying no. We (I) will not purchase this game. I will not support video violence or the glory of war or the disconnect between shooting something through a screen. But that is another blog.

Coco’s response came without words. Rather the glare of her eyes conveyed her disappointment and disgust. She was telling me I had become outdated, a fuddyduddy; a person out of touch and irrelevant. I remember converting my own mother to this status. I was younger and it was 1977. Dorothy Hamill had won an Olympic gold medal and the heart of every young girl in America. Like many in my kindergarten class, I chopped my hair to look just like hers. Really it was a glorified bowl cut requiring a curling iron to finish the ends. While shopping with my mother, I noticed “Dorothy Hamill Shampoo” which of course I needed to perfect my look. My mother refused to waste the money so I staged a sit-in right there in aisle 7 of the store. My mother, always sensible and strong, left me there to finish her shopping. Once her purchases were complete, she  came back to see if I was coming home with her or staying with the comfort a bottle of shampoo could provide. It was lunchtime so I begrudgingly headed to the green station wagon, defeated and annoyed. She didn’t get it, never would.

What I didn’t realize was she did know. She knew what it was like to put hope in a product only to be denied access or worse yet, disappointed by it’s failure to live up to the marketing promises. What my mother was subtly teaching me was to trust in myself. It didn’t feel like that at the time but looking back I can see she was showing me I am so much more than what I buy or what my hair looks like.

And thank God she did. Because middle school and magazines and society have been trying to beat this lesson out of me for 37 years. Don’t get me wrong, I like things. They are shiny and fun and pretty. I made a career out of marketing. I like fashion and style and I firmly believe in a need to express oneself through these attributes. But if you put too much stock in these things, you will end up losing your own compass.

Today I found a quote from Lupito Nyong’o of 12 Years a Slave from before her Oscar win. It sums up everything I want to teach my girls. It is everything I want to live and embrace and surround myself with. It is why Nyong’o can win an Oscar in the first role she has ever played on the big screen. It is Truth. Here is the link to the whole speech but what she speaks to is the lesson on beauty her own mother taught her. She says: “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you. Beauty is not a thing you can acquire or consume. It is something you have to be. What actually sustains us is compassion.”

That is what my mother was saying to me in aisle 7. And that is what I am trying to say to Coco in the electronics department and every other day of the year. If not buying a war game means your won’t be cool, then so be it. If speaking up for yourself makes you unpopular, oh well. If our family rules don’t align with others, you can blame me. It may have been more eloquent if I had a british accent for delivery.

Coco and I ended up purchasing the movie Pitch Perfect and some candy for her friend. There are some swear words in it and I think one character is recovering from bulimia. I wish we had put more effort into finding something less generic, something with more of a soul. At least this choice has a cappella singing and the story comes full circle on an over-controlling Queen Bee who gives way to creativity. It was a step in the right direction.

I know my daughter is convinced I am sabotaging her ability to be cool. I vacillate between having principals and being tired. Will my “No” make a difference in the kind of people I raise? Hopefully. Perhaps one day they will see they aren’t road blocks but stepping stones. I don’t begin to think she will thank me. But she may, eventually, understand why.

Like Sands through the Hour Glass…

By 8:15 this morning we were off kilter. School had been cancelled the night before do to a forecast of snow. I wrote notes for the girls, knowing they would wake with a start and the grumps, angry I had not allowed enough time for some mind sucking television. I was hoping to start the day right, to pretend we were normal for 30 minutes. That waking to our new reality did not have to be a dramatic situation. It didn’t work.

While there was no school, there was also no snow. It was cold and grey, the sky pregnant with promise, but no guarantees. We had family in town and volunteers lined up to help. By 9:15 we were all staring at each other. Dunkin Donuts had run out of munchkins and Cheyney declared a hunger strike as determined as Ghandi. In an effort to stay ahead of the day, I tossed Greg’s pants in with Cheyneys sheets, a daily occurrence as she tries to end the pull-up trend. While I removed the belt and searched the pockets, I did not look carefully enough and placed Greg’s phone in the washer with the rest of the bundle. He kindly announced my oversight as I mumbled to myself one should empty their own pockets before placing pants in the hamper. As I stormed out of the house, two children yelled at me and Greg inquired where I was going. “Out” I replied. I felt like a rebellious teenager, armed with a car and attitude screaming get me the hell away from all this that pulls me down.

I circled the regular route wondering where I could park my angry self for a day at the “office”. Since I had already purchased coffee with the donut debacle, I could not stop at my usual haunts. For the second time in a week, I found myself in the public library parking lot. While I searched for a spot, I noticed mothers with children and bags filled with books. I had stumbled upon toddler story time and began to weep.

When we moved to Raleigh 10 years ago, my one child was less than a year old. As my husband set out to work each day, as his own boss with his own parish, I stayed home for the first time since maternity leave. I unpacked boxes and arranged furniture, wondering when I would make a friend, find the perfect park, create my new routine. Somehow I found story time and  it became our first regular thing in Raleigh. Sue-Kitty started each week with the same songs about A for Alligator and D for when we all sat down. Coco named her this because of the puppet she used each week, carefully hidden in a basket until the stories were over. Kitty would pop her head out to signal “stamp time” and the children would line up, arms extended and wrists exposed, to see what mark would be left on them. We never missed a week and often stayed at the library for 2 hours, browsing and reading, spending time together because we had nothing else to do. When Anna arrived a year later it became more challenging to arrive on time or stay after but somehow we were still regulars. By the time Cheyney was born, our schedule did not mesh up and we rarely made it to Sue Kitty’s class. Her temperament wasn’t quite right for the quiet solitude reading required, still isn’t. Gradually our names and faces faded from the librarians vernacular just as I had in college. My freshman year I was on a first name basis with Pulitzer Prize winning professors  but did not know who I would ask for a grad school recommendation four years later. The distance gradually built up in baby steps. As the Moms struggled to hold hands with their children crossing the parking lot, I was reminded me of simpler times and problems.

How did I get here? A working mother of three -with a husband recovering from bypass surgery – who storms out of the house leaving everyone to sort it out for themselves? One step at a time I suppose. I feel trapped between the kindness of friends who long to comfort and the cold aloneness of no longer fitting in. Of wanting to be part of the happy but not being able to step both feet in. Of knowing that even if things feel okay for 10 minutes it is only because I am too scattered to remember the hell I am living. The kids have lashed out, mostly at me (who else is there?), saying I am stupid and the worst and slamming doors and kicking and screaming. They fight over who has been in the bathtub longer, who gets to use the hairbrush first, who picks the show. I know this is misdirected fear. I feel the exact same way. I don’t want to be living this either. For the first time in my life, I want to go backward not forward. I want to pretend none of this happened and that the rest of our lives will not be forever changed. But the only way out is through. And I suppose that is how we will get out of it, one step at a time.

What now?

It has been two weeks or maybe two years, it’s hard to tell my body is so weary. When I check the calendar and dispose of the dead flower arrangements, it is confirmed that fourteen days ago my husband had a heart attack. A fortnight since I sat screaming at the UNC basketball team and hiding from a tornado inside a pantry with seven kids and two other moms. A lifetime ago when I stomped around and sulked about what a jerk he had been the night before, while his arteries were slowly choking off blood and oxygen to his brain and heart. A moment in time that marks our B.S. life (before surgery) and our A.D. (another day) one.

I was warned the waiting would be the hardest part. By Sunday morning the surgery was scheduled. I sat listening to the cardiologists say Greg will need triple bypass surgery, blahblahblahblahblah, heart of a 70 year old, blahblahblahblahblah, really great surgeon, blahblahblahblahblah, gonna need church on a treadmill/total change of lifestyle, blahblahblahblahblah. We made calls, parceled out children, asked a friend to walk the dog. I stood angry and scared as I watched my husband bloated with medicines lie helpless in a hospital bed, not needing the change of clothes I had naively brought that morning. Why couldn’t they let him shower? Start clean shaven. Because it would be a totally stupid waste of water and time. Instead they shaved his legs, chest, and wrists twice. Made spaces for ports, and lines, and cameras to be fed down his leg and extract the vein which would be used to replace the defunct arteries in his heart. I tried to get him to do laser hair removal this fall; my way would have been a lot easier.

Sunday night was the worst night of my life. As my middle girl, the one who looks most like her daddy, lay quietly next to me, I jolted every fifteen minutes. I walked through the valley of the shadow of death. It was black and cold, with whisp-like bats soaring directly at my head. I kept ducking and darting, spelunking all around this cave of hell, longing to find the devil with red horns and some fire to warm me up. I felt like an animal in the wild, running for safety, hoping I had enough energy and luck to survive until daylight. I remembered Mrs. Hanchey making us memorize the 23rd psalm in fourth grade. But I could find no rod or staff to comfort me. No green pastures or still waters. I knew perhaps if I could hang on til morning I would be able to find some of those things. I called the nurse at 4 am -thank God for overnight operators and night-shift nurses who serve and pray and comfort even the crazy spouses sobbing into the phone. She assured me Greg was fine, resting better than most and he would be ready in the morning.

And then game day. I showered and dressed ready to knock one out of the park as they say. They wheeled him to pre-op at 10:30, shot his butt with morphine while he sang a song about his “lower back with a crack” which made everyone laugh except the prisoner patient chained to his bed next door. And then we waited. Six and half hours of surgery. 30 second updated every two hours: “all is going as expected”. We ate health-food snacks in the sunny courtyard of the hospital, pretending it was college or “My Own Private Grey’s Anatomy”. We whittled the time away, stopping for a prayer huddle towards the end. We waited and hoped.  They never stopped his heart. While his chest was splayed open like a fish being gutted, the heart thumped the entire time, slow and steady, never missing a beat. We saw him with chest tubes and monitors and holes and stitches all over his body as he lay sedated but fixed. His head turned when I said the girls names and told him Roy wanted a walk. Medicine and surgeons and nurses and discovery are truly miracles for which I humbly thank God.

So what now? Recovery? A new life? It’s not that easy. What took 44 years to break down will take more than 2 weeks to build back up. We are literally being carried by thousands of friends who are praying cooking, driving, sitting, chatting, working, loving for us. The work is shifting from the skilled hand of doctors and caretakers back to us, the owners of these lives. It feels a bit like being a first time parent when you are so tired and emotionally drained from getting TO the baby part it seems absolutely absurd anyone would dream of handing you a life to manage on your own. Only there is little joy in this new life. And it weighs heavier than anything I have carried before. For those who want to know how to help I have two answers. First: Bear with me. I am not myself. I don’t know what day it is or who needs what permission slip to go where or how to write a marketing report or blog post or even how to parent. I don’t know if I have slept or merely closed my eyes. I am trying to put one foot in front of the other but even that is hard. Second: Offer each other glasses of water. Anne Lamott says that’s how we know the light of God is getting through. Be kind. Love your children. Run outside (you can take a hot shower when you are done). Eat good food. You will not find the answer in retail therapy or really anywhere indoors. Breath. Because you can.

Ever True

Image

The front hallway of my high school was a bevy of information, a collage of people and how they spend their days. Today I suppose it would look like a facebook homepage. There was Mrs. Carr in reception always wearing a cable knit cardigan and streaked hair set in the same style for 38 years. She controlled the in and out slips, the forgotten lunches dropped off and notes for early dismissal. There was the faculty lounge housing teacher mailboxes and old sofas where teachers would grab moments in between classes to plan or grade or converse or stare out the window. Next: the test calendar where teachers had to write what class was being tested on what day so no grade would have more than 2 tests and 2 papers on any given day. Then: At the change of seasons, a sheet of paper taped to the wall announcing who made the cut for each athletic team. There was always a crowd of girls, scanning the list, hoping to find her name and trying to remember who else was on it; inevitably more than one would quietly turn away rushing to exit the building before allowing the tears of rejection to sneak out. Next: the chalkboard which had some hierarchy for who could post what and where but I don’t remember the pecking order. It mostly contained that day’s special events –a crepe sale fundraiser for French club, Sextette a cappella practice during lunch, where the yearbook layout meeting would be. Occasionally a graffiti posting of some girl hearting some boy would sneak up in the bottom right hand corner. In spring it was covered with congratulatory postings of college acceptances. Finally: the mail slots, listed alphabetically by grade. Here is where we received official school communication: graded tests and papers, folded lengthwise with the grade in the bottom right corner of the last page so no one else could see what you got;  notes from teachers “to come see me” or letters from colleges. It is here where my dream of Brown University first began. The lacrosse coaches had contacted a handful of us our junior year with a desire for us to come to campus and potentially play.

I was recruited. Eventually more letters from other colleges came and phone calls and visits after that. But this was big news. An ivy league, division I school had noticed and wanted me. It was exhilarating and empowering.  Just when my class of 42 was seeming too cramped, when my hometown had become too predictable, and my parents (who had done everything to foster and uplift me and prepare me to soar) seemed to be doing nothing but holding me back, I received a hand written letter from a woman who said, you have potential and I can do something with it. The process continued on a summer day in Providence. My mother and I met Wendy Anderson and Carolan Norris, saw the astro-turf field three stories up on the roof of the athletic complex, and started to believe in a dream that I could be an impact player for the Brown bears. The college tour of New England was essentially over and I wanted to go nowhere else. I was accepted that winter and my dream became a reality.

The experience was not all rosy. What big life moment is? I loved Brown University. I loved lacrosse and my team and playing college sports. But I didn’t love Wendy and she didn’t love me. I am not sure either of us were very lovable at the time. I was naïve and raw with a bravado that fueled me to be tougher than most. She was tough and undisciplined in how she motivated her players. Once during a team meeting my freshman year, Wendy announced she had never seen a bigger butt than mine –and this was coming from a field hockey coach. She played mind games and favorites and stole self-confidence from players whose skills and desire crumbled because of it. Luckily for me, negative feedback worked. I can’t say I reached my potential as a player at Brown but I can accept my role was just as big as Wendy’s. And  regardless of  our shortcomings, who I am today as a person is better because of Wendy.

During my sophomore year, I was called into Wendy’s office. It was after practice and we were showering in the locker room when the assistant coach popped her head in to tell me to get upstairs in the office. Crap! I quickly began to catalog my memory of any recent actions that would land me in trouble. Had I mouthed off in practice? Been late for the game bus? Skipped class? All were probably true but I could not pinpoint anything out of the ordinary that would require special punishment. I was told to sit on the couch and the door was partially closed. My stomach began to twirl like it does during the national anthem before a game. Wendy asked me how I was doing. This was not good –the warm up before the hatchet; what had I done? I told her fine, trying to hide the fear causing my voice to shake. She asked me if I thought Brown did a fair job with women’s sports. It was 1991. Yes I said, relieved I wasn’t in trouble but still scared this was a set-up. She asked why I thought that and I said well because I get to play lacrosse and there are lots of women’s teams at Brown. Wendy explained our budget from the athletic department did not cover the cost of home game officials and if she did not fundraise, we would not have a program. I was confused. We got sticks and a pair of gray shorts and a t-shirt that was all washed for free on a giant safety pin? I began to think about my boyfriend on the men’s team and all that he got. I had stolen more gear from him than I ever was given as a female player. And he still had ample supplies. While he got turf shoes and cleats, my girlfriend and I would drive to the mall each season with our parents’ credit cards and buy our own, both from the boy’s department. The men had sweats and jackets and shoes and uniforms and extra coaches and more players and, well, EVERYTHING. I saw Wendy’s point and was surprised. Brown did a better job than most schools of complying with the 1971 law passed by President Nixon requiring gender equity for all opportunity. While I was busy being a college student-athlete, Wendy was quietly fighting a battle she had started as a female athlete in the 1970s. She was crusading for the right to play.  A year after that office meeting, a gymnast from Brown filed the first ever Title IX violation. After years of litigation, Amy Cohen won, and had her program reinstated.

The news spread like a hacking cough on a small airplane. One post on facebook, multiple forwards, comments. Former teammates, players, coaches, and friends huddled together to remember. The search for photos, old war stories, a blog written to remember the past.  Friends of mine who have never seen a lacrosse field posted condolences to the news Wendy Anderson had passed away. She had struggled in life, most of it fighting for change. Yesterday morning she lost her ten-year battle with brain cancer at the home of her parents on the Cape. And the passing is filled with irony and mixed emotions.

First and foremost, we are sad for her family and friends, for the end of a life that came way too soon. We are also thankful she is no longer in pain of any kind, finding the peace and wholeness she searched for down here. Death always takes one’s breath away –no matter how long the struggle with illness or age. It can be years in the making or days. Despite knowing we all end up the same way, we are caught off guard when it comes. The finality feels so wrong.  Maybe because it is.  Wendy was a trailblazer for women’s sports. She influenced thousands of female athletes who are changing the way women and sports and the world are viewed today. And for that, I am very, very grateful. 

The Weight of Waiting

She lay there quietly,  sliding her teeth across the top of her lip to release the final strand of skin clinging to the rest. It is a delicate process in the winter, removing the cumbersome shred without drawing blood. It’s like picking scabs from skinned knees in the summer, you go too early or too deep and new blood is drawn. I have never known my grandmother to do this. She tends to figit with her hands, rubbing the thumb along the first knuckle of her forefinger as if keeping time to a graceful waltz. Mimi would sit in a club chair in her living room, under the painting of a Bermuda beach scene. A small tray of crackers and cheese rest on the table with a small bowl of nuts beside. Ice cubes clink against her waterford highball containing the nightly scotch and soda. Cocktails float over gentle conversation about the horses or dogs while I wait, anxiously looking for the right time to ask for a memory, a snippet into her life which seems from a long ago time, one closer to literature than present day. One of my earliest memories of Mimi is from the movie On Golden Pond.  I watched Katherine Hepburn love and push a grumpy Henry Fonda as she belted out “You old poop” and thought to myself, I bet that is what Mimi is like. Until her seventies and the move to Charlottesville, Mimi seemed more like a movie star than grandmother, always keeping the distance but drifting into our lives for a brief visit between horse races in Europe and her pink sand home. Grandmother was not on her list of things to do, mothering wasn’t really either. So we took what we could get, a story about her parakeet she trained to talk or pictures of her jumping Chitter, the horse who stood 18 hands high.

Mimi and I had become close in the late 80s. My teacher had the foresight to assign a term paper in which we would write about a woman in our family to show one did not have to be famous to be a part of history. We were spending Thanksgiving on the farm and I brought a tape recorder and microphone to record the voice and story of a person whose blood travels my body yet I barely knew. I sat on her dressing room floor as she reclined in her chaise recalling a life long lived. The loss of her father at age 4, growing up in Switzerland, Radcliffe, New York City, children, divorce, new life. When asked of her first husband, the one who left her on Christmas Eve 35 years before, she simply said I do not want to talk about it. She skipped over the midlife crisis and stay in Silver Hill mental hospital. While she could not choose what happened in life, Mimi could edit the facts however she wanted.

I had driven to the hospital all morning, leaving my own children behind. It was to be the final trip to visit this 97 1/2 year-old fighter. I made the same drive three years ago at Christmas to say goodbye as her body was shutting down, lungs and heart too sad from watching her 16th dog be put to sleep. It was time. Her husband Bob was blind and hunched, his once strong body crippled by sciatica. We were insisting on selling the farm and moving everyone to where they could be cared for by trained professionals. I was a day late, having been trapped by two inches of snow on Christmas night. Having nursed my own grief with cocktails, I decided my reflexes and the roads were too slippery to set out on the 26th. But she was waiting for me, hanging on, for our final goodbye.

I had never seen her lying down. Unlike my maternal grandparents who had us in their room every morning for snuggles and stories when they visited, Mimi simply came down stairs dressed, ready to be served breakfast. It was a surprise to see her with tubes coming out of her ears and arms, looking frail. But I had been prepared by my uncle and the medical staff who were simply trying to make her comfortable. As the door closed she turned her head towards me and in an affectionate drawl she said “Hello Darling, I am so glad you came. And don’t you look fabulous, not quite so fat anymore.” I knew she was back. Despite the charts and  levels and machines, my grandmother was 100% present and living. We talked for 30 minutes and I listened as she told me the nurses were trying to make her fat. I told the staff and my uncle they were wrong, Mimi would be just fine. And 12 days later she checked out of the hospital and into her own apartment. While her cardiologist could not explain why or how she is living, Mimi got a dog.

But surely this was the end. Now 97 1/2, Mimi had broken her hip, getting out of bed in the middle of the night, for reasons no one can explain. The 17th dog had been put to sleep the week before, having died of cancer. Surely it was a sign and she was choosing her time to go. The animals, the farm, her husband -all gone. The house was sold, turned into a winery, and the possessions divided on paper and sitting in cartons on my parent’s basement floor. I was okay with it, we had already cheated death and said our goodbyes. She was in bed, sitting up in a wool sweater from Trimmingham’s. The wood buttons showed it was an old favorite, the varnish smoothed shiny from years of being pinched through the grosgrain ribbon hole. She and her companion Jamaica were talking quietly. Waiting. The same drawl greeted me: “Hello Darling, I am so glad you came.” (No commentary on the waistline this time. )

It is an odd sensation to sit with a loved one when both know the purpose of the visit. The quintessential elephant in the room. She was frustrated and thirsty, having to deny herself any liquids in case the surgery was coming. The lip dangled as she tried to shred the skin. She looked at me and said: “That tacky woman Helen bites her lip at dinner all the time and now I am doing it. Dammit.” I offered her my lip balm and she cherished each circle around the mouth. As I returned the container to my purse I realized I probably just gave my grandmother the worst cold I have ever had in my life. But what would it matter? She was insisting on the surgery and no one said she could survive.

Mimi and I signed her life away 29 times that day. Each doctor came in, asking questions about how she felt. She was fine, wanted the surgery, didn’t want to be a cripple the rest of her life. When one nurse asked for her birthday as S.O.P she said: “well it was so long ago and I can’t really remember.” The nurse agreed and smiled. With each new medical visitor Mimi worked harder, answering the questions saying I am between a rock and a hard place and I choose the rock. Like me, Mimi will always die trying rather than wondering what if. We talked about life, more mine than hers, and the great-grands -one of whom is her namesake. In a moment of levity, Mimi asked: “If I can, do you want me to come back and haunt you?” Only with advice I assured her.

The doctors came in and said they were refusing to do the surgery. The cardiologists could not recommend it, the anesthesiologist would not do it.  Mimi insisted on going ahead anyway, knowing this was it. She looked at the doctors and said: “what are you scared of? I am fine with going to meet my maker and frankly a bit curious.” As I watched the exchange we both seemed to wonder, will there be trumpets?

We still don’t know. Mimi came through surgery, spent less than 36 hours in the ICU and returned home four days later. A week ago she got her stitches out. Over the weekend, the nursing home tried to give her pneumonia, taking x-rays and putting us all on alert. I am not sure what the obsession is. When she goes, she goes. But in the mean time she will live.

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