It’s Thursday afternoon, I told you all I’d write when I could, and I’m having a nice moment of clarity between my mind altering painkillers. So here’s what’s happening.
My caregiver Sharon is making deviled eggs, a food fit for the gods, which makes their name especially playful. It’s too hot to go outside so I’m sitting in front of the swamp cooler, combing through the twelve half-formed essays I’ve groaned over, wondering which one I could coax to life. Topics include, What to do when your planned life-ending fast will likely coincide with the first day of your period, when you reliably crave nothing except two burgers medium rare and a side of refrigerator? Who’s braver, those of us now choosing to leave the world of extreme weather events and Tucker Carlson, or those of you who stay? What do you do when you realize your abusive Buddhist teacher who was wrong about many things was right about ultimate reality being perfect and trustworthy? (My answer: relax.) And so on. Emily Dickinson told us to tell the truth but tell it slant, but finding a satisfying slant is the real trick.
Here’s what I know: my emotions---both joyful and painful---seem to be growing more labile by the day. This means I’m learning to perfect the mini-weep, because the maxi-weep is tiring and messy, especially when you require another human's hands to tend to your streaming face. Also, when I wake up in the middle of the night with my first ever panic attack, studying pictures of monkeys hugging each other is a surprisingly grounding activity. And, morphine induced nausea is a real bitch, and best avoided. And it’s okay to still have regular moments of un-profundity, even boredom, even now. If I’m metaphorically giving birth to what’s next, there’s still no shame in admitting a sudden nostalgic craving for Taco Bell. And asking my willing friend (similarly disciplined for years to noble “clean” food rules) to pick it up for me is an acceptable thing to do.
Most importantly, it’s true that you can know the goodness and rightness of a big life decision, and still deeply mourn what it requires you to let go of.
A close friend of mine from post-college days in Flagstaff died early this summer. She was ill with metastatic breast cancer for years and things were getting worse quickly, so I knew it was coming, yet still was unprepared for the Facebook post announcing her heart had finally stopped in the ICU. My insides turned to hot mush, and I shook with bewilderment. My love for her became a flooding river, and I was reminded while weeping that heartbreak is a visceral, somatic experience.
For two weeks I was glued to all the pictures and stories her loved ones posted online. I searched for her, I ached for her. I wanted to find her alive somehow, somewhere. Then one day I found her, floating next to me in our innertubes on a slow-moving river in my heart. Please bear with me. It sounds sappy and poetic but that’s literally what happened. She was holding my hand as we gently spun in circles together, giggling in her bubbly, infectious way, saying “hey mama, I’m right here. We’re always connected. You can meet me here anytime.” And I knew it was really her, it was truly real. She’s even closer to me now than ever before. And I haven’t cried over losing her since.
I know it’s rarely so simple or easy. I know if she had been in my life routinely instead of it being fifteen years since I last saw her, it would require something else entirely to make peace with the absence of her physical form, her voice, or her smile. But I believe there’s a maxim here that’s useful for those of us grieving: instead of just being a platitude, the dead do live on, and we can find them as long as we can rest in our own hearts and call them to us.
Or at least this is what I’m telling my people. One thing no one prepares you for until you join the Dying Club and get the How-To manual is the guilt you feel at having to leave your loved ones behind to face this wild world without you. So I want to tell everyone that in the death of this body, I’m not truly going anywhere. It’s just that 'Teri' has never been my true name, even if I will still answer to it. Like I believe for each one of us, I was temporarily masquerading as a river, but only ever truly belonged to the big sea.
Photo of innertube by Vicko Mozara on Unsplash