I read somewhere that the cells in our human bodies get replaced by brand new cells about every eight years. Blood cells. Stem cells. Brain cells. They keep getting worn out and dying at different rates. We become essentially new people every eight to ten years as almost every single cell in our body replaces itself with a new cell.
So my daughter, who died almost eight years ago, if she had lived would be a wholly regenerated being since the last time I saw her. I am grieving for someone I wouldn’t even know anymore, not the girl who smelled like mustard and lily-of-the-valley, whose feet I rubbed regularly even as the cells of her red-painted toes were shedding and renewing themselves right under my fingertips.
This occurred to me in the middle of the construction going on in my kitchen to replace major parts: the structural framing decayed by two decades of water damage (human bones get replaced once a decade), deteriorated insulation (human fat cells replenish themselves every eight years), and the cracked concrete countertops now being jack-hammered into smithereens (skin cells last two to three weeks before quietly sloughing off at a rate of a million cells a day).
Everything is changing. Sometimes aggressively, sometimes barely noticeably. Life is nothing like it used to be. Regeneration of cells aside, I, myself, am not who I used to be. My daughter would hardly recognize me. The mother she knew has been replaced cell by cell. And maybe I’m not happier these days, but every cell of me has a greater awareness and capacity for happiness than ever before.
What doesn’t change? Have you, yourself, changed for the better or—
The first thing I did in Massachusetts, after emptying the car of my mother and her bags, was to put the dieffenbachia plant back on her porch. The plant had spent the winter on my dining room table in New York while my mother spent the winter in Florida.
How long do houseplants live, I wondered? I’d been bringing this dieffenbachia back and forth to my mother’s summer home every May and October for four years. Since the year my daughter lost her fight with cancer and I couldn’t bear to let anything else die.
“Cheers!” my mother and sister and I toasted once we were all assembled. “To another great summer,” we said, clinking glasses. I knew I was not the only one thinking it might be our last at October Mountain.
Things were changing. The packing and traveling each season were becoming difficult for my mother. Many of her friends were no longer there. One by one over the past years, the playing golf, barbequing on the deck, driving to nighttime theater, … had stopped. And now the cozy summer home would be put up for sale.
It didn’t seem possible that we would not keep returning summer after summer. Even as we settled into the familiar routine of opening up the house, I felt the loss.
I’ve learned loss is not only about losing a loved one. Loss can be losing a place you are rooted to, or a lifestyle. A friend of ours lost her mind; another lost her mobility. My sister has to give up the work she loves. I fight hard not to lose my dream. We all know loss. Dealing with it demands all the things we think we don’t have, like strength, faith, patience, creativity. It takes courage to let go of what you love but can’t keep. Sometimes all you can do is look to what’s next. For better or for worse, something’s always next.
“Cheers,” I say. Here’s to the mountains that greened up over the weekend, to the spider that weaves web masterpieces in the lawn, to exquisite meals at Chez Nous Bistro, to the old dieffenbachia. A toast to being able to get up and down stairs, to the West Massachusetts skies filled with bright stars, to family. To health and happiness.
Here’s to another summer.
To all of us. To what’s next.