“You don’t show enough struggling in your blogs. I need to see more of the pain,” my friend, Lion, tells me. I call her Lion because that’s what she looks like on her good days. “I want to see the raw parts. I want to hear more about your suffering,” she says, seated across from me at Tamarind Thai Restaurant where I’m giving her a copy of my manuscript. Today is not one of her good days. It looks like she may cry at any moment. I’ve already shifted the conversation to avoid discomfort. How can someone in so much pain and loss stand to see more?
Only a few hours earlier I had photographed Cricket, another friend, leaning on a garden hoe, using it as a walking stick. It was hot and muggy when it wasn’t raining. And in between shots Cricket had retreated to her wheelchair to recover from the effort it took to stand upright for five minutes. But she was determined to carry on with the photo session.
“I want to be tiny in my garden, sitting on the rocks,” she had said. Hence the name Cricket. Afterwards, gathering the garden shots into Photoshop as she looked on, I quickly erased the photo I had not intended to snap, of Cricket wincing as she collapsed into her wheelchair. We watched as the other eighty shots flashed across the computer screen like a movie of her easily traversing the lawn. Before I left, I started to photo-shop together the pretty picture that would make us both smile.
“I want to offer my readers hope,” I tell Lion, over our Thai roasted duck. “They’ll never keep reading my blogs if they have to drag themselves through all my suffering.” But inside my head I wonder if the manuscript I’ve written is raw enough.
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.
3 friends got together for a Mothers’ Day brunch.
Only 1 of the 3 friends had a living mother. The other 2 kept their mothers in their hearts.
2 of the 3 friends brought their daughters. 1 of the 3 had her daughter in her heart.
2 of the 3 had 1 son each. The sons weren’t invited.
The 2 friends without mothers had living fathers. The 1 with the live mother had lost her father but had sisters. Neither of the other friends or their daughters had sisters. But that’s another story.
Of the 3 friends there were 4 former husbands, not invited. Putting the 3 friends and the 2 daughters together there was only 1 boyfriend. Currently.
No current husbands in the bunch.
The 5 women together had 4 houses, 9 cats, and 4 dogs, counting the boyfriend’s dog, not counting the friend’s dog that died 2 weeks ago. The dogs were invited to the brunch.
At the brunch they shared the 2 daughters. They drank and ate well, outside. The dogs played. A neighbor joined them. The resident cats disappeared.
In 2 days the 1 living mother would come to town and take the 3 friends out for dinner.
The 2 fathers would get together at the fatherless friend’s house whenever they were both in town.
If the friends pooled their blessings they could celebrate endlessly.
Of the 3 friends, if one doesn’t eat red meat and another won’t eat wheat, and the third doesn’t do dairy or dessert, what did they serve at the brunch besides fruit salad and mimosas?
If 1 drinks tea, 1 drinks coffee, and 1 drinks only water or wine depending on the time of day, how many mimosas did they all consume?
At the last minute my daughter’s friend called to postpone our sushi dinner, the celebration of the third birthday since my daughter died. It didn’t bother me. It was actually typical of Marika’s birthdays. She used to make her birthday last a whole week.
But I was stuck. It was six on a Saturday night, not a good time to round up a friend or sit by myself in a crowded restaurant. So I decided to get a takeout and bring it home to eat by Marika’s life-size portrait, with candlelight, and her dog. Stepping into the car, I decided I would “listen” to Marika, do what she would do. For so many of her birthdays I had allowed her to lead me through shopping sprees at the Syracuse Mall, pond parties, … huge sushi platters.
“You can’t have sushi three nights in a row,” I’d laughed, knowing she could.
“But it’s my birthday,” she’d say with a silly pout. I couldn’t refuse a birthday wish. I was with her for every one of her birthdays and on those days she ruled.
Alone in the car on the evening she would have turned twenty-four, I headed for the sushi place where I would take her friend for dinner the following night. But suddenly I heard my daughter’s voice.
“Mom. Turn here. ZaZa’s!” There was barely time to check for traffic in the lane I crossed to turn into the parking lot.
“Did I ever take you here?” I wondered aloud as I parked.
“Mom, I love ZaZa’s.” So there we were. Before reading the menu, I knew we would walk out with the seafood stew and chocolate cake.
I knew that later my son would pour two glasses of scotch to toast Marika. I knew the next morning I’d hike with her dog in the trillium and trout lilies that herald in this season. I would blow bubbles into the wind and toss breadcrumbs to ducks on the pond. I’d light a candle and take her friend to the sushi restaurant the next day. And I knew Mothers’ Day would follow soon and I’d buy myself a gift “from her.”
What I didn’t know was how hard it would be still, to stand with her dog in the late night rain under a starless sky and sing happy birthday to her.