Thursday, October 9, 2014

On Fall Vicissitudes

Cheverly Day is an annual community festival that culminates with THE BEST fireworks display. Because the crowd is relatively small, the fireworks are launched merely yards away, and during the display's climax you can yell at the top of your lungs and not be heard. I wish it was Cheverly Day. I feel the need to rage, but the most I can do is write. Instead though, I've been tinkering around this long-dormant blog for hours, changing templates, adding gadgets, moving widgets-- because I've got no words--none, no eloquent phrasing, no profundity to assuage the anguish of recent events. It's just the arbitrary facts of life.
I've written before about a listserv I started in the early 90s, GIRLFRIEND: a cyber-forum for Black and Black-identified women. I was an enamored and sleep-deprived stay-at-home mom of a newborn son, teaching myself what I could about then-new internet technologies to stay connected and keep my skills fresh. Soon I had GIRLFRIENDs from all over the world, from various walks of life, in various stages of life. We 'talked' about everything and nothing, celebrated triumphs and comforted through trials; many travelled to meet each other. After a few years, I transferred management of the Listserv to another member and moved on to other things. Over a decade later, a newer GIRLFRIEND Googled my name then emailed me and I learned the group still exists. I became a member of a subgroup that the GIRLFRIEND moderator started called Original Girlfriends (OGs), where many of the names were familiar to me from back in the day. One OG from Georgia friended me on Facebook and in an email exchange catching up, she said how much she enjoyed being on GIRLFRIEND and how it's part of my 'legacy'. That word choice from this seemingly ceaselessly chipper woman who frequently shared recipes and pictures of comfort foods and reminisced about childhood games and treats gave me pause. She passed away suddenly a few months later.
Reeling, a few of us determined to meet in Las Vegas for Columbus Day weekend; life is short, etc. Fortunately, a travel agent OG made all the plans and got us a decent deal. I was especially looking forward to meet the few that were going, since they all were familiar to me from 20 years ago. One was set to retire from 35 years of teaching at the end of June and her excitement for her post-retirement plans was increasingly infectious! She was clearly THAT teacher that everybody loves, and her warmth and good humor was nearly a daily presence in the OG group. I looked forward to hanging with her in Vegas. Shortly after her retirement, she stopped posting frequently, and I assumed she was off on a retirement adventure. My emails to her went unanswered and I eventually reached out to another OG who informed me of a cancer diagnosis. She passed away just a few months after retiring.
'Passed away' is a phrase I never use when speaking yet when writing, it comes naturally. I never met either of these two women; I've never even heard their voices, but my life was definitely enriched by their acquaintance and jolted by their loss. Some people don't like to think or talk about death, as though not mentioning it will make it not happen. The fact is, it's going to happen; regardless of your faith or lack thereof in what comes thereafter. Regardless of the number of miles you run, vegetables you juice, squats you squat or foods you eschew-- you and people you love who love you are going to die.
The day before my brother died, the Hospitalist inartfully asked him if he "had everything in order". My brother, being kept alive by one machine that maintained his blood pressure and another that sustained some degree of kidney and liver function, didn't know what he meant. Further inartfully, the Hospitalist asked, in order to clarify, presumably, "Do you want to die here or do you want to die at home?" My brother scoffed in response: "I don't want to die either place!" Hours later he rallied suddenly from sleep, as though he recalled that exchange, and lifting his torso off the inclined bed, proclaimed-- "I gotta get outta here!" The motion expended all of his energy; his frail body fell back immediately and he drifted back into a drug-addled sleep. I had compelling notion that touch would bring comfort; I wanted to wrap my arms around him, swaddle him somehow. He was about 6 feet tall and probably weighed around 80 pounds. The next morning, the machines off, his blood pressure descended and organs began to shut down. I kissed his forehead and whispered in his ear who I was and that I loved him. He would always say 'I love you more', but this time, rendered speechless, a forceful exhale was all he could muster. The nurse came in: "I'm gonna give you something for the pain" he said to my brother.
I have wondered what that medication was that the nurse slipped under his tongue about a half hour before he died. My brother showed no indication of pain. He wasn't grimacing, he wasn't moaning -- why did he assume he was in pain? Was this medication just to expedite the dying process? I continued caressing my brother's arm and whispering a mantra as he died, and then a robotic 'no more pain, no more pain' for awhile after. Grief is strange, spontaneous and sometimes angry.
The next update on my newsfeed after the one announcing the OG's passing was one praising a childhood friend having reached a one year anniversary of being cancer-free. While I was frustrated in lines at the DMV, another good friend's presumed constipation required emergency surgery. A friend since college had her last chemo treatment for breast cancer today; radiation and surgery come next. My cousin welcomed a beautiful new granddaughter barely a month ago, since then the baby's 25 year old mother has died.
The point of all this, if there is one, is that life is short--and capricious.
Love who you love, let them know and hug them; then hug someone else too. Don't waste precious time trying to impress nor be impressed; listen, speak and act more from your heart and less from your ego. Go for long walks on quiet mornings.
Go to see fireworks, get close; SCREAM.

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