“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” ― Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”
–Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic
I received news recently that a childhood friend had passed away. We often told people that we’d been friends since the 2nd grade, although neither of us really remember how we met exactly, and most of my memories of him aren’t really clear until middle school. Apart, we were fairly well behaved, but we were troublemakers together. We loved to play pranks, mostly on each other, and we thought we were hilarious – although most of our teachers didn’t really find them so amusing.
In 7th Grade, we were part of a glee club of sorts and had a weekend group trip scheduled in Vail, so we were supposed to remain on our best behavior leading up to the trip. That Thursday prior, we had Biology Class together and I think he had put a grasshopper in my hair. I chased him around the room until the teacher came back into the classroom. We were both sent to detention after school and the club leader told us that we would think it over, and decide by Saturday morning if we would be allowed to join the trip. Afraid that the teacher would call our parents, we sat on the phone together most of the day, tying up the line – since that was before cell phones. The next day, we checked in for the trip, and were amazingly allowed onto the bus.
By high school, our friendship changed when he was bullied when others perceived him as “different”. I became his protector, his advocate, and his date to family functions and he was there when I got my first tattoo. Although he hadn’t admitted it to himself yet, I knew he was gay, and it wasn’t until after we left high school that he finally came out to me. All I said was, “I know, honey.” “You did?” he asked. “Oh, how could you not?” I replied, as I hugged him and whispered, “I love you.” He squeezed me back and said, “I love you, too.”
Neither of us really knew what we wanted to do with our lives, after high school, but we both knew we didn’t want to go to college (yet, or maybe never), so we found odds and ends jobs, things to keep us busy, but mostly out of trouble. I ended up going to Cosmetology School first, although he was the one who had a gift for doing hair and making people feel good about themselves. It became his passion, and his career, for nearly two decades. Making people feel good about themselves was also his way of hiding his own suffering from the rest of the world.
We went to so many parties together, including the night that I met my (now ex-) husband. He did my hair for years, including the day of my wedding, but that was only a small facet of how he impacted my life. We held the reception in my grandfather’s backyard, on a particularly warm September afternoon, and I remember ripping the petticoats off from underneath my wedding dress. He immediately snatched them up, put them on, and drug me out to dance with him on the makeshift dance floor. He loved to dance.
After my divorce, we did a lot of dancing and drinking and had more late nights out than I can remember (seriously, there is so much I don’t remember and I’m grateful it was long before the days of social media). He rode life as hard as he could, and ended up in some legal trouble because of it. It was sort of a wake up call for me. I knew being the “life of the party” wasn’t a path that I could walk with him. At the time, he reminded me that he wasn’t going to live past 40 (it something he said all through high school, too) so whatever he did he wanted to enjoy the hell out of it and consequences didn’t really matter for him. I was at a point where I didn’t want to beat my body up anymore – I was into life for the long haul, so we started to drift apart.
Then, he had his first heart attack, around the time he was 31 or 32, I think. I went to visit him in the hospital and asked him to slow it down a bit, to take care of his heart a little more. He showed no sign of letting things slow him down, or prompt him to get sober, and I couldn’t watch him destroy himself, that and I had my own disaster of a relationship I was dealing with at the time, so I couldn’t focus on anything else. By his mid-30s, he’d had a stroke, and we no longer kept in contact. He was one of those people who was going to burn as brightly as he could, for the short time he was here. It’s bitter sweet to know those kinds of people. On one hand, you stand in awe of their zeal for life, and on the other it’s painful to watch their self-destruction.
Through the years, he would periodically send a short text, or a note to say “hi”. It would take me some time to figure out how to reply, because I didn’t want to get sucked back into his sphere. He had such a warm, loving personality that made it difficult to keep my distance. There were so many times that I desperately wanted to talk to him, but I knew that he didn’t want to make changes, yet watching him harm himself would only break my heart. I had immense pride for the generous human being he was, but I made the choice to love him from afar.
On Saturday morning, a mutual friend of ours called to tell me our brilliant firecracker had fizzled out. He had undergone several heart surgeries recently, and was scheduled for another the following weekend. At 4pm on Friday afternoon, he laid down to take a nap, and passed peacefully in his sleep – his heart finally gave out. He was 41. I know this, not because it will be on his obituary, but because our birthdays are 5-days apart and because he had been a part of my life for nearly 30-years.
After I learned of his passing, the first memory that came to mind was the time when he tried to get Bun to smoke a joint. I laughed aloud because that was quintessentially “him”. She turned her tail up at him and walked away – smart girl. He knew Bun, and Missy, and Ginnie…and he knew my family and my friends and my co-workers. He knew how much anxiety I had when my mom was sick, and I was there when his beloved Grandmother passed away. It’s a strange thing to go from sharing so much life between us, to hardly thinking of him in the past year, but now that he’s passed away, I am flooded with memories.
No matter how much I wished things could be different, or feel guilty that we hadn’t talked more in the last few years, none of it changes the fact that he’s gone. The grief of his loss is still felt, and regardless of being at peace with my decision, the guilt of it still lurks at the bottom of my heart. Until now, I hadn’t lost a friend in my age group and it’s unsettling to realize my own mortality through the grieving process as well.
Although I have made peace with my decision…it’s more that I am just sad….obviously that he is gone, but sad that his relationship with his family wasn’t better, sad that I didn’t really know him in the end, sad that we have been estranged, sad that he knew every facet of my life, yet we hadn’t spoke for years before he passed, sad that he didn’t feel he could reach out, sad…
In the end, though, I hope that he had been happy. I hope that his partner was good to him. I hope that he had made some peace with his demons. And I hope that he was free from suffering. I know that even if any of these weren’t true before his passing, they are true now. For now, he is free from harm, free of pain, free from suffering and I bid his soul peaceful rest.
So, goodnight, sweet Jim, and thank you for 30-years of a beautiful, joy-filled friendship.
Over the past few days, I’ve thought about what to write, and came up with a million wonderful things to share about you, about how much of an impact you had on my life, but none are truly sufficient. To a certain extent, I’m in denial that you are gone, and there’ll hopefully be that one time when I put the key in the lock and I will hear you trotting for the door. In reality, all of the light you brought to my life is suddenly missing, and the house is now painfully quiet. I’m not sure how to adequately express my gratitude for how much you enriched my life, but I hope you know how much you were, and still are, loved. You were my best friend these past 17-years. Not once did you ever cause me pain…I don’t think furbabies ever do. You were there with me through most of my 20s, all of my 30s, and the start of my 40s – you saw so much. And, you got me through so many painful moments, with the utmost care and concern, and above all unconditional love. Oh, dear Bun, how I miss you.
I miss your meow. I miss your smell. I miss our snuggle-time. I miss you laying with me while I worked. I miss when you would head bump me at 3am because you wanted breakfast. I miss how pokey your paws were when you walk on my back, when I didn’t get up and get you breakfast until 4am. I miss you reminding me at 6pm it was time for dinner. I miss that you would get mad when the suitcases would come out. I miss you running to the door after I got home. I miss you dragging out every single one of your toys and carrying them to me, one-by-one. I miss how much you hated the car. I miss you loving cheese and summer sausage and croissants and tuna and bacon and salmon and ice cream and radicchio (who knew?). I miss you wanting to be carried over my shoulder. I miss you standing on the side of the tub, talking to me while I took a shower. I miss you pawing at me when it was time to be done working on the computer for the day. I miss you sticking your head in between me and the screen of my phone because you needed attention (and Instagram most certainly does not). I miss you sitting under your orchids. I miss you batting at the ornaments on the Christmas tree. I miss you wanting to curl up under the covers with me in bed. I miss how you loved everyone and wanted to chew on their hair products. I miss the sound of your purr and how soft your fur was. I miss your green eyes, and your sweet little face. I miss how worried you were when I would cry. I miss you watching the birds from the window. I miss you curling up in the sunlight. There are so many more things I miss. Each memory comes to me in the middle of the night, or while I am getting the mail, or when I’m at dinner with S and I cry….wail, actually. While I know that you are no longer in pain, you now only live in my memories…and I am afraid because memories fade with time. You were too good of a friend, so I will do my best to never these beautiful memories fade.
After we lost Ginnie, a friend told me, “When they get old, or when our beloved pets get sick, we’re urged to do the right thing. [We are] told they are depending on us to do the right thing. So, we do it. It’s a selfless and merciful thing to do, but dear GAWD the pain of it to ourselves is searing!” She was unequivocally correct. This pain – the pain of having to walk you (and Ginnie and Missy) to the door, sears my soul. There is massive void left in my life, now that you are gone – a void I don’t think can ever be filled – so I will cope with this gaping hole and do my best to walk through this transition, knowing that you trusted me to free you from suffering. And so, my dear Bun, you will shine on in my heart, until (with hope) I see you again one day soon. I love you, little one. I love you will all my heart, for you have my whole heart.
Ugh. It’s been a tough day. It remains that way. Every, damn year. I mistakenly used to think each year the day might get easier, but I’ve come to accept that it can’t.
His loss will always bear an immense amount of weight. Instead, I just prepare for that fact and let the tears flow and my heart twist itself into knots until the storm passes.
The only things I tell myself now are, “it’s okay to grieve”, “it’s okay to be angry”, “it’s okay to be strong”, “it’s okay not to be”.
I am gentler on myself, I stay inside, I reflect, and I cry. He has made me a better person, for that I am grateful, but I’d still give it up to have him alive, safe from harm, and happy.
I imagine he’s happy where he is, free from suffering. I imagine him talking to me some times (even though he died before he could utter his first words). He reminds me to be patient, to be more kind, to be more loving.
I say he made me a person because I oblige and I do these things to honor him.
Rest In Peace, Jack. You are loved.
When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You Haven’t.
Ten years ago, we thought my mom had exhausted all possibilities in her fight against Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia (CLL). For nearly ten years prior to that, she had gone through various rounds of treatments to rid herself of an incurable type of cancer, which usually doesn’t affect people until their in their 80s (and living another 5-10 years is a perfectly acceptable timespan). At the time of diagnosis, she was in her 40s. I blame the fact that we lived near the Rocky Flats Plant, a nuclear weapons production facility, but that’s a conversation that I will save for another day and another rant.
There came a point during the course of my mother’s treatment when her medical team determined they had expended all options to mitigate the disease and the only option was a stem-cell transplant (what you would probably know better as a bone-marrow transplant). Next steps were to find a matching donor – someone with the same DNA markers of her immune system which needed to align with my mom’s. Likely candidates include siblings, but hers’ did not. Enter Miracle #1, a donor with 10-out-of-10 matching markers – someone young and eager to be of service.
Her transplant date was set for December 2006. Knowing the severe and life-threatening complications she faced, we gathered as a family on Thanksgiving to wrap her in love and send her off to MD Anderson with as many prayers as we could say in those few short weeks. But, the transplant was delayed, not once but twice, because she was retaining fluid and her heart began to fail. No-one was able to determine why she took a turn for the worse, the medical team was at a loss, and after the 2nd delay, her transplant physician said that they had done all they could, but she was not healthy enough to survive a transplant. It was time to go home, they told us.
Enter Miracle #2, my mother’s uncompromising and warrior-like spirit. If anyone wonders where my stubborn streak comes from, and you think it couldn’t possibly be from my sweet, compassionate mother, let me assure you – you are dead wrong. Tell my mom she can’t do something, I double-dog-dare you. She was not done, she was not going home, something in her rose up, in defiance of fate, and vowed she would be there to see her children grow up, to become a grandmother, to see the world, and to live. We both made a vow that her defiance would not be in vain. As her advocate, I ripped the medical team a new a$$hole to find out why my mom had suddenly accumulated 60-lbs of water weight and why she suddenly had developed congestive heart failure when her heart had been healthy her whole life.
Turns out, she was having an undocumented type of allergic reaction to sulfa, and she showed dramatic improvement within 48-hours of switching her medications. We then worked for the next 3-months to help her build back the strength she had lost, so that when we walked back into the transplant physician’s office in late March 2007, he said she was ready. You would have thought we won the lottery, and in a way, I think we did. Odds were stacked against her in every way, but on April 4, 2007, she received a new lease on life. The road to recovery was not easy, mind you. Post transplant recovery was full of frightening twists and turns, but the warrior put her chin down and dug her heals in. Every day, we meditated on the healing power within her, on the strength she had to endure, and on the ability to absorb the love that surrounded her on this journey.
Enter Miracle #3, a decade has gone by and today we celebrate what transplant patients often refer to as her re-birthday. It is hard to describe the profound ways in which this process has affected me, or the gratitude that I hold for the selfless act of her donor (whom we have had the amazing opportunity to meet and get to know), but seeing those you love go through something, rather than around it, evolves your view of the world. Every time I have an ache, or a pain, or want to complain, I remember, my mom turns 10 today.