Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by death. I mean the whole concept of being here today and potentially gone tomorrow, is something I struggle to wrap my mind around. I suppose we all do. Flipping through recipes this morning, I found an email with an asparagus recipe from my dear friend and mentor, Mary Tully. In the email I am asking her to send me the delicious recipe for the asparagus we had at her husband’s birthday party months earlier. My son’s wedding was coming up and I wanted to make this dish for the rehearsal dinner. Mary says in her response that she is so honored and gladly shares the recipe. I renamed it Asparagus Tully for the event and everyone enjoyed it. The email was dated March 2009. The wedding was in May 2009. In July 2010, Mary was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In December 2010, we attended Mary’s funeral. I still have the recipe but I always miss Mary.
Listening to NPR today on the way home from carpool pickup, I heard about the American photojournalist, Marie Colvin being killed today in Syria. She was originally from Long Island and then lived in France. She lived to tell the story in photos of the atrocities of war and despite losing an eye in her dangerous profession; she forged on until she was killed in the fray today. She served us by sharing the visual story with us, but we lost her anyway. I am sad for her mother and father, for her friends. It is just deeply sad.
I am even sad about Whitney Houston, whose four-hour funeral was completely over the top a few days ago. It had all the elements of a tent revival meeting and when it came to comparing her to Mother Theresa – well, that was really a bit much. I feel she really did kill herself, despite professing deep love for her daughter and an evangelistic love of God. Nothing was enough to keep her from the drugs she also loved and depended upon and no amount of rehab or cleansing could keep her from drowning in a bathtub, overtaken by too many prescription pain killers. Nothing really could kill her pain and she too, entertained us and thrilled us like no one else, but we lost her anyway.
And then again as I am reorganizing my recipe collection, I came across an old Thanksgiving Day suggestion for a new tradition. It involved asking each family member to write down one thing they were thankful for and then bake them into crescent rolls. Then, each person would break open their roll and read the blessing aloud. Well, the year I found that suggestion I thought it was great and so when my sister and her husband and kids came for dinner, we got right into it. Except for my brother in law who said, “I have nothing to be thankful for.” We all were angry with him and never forgot his lack of gratitude. In reality, he was an unhappy man and years later I watched him take his last breaths in an ER where he succumbed to the maladies of morbid obesity. His young daughter held his hand as he left this world that caused him so much pain. It still makes me sad every time I think of him.
When we moved from San Antonio, Texas to Hampton Bays, New York in the winter of 1982, I was still a Catholic but had already baptized my first son in the Episcopal Church. There was no particular reason for this other than that my husband was an Episcopalian and our childbirth educator was married to an Episcopal priest. It seemed like the thing to do. Living in Hampton Bays, I was drawn to this quaint old Tudor looking church called St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. It was Easter Sunday when we first arrived and when I went to the communion rail and found the chalice was filled with jelly beans and the priest, Father Dan Harris was giggling, I thought I might have found a church with a sense of humor. Week after week Fr. Dan delighted us with his sense of humor, his engaging ways with kids and a weekly show and tell type of God Box that he invented. I was hooked and in the spring of that year, I became an official Episcopalian, having been received by the bishop. I really loved this priest of ours but when he wound up cheating on his wife with a young woman he was counseling and planned to leave the parish with her, I was a bit taken aback. I remember sitting with him in the church kitchen one day following a hurricane that had knocked out the power supply. We sat at the dimly lit table and he said, “This time I want a piece of the pie. I’m leaving so that I can have it.” We lost touch with him over the years although he attended my son’s funeral at St. Mary’s years later. After a hiatus in New England for many years, he moved back to Hampton Bays with four kids and his newish wife. We visited with him but left feeling like he was not all that excited to see us. Perhaps he had a lot going on himself that day. But, I learned last week that he died four days after Christmas this year. It feels like the end of an era and in many ways it is. I often thank my father for giving me my faith. I thank Fr. Dan for bringing me into the open and loving arms of the Episcopal faith.
We all walk on eggshells. Will we find the lump in our breast today or tomorrow? Is that pain in my back, really a silent heart attack? Is the clearing my throat, really throat cancer? Esophageal cancer? Lung cancer? Is that what my shortness of breath is stemming from? Is my back aching because the osteoporosis has made complete Swiss cheese of my bones? Did I forget where I parked the car because I need Aricept to minimize Alzheimer’s? Is my knee hurting because all the cartilage is gone? Is that sunspot on my face changing or darkening? Will it be a simple skin cancer or full blown, life threatening, Melanoma?
This is how we live. There is so much fear and so much illness and death around us. Combine that with way too much information, and one could easily slip into somaticizing everything. As Dr. Christiane Northrup once said, “Hey, those are not lumps on your chest waiting for chemotherapy, they are your healhty breasts!”
Fear has a mind of its own though. Sadness can take hold of any normal, sunny day when you begin thinking about those who have died, wondering if they had any idea of when their last day would be. I mean did Whitney have a funny feeling as she stepped into that tub or was she too stoned to have any feeling at all?
Anyway, it ain’t easy…