Letters Written to Sarah-but, only one was delivered to her …

I started writing letters to Sarah every few days and then sending them to her husband, Nelson.  I asked if he would read them to her each time.  I was not sure with all the extreme infection control going on if he would be able to bring a piece of paper in to read to her.  Yesterday, as Sarah lay dying, I asked Nelson what she thought of all my letters.  “I only delivered one” hesaid”I thought theywere personal between you and Sarah.” I was soto know that I would never get the chance again to say these things to her.  With all my heart, I hope she knows.

March 15, 2013

To my dear friend, Sarah,

When you called me to meet for coffee, it was my birthday.  I was leaving for conference in Philly for the next three days and was way behind in getting ready, so I asked if we could meet the following week instead.   When I got back, I was really slammed with so many moms and babies to see, that I could barely fit them all in and being that my business has been poor, I did not want to turn anyone away. So, I saw them all and put off all school events, friends, my sister, etc.  I never got to catch up with you until this morning, when I finally called you to meet for coffee as I was on my way home from school drop off.  It was then that Nelson answered your phone and told me this awful news about how sick you are!  There would be no coffee or talking today.

Sarah I am so shocked to hear this and so deeply concerned for you.  I wish you had told me how sick you were and I realize now that you probably intended to, but I could not meet with you.  I wish you had let me know that it was really important for us to meet, and that you needed some help.  My dear friend, you have been there for me a million times over and over and through all these years!  Have I ever been there for you?  I’m not sure, really.  I hope I have been to some degree, but I am not sure that anyone gives to you, Sarah, what you give to others.  You ask nothing of anyone so it is always a guess as to what you might need.

I don’t know that I have ever known anyone like you.  You ask nothing really of others, and yet, you are there always to give.  Perhaps, this is to a fault.  As a mother, you have always been the quintessential caretaker and I get this.  As LLL mothers, we all adopted this “mothering at all costs” personae that has stayed with us even as our children have become adults. Your youngest, Patrick and my youngest, Gregory played together and when Gregory knocked Patrick into that huge baptismal tub in that church we had our meetings in, you never even got mad!  Then came the saddest time of all.  I believe you were at Gregory’s funeral and I know how much you cared for us then too.

You are such a beautiful human being Sarah, and ironically, one of the most spiritual ones I know, yet without a shred of spirituality.  I say this because you embody all of the kindest and sweetest natures of one who is here to make life more palatable and more humanistic.  And what a sight I beheld a few weeks ago when I got to see you holding your new grandbaby, Olivia!  It was as if all had come full circle and enough years had passed that it was time to have a baby in arms once again.  And yet, it seems like yesterday that you and Pam Gough stood at my bedside when I came home from the hospital with the twins.  I remember you saying to me, “Everything will be okay now.  You are home and in your own bed.” How right you were and as always, so loving and so kind.  You pulled down the covers and helped me in.  You had prepared the house for our homecoming. And then began the banana muffins, that sustained me for a year of hungry, nursing nights! Kindness and generosity again and always.

So, today Sarah, I have prayed harder and more deeply than I can remember.  My prayers went something like this,  “Dear God, please bring to Sarah the best, most knowledgeable medical people who can help her and heal her.  My dear friend, Sarah has so much to do here and so many to care for. She has been through so much, both heartache and joy, illness and good health. She is deeply loved and needed, so please help her remain strong and regain her best health.”  And then, a sort of prayer became a kind of yelling out loud at you that went kind of like this, “SARAH, SARAH, SARAH – FIGHT SARAH!  You need to be here!  You need to get well.  Everyone needs you!  YOU need you!  Hang on, hang on, hang on.  You can do this, I know you can. You’re my friend and I need you too.”  I started crying as I was driving, because, I don’t know if I have ever told you how dear you are to me and what an inspiration you have been so many times.  I know how you struggle with social interactions and it is sometimes hard to tell what is going on.  But, I think we enjoy each other and our opposite social stratospheres.

So, Sarah, my heart is here with you as you fight these illnesses that have fatigued you so and knocked you down.  You must feel so lonesome and alone and I hate that for you.  But, I am confident now, after speaking with Nelson, that you are in a place where you are being cared for and helped to get well.  I am here for you in any way possible.  I appreciate you and love you and will keep yelling at you in my car until you hear me and turn around to head in the wellness direction!

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems

 

“The stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own.”

Mary Oliver

“It’s not a competition, it’s a doorway.”

Mary Oliver

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.”

Mary Oliver

Much love dear friend,    Ann

March 17, 2013

Dear Sarah – Today is St. Patrick’s Day and though I insisted everyone wear green, Sam of course, resisted this morning and wore a pink shirt!  I was pretty angry, silly, I know.  We went to church and I found myself praying so hard for you—I mean the scrunched up forehead, really concentrating type of praying.  I got up in the middle of the service and went to light a candle for you, picturing your sweet and gentle face the whole time I stared at that flame.  I know you don’t believe in this or in the power of prayer, but I do indeed.  I feel that whether or not you believe in God, he believes in you with all his heart and is with you throughout this nightmare you are in, every minute and every step of the way.  So, my dear friend, know that you have always been loved and are always loved now as well.  That candle that is burning for you, is for strength and power and healing and for the right and smartest people to be around you to help you regain your health.

Nick, Peter and Oliver all came for dinner and it was lovely as always. We had corned beef and Colcannon (cabbage, onions and mashed potatoes combined) and my famous Irish soda bread that I have made for years.  It was all delicious and there was such a nice, happy mood around now that my boys are healthy again.  Truly a blessing!

Tomorrow, I am headed to Wilmington as my sister undergoes here 5th chemo treatment. They are changing the drugs tomorrow, so we’ll see how she does.  I know you are well aware of how gruesome this can be.  I will spend the night there and come back on Tuesday, and I hope I can be a help, not a hindrance.  I am never quite sure that she wants me around.

Toni is really an amazing mother and she loves you so much. She really cares about your well being and wanted so to help you, but as always, you don’t allow others to help you very easily.  I suspect that will have to change at some point.  So many love you, so many care.  We are all worried and want to do something.  I call Rex daily to find out if you are still in ICU, but so far, I understand that you are.  So, I talk to you throughout the day sending you vibes and lots of love,  I will talk to you tomorrow as I drive to Wilmington!    Love, Ann

March 21, 2013

Dear Sarah,

Yesterday was the first day of spring!  What does this mean for you stuck in your sterile, isolated environment?  Well, for one thing – spring is full of the bursting forth of new life, of warmer and kinder air around us, and more sunshine. Spring is a resurrection in and of itself as buds bloom and old, dead leaves become fertilizer for new growth.  I think all of this is so poignant for YOU, as you begin to peek out from under the covers into the light and into new life.

I think about you a lot and I wonder, always wondering what your life is like right now and how deeply you must yearn for normalcy.  When I opened my car windows yesterday and let the warmer air in, I thought of you a lot.  I imagined how the fresh air would feel on your face and how the most simple of things would mean the most to you right now. I thought about what it would be like to smell Olivia’s sweet head or to cuddle with your dog.  I pictured your boys all around you, loving you, cherishing you, reminding you of how much you love them and they love you, along with your newest family member and female (hooray!), Toni, who has come to love you as a mother as well.  I also have felt God’s loving, caring, life-giving arms around you, rocking you and holding you as you come back to all of us.  I know you don’t have this kind of faith, but it really doesn’t matter, because no matter what, you are loved and God has been with you through every miserable moment you have had these past few weeks, and on into the glorious moments that await you!  Like a loving mother, he rocks you in his arms tenderly, caring for you and loving with a boundless passion that requires and asks for nothing in return.

The washing of dishes, the sweeping the floor, the making the beds with fresh sheets, the preparing breakfast and onto the planning of dinner, the driving to and from this event or that – almost always linked to your children, despite most of them having left home.  The shopping for more food, or supplies to keep the house running like a home, the tapping away at the computer learning and communicating and just having some fun and then always – aiming the darts into the bullseye.  The meeting with your clients in the autumn of their lives ready to move into winter, which you will help them do with a gentleness you are known for.  The walking the dog, noticing the earth, smelling the grass and the newly spread mulch all around.  The taking of a deep sweet breath with no pain and no effort – just breathing and knowing that this is the most taken for granted activity we do and yet, for you especially, deeply valued and cherished for the rest of your life. New life, new vision, new gratitude for all of these things.  I know that it is all of these most basic of tasks and acts will mean the most to you as you return to normal life one day, some day.

I keep thinking of you, keep picturing your sweet face and keep praying like there’s no tomorrow, which with God’s blessing, there is indeed.

Much love, Ann

Love after Love

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here.  Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine.  Give bread.  Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit.  Feast on your life.

~ Derek Walcott ~

Dear Sarah,                                                      March 25, 2013

It is Monday night and it is late.  I need to go to bed so I can be up early with the boys to take them to school.  But I wanted to share with you what I thought about tonight.  We just came home from a Passover Seder at Cindi Freeman’s house.  It is the third year in a row that she has invited the four of us and each year it gets better and better.  It is full of laughter and meaningful readings and the most delicious foods.

There was a long table of 20 and it included Pam Diamond and Laura Farkas (though Pam was home with flu). While I had a wonderful time, I was also thinking how still and always, my closest and best friends have been through La Leche League.  I mean, here we were tonight, some 18-20 years later and there is still a connection.  My best friend ever, is still Joan Horn in Long Island who was my LLLL when I had my first children.  We have been friends for over 30 years and I always still call her when I am in trouble or need a friend.

In North Carolina, there has been Pam Gough and Sandra Christensen, Nancy Albrecht and Lisa Malmberg, who I am still so very close to.  It’s amazing really.  And then, there is YOU…. You who have always been the most kind, the most gentle and the epitome of a LLL friend. I was remembering yesterday, how when I came to some church to help lead a LLL meeting (somewhere near Laurel Hills) and you were armed and ready for me to fall apart as it was my first meeting after losing Gregory.  You were there with flowers and you were totally supportive when I said I just couldn’t do it.

I wish so much I could give you some of those flowers now.  I wish that I could just sit with you and hold your hand and maybe help you picture that beach you are dreaming of lying on and help you hear the ocean roar in your ears.  Imagine allowing that warm, salty water to cascade down your body and over your face with the warmest sun shining on you.  Imagine seeing Olivia dip her tiny, pink toes into the ocean for the first time.  Most of all Sarah, imagine feeling so alive again and so grateful for the smallest of moments and the ones most full of life and breath and joy.  Oh, I want that for you so much!

Keep fighting for it Sarah.  We are all here fighting for you, lighting candles, praying on our hands and knees, concentrating hard to bring you the strength and perseverance you need.   If love could cure you instantly, God knows you’d be flying out the door already.  Slow, baby steps, one by one by one and we know you’ll get there.  The ocean and the beach await you with the open arms of an expectant lover.

Much love, Ann

SarahfaceSarahandbabySarah,Sam,Toni

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Waiting for Sarah on the Next to the Last Day

March 27, 2013  7:30 pm

 

I have just come home from the Family Waiting area at Rex Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.  There, I sat holding the hand of Sarah’s emotional sister and listening to Sarah’s still stoic husband.  It is uncharted territory. I am in my kitchen now, unloading the dishwasher, conscious of each plate, each drinking glass and every fork, knife and spoon.  I am purposefully placing them in their respective slots in the drawers and cabinets being conscious enough to check as to whether I am still alive here on earth or dead.  I do this while I look outside at the sun setting, while simultaneously, my friend, Sarah lay in a bed dying.  Her kidneys have ceased to function, her lungs are full of infection, and her heart is surrounded by fluid.  Her blood pressure is low despite many meds to raise it and she is unconscious.  A ventilator breathes for her.  Her children have not been told to come at once. It seems they are being protected.

 

So this is the thing for me about life and death.  When someone close to me dies, I cannot be sure which one of us is which.  I know that sounds odd and maybe macabre in a way, but it is confusing to me as to where life ends and death begins.  And then, I want to keep checking to see if I am the one alive and still here.

 

Yes, there could be a miracle of sorts, for Sarah, but that does not seem likely with organs that are not functioning and a body so full of toxins both delivered by infection and by IV, that a miracle indeed would be needed. But, this IS Holy Week and despite being of little or no faith, who knows where Sarah’s heart lays at this moment and whether a miraculous rescue awaits.  I will regret not having that cup of coffee with her, for the rest of my life.

Questions

Is the divine in the ordinary or the ordinary in the divine?  Or, is neither the way?  Does the heart follow the mind or the mind follow the heart?  Does belief in a higher power come when one is at his lowest or highest?  Does the glory come with heartbreak or bliss?  So hard to know.  I am struggling once again…..

 

 

 

Mulch

It is a cool Saturday in March in Raleigh, North Carolina.   A mountain of 16 cubic feet of mulch has been delivered and like poor planning before a snow storm, my car is stuck in the garage impossibly unable to back out over this blockade.  It will be a tall task to move and spread all of this over the front, side and back yard to make our home look better for selling in the next few weeks.

Here, is the miracle of this story.  All FIVE of my sons are  outside, shoveling, shoveling, shoveling the endless wheelbarrows full and spreading all the mulch!  They are lean and healthy and very strong and it is a sight to behold.  To think that just a year ago, one of them was bedridden with disease and the other was drooling on the couch, ill as well, can boggle my mind.

I know that a mother should not hang her joy meter on the happiness of her children.  And, I try hard not to. But, on this day as I look at all five of them and am in awe of their goodness and kindness and willingness to help us as we age, I am filled with enough joy to burst my heart.  I am grateful and humbled that I have raised these boys, now strong young men and even the 14 year old twins are good, kind and socially conscious teens.  Blessings bestowed upon me.  Boys mulching

 

The Seder

It is Holy Week and as an Episcopalian, I take the days of this week to heart and think a lot about life, death and resurrection.  I think about what it was like to be brought up Catholic and what it is now, to be an Episcopalian.  And so, receiving an invitation to my friend’s Seder last night, is a gift like no other.  For weeks, I am excited and planning what foods we can bring to contribute to the celebration.  My twin sons love to attend and at 14, they still have great enthusiasm.  Plus, they LOVE to eat!

My friend is also my colleague. We are both lactation consultants in private practice and we swap stories and support on a regular basis. For years we have shared hotel rooms at conferences and meet for coffee on a fairly regular basis. We were both raised by the same “mother” in that we came up through the loving guidance of La Leche League as leaders and as breastfeeding mothers, resulting in our current professions.

The long table was beautifully set last night and 20 of us gathered for cocktails first and then, sat to begin the reading of the Haggadah.  The reading begins and there is the tasting of the salted herbs, the mashing of the hard boiled egg, the horse radish and sweet charoset on the matzoh, and the dipping one’s pinky finger into the red wine representing blood and sorrow (though I may have this one wrong?).  There is the lamb bone, the orange, and the cup of wine for Elijah all very symbolic.

We each take turns reading different parts of The Passover story and what is written in Hebrew is left for those who know how to speak in that language.   And although the story is full of plagues and strife it is at once as beautiful as most religious stories of redemption and resurrection filled with birth, new life and the cherishing of one’s family.

I often think that all religions and all people, all over the universe are really very much the same.  We all want to be healthy, most choose to procreate and when we do, we wish for our children to be healthy and happy and we want to live productive, successful lives, having made a difference by the time our lives come to an end.  Those are the basic tenets that vary some, but mostly end up in the same place.

However, something speaks to me at a Seder.  I feel this spark-like connection to all of it, and I become privately introspective about my roots in this arena.  While every family has its secrets, I sometimes wonder about the intensity of those in mine.  When my sister and I were growing up, we knew that there was something secretive about our grandparents who lived on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.  Like most little girls, I would do a fair amount of poking around in my grandmother’s drawers and closets.  I remember that once I found a tin of Barton’s chocolates in the credenza.  It had Hebrew letters on it and I wondered why.  My mother grabbed it and tucked it away. I found some books that had writing in it I didn’t understand and where there was writing I could understand, the pages went backwards.  They also disappeared. I was always curious as to why my grandparents’ last name was Hubsch, but my mother’s maiden name was Hubbs.  She simply said she had “changed it” but never explained why.

Then, there was the Friday night when we showed up unexpectedly at my grandparents apartment and there were candles burning. When I asked why, I got no answer.  More telling was the fact that my grandmother’s family’s name was Lefkovits.  They were in fact, Hungarian Jews who had immigrated to New York and passed through Ellis Island etc. Why their Jewishness became a secret, I will never know and frankly, I am not sure that it was so undercover for them, or just for their daughter who would later become, my mother.  Granted it was not a good time to be a Jew in New York, neither for getting a job or for finding a place to live in certain neighborhoods or for joining clubs of one sort or another.  Many did hide their religion for fear of these things. And, I do know that my mother never identified with Judaism at all and became an Esquire magazine writer. It was a time when no one would have ever hired a Jew for this job.  Ironically, my mother was and remained the quintessential atheist all of her life, anyway, but heritage did not prevail either.

So, growing up with this top secret that was literally, NEVER discussed  and was an odd sort of thing and a curiosity.  It would come up here and there over a lifetime but never really enough to send us on a detour.  Once when we went to visit my mother’s aunt and uncle in McHenry, Illinois it did come up.  Aunt Honor was a whiney, complaining type, unlike my sweet and loving grandmother who was her sister.  One day shortly after we arrived, Uncle Eddie said, “You girls are Jewish and you have Jewish stars in your blood.”  What did this mean?  What was he talking about?  I was about 12 years old and in a complete panic.  I was a baptized Catholic, went to church every Sunday, religious instructions on Wednesdays and received communion in a most devout manner.  I never ate meat on Fridays and confessed my sins on Saturdays. My father was Catholic and we had never questioned our faith like all good Catholics in the 1960’s.  When I fell and skinned my knee, I stared at the blood to see the Jewish stars and when I didn’t see any, I felt great relief.  Besides, Honor and Eddie made pancakes with orange juice in them, instead of milk, so how accurate or trusted could they be?

Throughout our lives, my mother did everything possible to disassociate herself with our Jewish neighbors in the Brooklyn projects where we grew up. She would even put on odd accents and despite the fact that she had a penchant for chicken livers and matzohs she would hide these things.  Worse still and what drove us crazy was when she would pronounce these as “Mmmmah-t-zohs” with a long “O” to sound as un-Jewish as possible!  Sometimes, she bought jarred gefilte fish and borscht and hid those as well. What was odd for us was that ALL of our friends were Jewish so this was all normal for them, and yet crazy-making in our house.   I was always the Shiksa to all of my Jewish friends, so when I began to slowly leak this family secret in later years, it held great fascination and shock value for Nadine and Susan and Mindy and others.  How could the Goy they always knew, been Jewish by virtue of a Jewish mother?  Wow.  This is the belief of the Jews, though not mine.  I do feel that religion is by choice, but I do get that Judaism is viewed differently.

So, being at this lovely Seder for the third year in a row is a blessing of all blessings.  I wonder sometimes as we do the readings if perhaps my grandmother is looking down and smiling at the prayers she did know but was not permitted to share with me.  I feel this in my heart and it is a nice, comforting feeling.  This matzo ball soup is made from scratch and divine and the gefilte fish is also homemade and as light and mousse-like as can be.  It is the very favorite of all the foods, for my sons.  When the brisket is served I think of two things.  One is that just two weeks prior, we have eaten corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day and this meat is the same without the spices.  Two is that I remember the most delicious, tender brisket that my grandmother would cook forever until it was fork tender.  Hard as my mother did try, it could never be replicated.

My friend works very hard towards perfection and this lovely, very fun, very happy and loving Passover Seder comes quite close.  She shares a home full of love and joy with delicious friends and traditions and for me it is touching in more ways than I expect.  I am deeply grateful to be included in this tradition and come home with much to think and ponder on.

Resurrection for the Ordinary

I am filled with tears this morning and sighing deep breaths.  A message appeared on my phone suddenly and it said, “Hi. Finally able to text.  Talking is hard. Thank you for letters and car conversation.  I’m talking back. Saying I’m in this place. What do I do to get better?”  And then, “Depending on your positive prayers.”  I respond, “Oh, they are strong and full of love prayers. I’m thrilled to hear from you and filled with tears.  You ARE getting better and we will nourish the hell outta u when we get the chance. I love you dear Sarah.”   “Love you too.”  I then say, “I think about you ALL the time.  I dream about you too and when I do, you are happy and healthy and walking on the beach.  I believe that will be true! U have taken such a beating Sarah but think of this… It is Easter and the time for redemption and resurrection for us all.  This is your resurrection.  Welcome back!”

She says, “Thanks.  The beach is my happy place away from this. Toes in the sand.”  I say, “You got it babe!”

Oh my!  The story goes like this…. On Thursday, February 28, my friend Sarah had texted me, and asked if we could meet for coffee.  It was my birthday AND I was leaving for a conference in Philly the next day.  So, I told her I was too busy and asked if we could meet the following week.  Sarah is by far the sweetest and most completely undemanding person I know and so of course she agreed.  I feel guilty when I turn her down that way, because I know that she has social anxiety and putting herself out there enough to ask someone to meet, is huge. Being turned down, is hurtful and can cause her to retreat even more.  It is challenging for Sarah to make phone calls, for example.  She feels that when she calls someone, she may be disturbing them or intruding.  So, again, she hesitates to make these calls as well.  I forget these things, because I do not have these fears. I have others, we all do, but I don’t have those.

When I returned from my conference, I was slammed.  Business for me has been iffy, so I was not about to turn away calls or business for the opportunity of a cup of coffee with a friend.  I worked hard and forged on through the week, seeing several clients.  It was not until Friday, March 15th that I finally got around to calling Sarah.  I was driving home from school carpool and thought it would finally be time for that coffee.  I called Sarah’s cell phone and instead got her husband, Nelson on the phone.  He sounded upset and said, “Sarah is gravely ill.  I took her to Rex Hospital at 3 am and she is in Intensive Care.”  To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement.  I was also confused. I knew that Sarah had Lupus, but this sounded a lot worse than that.

In the next few days as I learned more, it got worse.  Sarah’s kidneys were shutting down.  Sarah had PCP pneumonia (common in AIDS patients but a severe and resistant variety) and her breathing function was very poor.  Sarah had c.diff. known to be a killer, but particularly in the weak and immunosuppressed.  She was in quarantine and only Nelson could see her for just a few minutes per hour.

 

I cried on and off.  But more often, I would be driving and start yelling at Sarah to hold on and to fight like hell for her life. I would have full-blown conversations with her in my car.  I would also scold her for not taking care of herself and for always putting everyone else ahead of her. This was pointless, futile and inappropriately punitive, but I did it anyway.  I became consumed with worry for Sarah and I was angry at her illnesses.

 

It is Lent.  I have made a commitment to myself for this season of soul searching, to learn more and to go deeper.  I will not give up chocolate or my cell phone because that would accomplish nothing. But, instead, I will drive back and forth downtown on Wednesdays and attend the noon service, hear a different renowned preacher of various faiths deliver a sermon, and then attend a Lenten book study of The Power and the Passion by Samuel Wells.  As if that weren’t enough, at 6 pm, Shep and I would head back downtown to the series called “Faith Matters” where the brilliant rector would discuss ¼ of the movie “Awakenings” shown each week.  He would also share with us some Mary Oliver poems as well as other poems and narrations involving love and redemption. All in all, each of those four nights proved to be thought provoking and inspiring.

 

By the end of the 40 days I have expanded my mind, my heart, my soul and definitely deepened my faith.  I feel a type of peace that seems oddly unfamiliar to me and I find it appealing.  In the Samuel Wells book, I circled this sentence: “The gates of Hades may look pretty dangerous, and they may hurt like hell, but the don’t win. That’s the gospel.”  That spoke to me, as did, “The miracle of grace is not just that God wins, but that he chooses such fallible creatures as us to be the location of his victory. He trusts his church with mighty responsibilities, and very occasionally it rises to the occasion.”  As an Episcopalian I often feel that I am a member of a particularly sophisticated and deep thinkng faith where as they say, “ALL are welcome here.”  There is always so much to learn and Episcopalians never seem to fear the truth or the more scientific perspectives on creation and life.

 

And so it becomes particularly poignant to think of Sarah for so many moments throughout the day, wondering if she will survive and praying for her in a hard, demanding and coercive way.  I am not of the ilk of religious that prays for miracles or magnificent cures. I don’t think that those whom I love deserve a better deal than those who I do not know.  Instead, I pray for intelligence.  In other words, I pray for the finest and most brilliant healthcare providers to come into Sarah’s midst, in a simply synchronistic fashion.

 

I know that Sarah and her family have not a shred of faith amongst them, which really doesn’t matter to my God because he does not require you to be in his presence, because no matter what, he is always in yours.  He asks nothing of you, but that he loves you simply and wholly.  I pray for the words to say to offer comfort to her family.  I pray for strength and great courage for Sarah to brave this torrential storm and I pray for her to fight like crazy with a courage she may never have known before.  I pray for God to hold her in his arms throughout this nightmare and to whisper in her ear just how important she is to everyone in her life, but most importantly to herself!  And then, I channel Anne Lamott knowing that she would be saying, “Help her, help her, help her. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 

The news worsens when Nelson has a moment to relay any.  She struggles to breathe. She cannot eat or talk.  She chokes on her coughing and cannot get up.  I am scared.  I check emails and texts frequently, afraid of what I might read. I dream of Sarah and I walking on the beach and it is lovely and she is healthy and happy and full of sun and ocean.  I light candles in church.  I pray harder. I even pray on my hands and knees at times.  I yell louder and I cry often.

 

It is not so much that Sarah and I are so close as it is the sweetness of her personality and the kindness that she exudes along with her vulnerability and tenderness. It is that she has offered me kindnesses through some of the worst times in my life.  And, when Sarah and I were La Leche League leaders together, she was a volunteer who truly gave her heart.  When my two year old knocked over her two year old at a meeting, she laughed and never got angry.  When I returned to lead a meeting after my child had died, she met me with flowers and understood when I began to cry and said that I just couldn’t do it. She told me to go home.  When I had newborn twins, she made my bed for me and helped me up the stairs and into bed with these two crying babies.  She told me everything would be okay now, because I was home. She baked me banana nut muffins for months. that I could keep at my bedside when I awoke to breastfeed twins and was starving. These are the kind of quiet sweet things that Sarah does.

 

Sarah has mothered her three sons in such a loving way over all the years, even when she was working full time and doing everything else to run a household. They have always benefitted from her patience and non-judgment despite some many troubling periods in their lives.  Sarah is the official “Band Mom” as her sons play in marching band.  They feel her support and her love always and most recently, she has also accepted a new daughter in law and granddaughter into her home, with few questions asked, but lots of love offered.

 

So, today is the day when it appears that Sarah has peeked out into the light and considered coming back to us.  Getting this text from her this morning stopped me dead in my tracks and has filled my eyes with tears on and off all day long. The timing is impeccable.  It is the Lenten story and it is the resurrection that happens to real people in real life in real time.  Welcome back Sarah.  Though the journey ahead is long and painful and filled with challenges, your life awaits you with the open arms of an expectant lover.  Our arms await you as well.

 

Rick

 

Rick  is the classic, southern, beer drinking, cigarette smoking, deer hunting, rough, tough guy.  He is tall in stature, probably 6’4” or so, and has gritty skin and thick gray hair with no signs of balding.  He wears flannel shirts, khakis that are frayed along the hem and oddly, a pair of well-worn Sperry Topsiders.    A “preppie” he is not! He speaks of hunting escapades and about a huge poisonous snake he spotted on the side of the road, that he wrestled with and eventually killed.  His employment lies with a pipe fitting company and it seems he has a managerial type job where he does a fair amount of travelling.   Rick is constantly chewing gum, which I have come to learn is, Nicorette gum to help him with quitting smoking, a process that began many months ago.  He says he actually likes the gum now, so in a way, he has traded his cigarette addiction for this one.

If you were to meet Rick, you might chalk him up to just another red-neckie type without so much as a smidgen of touchy-feely genes.  If you were as much a Northerner as I am, (despite having lived in the south for 20 years,) you might also assume you had nothing in common and would expect to find little or no depth.  When we make ourselves tune in and become aware of the prejudices we have; when we muffle the quick-to-judge tendencies and open our eyes and our souls to real life stories of others, there are a million new things to learn every day in every way.

When Shep and I first came to the “Continuing Care” meeting, we were dreading spending time with addicts, alcoholics, parents and spouses of same, in one room, once a week. Granted, this was a unique meeting in that it combined the givers and the receivers of pain, but nonetheless, we wanted to spend not one more blessed moment on this journey.  (Sometimes, I hate that term “journey” as if one has any desire for any “journeys” short of those that end in Rome or Paris!) We were both wretchedly miserable and cried continuously as we were convinced our son was dying from all the illness and meds and prescriptions he was taking.  We listened intently to the stories of others and how they found help, but we were almost too terrified to hear the words.  But, when Rick spoke we listened.  We listened, because it was so shocking to see this burly man become completely unable to speak as his eyes filled with tears, his voice cracked and he became unable to utter a sound until he composed himself.

One night, Rick looked across at us,  and the sniveling, quivering souls we had become and he said something I will never forget.  He looked right at us and said, “Others tell me there’s a God and in my programs, I try hard to believe that there is.  But, if there is, how in the world could he possibly let anyone be in as much pain as Ann and Shep are?  I find it hard to believe then, that there is a God.” And then, as he typically does, he began weeping.

And so, the story goes that Rick has two sons. The older one is autistic and the younger one was everything that his dad, Rick ever wanted to be and more.  He was the football star, the scholar and as Rick says, “better looking and taller than me.”  He loved both of his kids but this kid he loved more than life itself.  When this son came and told his dad that he was a heroin addict and needed help, Rick decided that this was best kept a deep, dark secret.  Of course, he was horrified, but his knee jerk reaction was that he could “fix this” or “buy it away” or just make it not true.  So, he hid it from his wife and anyone else who might have been in their lives.  Of course, this only made things worse and deteriorate faster.  When it all started to crumble, the truth was told to the boy’s mom and help was sought.

Rick made the seven-hour drive to the treatment center in the back woods of Georgia and turned his son over to those who could help.  He cried for every bit of those seven hours back to North Carolina.  And truth be told, he has never stopped crying.  His son got all the help he needed and more, made a solid recovery, lived in a sober living home and re-enrolled in college.  He is responsible, happy, clean, and healthy.  He has visited his parents, called them and offered his apologies and love.

They could not be more proud or more awestruck in any possible way.  And their gratitude knows no end.  When we would complain about the length of the trip to Georgia and say, “it was the trip from hell,” Rick disagreed saying, “No, for me that is the road to redemption.”

It has been a year and a half and Rick rarely misses our Monday night meetings, nor, do we.  But, oddly, astonishingly, there is not a time that I can remember that Rick has been able to complete a whole paragraph of sharing, without breaking down, trying to catch his breath and get his thoughts out.  So deeply shaken, so brought to his knees, and mortally wounded is this man, that despite the deepest of gratitude, his tears still spill.  It is a sight to behold and I am honored, always to be in the presence of this much love, humility that has no end and a soul found that may never have been lost.