Saturday, April 24, 2010

Crossing Paths, Touching Lives and Dancing to the Tune of the Stars

I have tried to write this blog entry several times over the past couple of months.  I have written over and over in my journal about this, but bringing grief into the light and making it beautiful is a difficult thing to do.
One of the reasons why I have gone silent on this blog for the past few months is that most of the fall and winter, my mind was mostly on my friend, Ellen, who died in February, after living with stage 4 breast cancer for 9 ½ years, well beyond her expected lifespan. 
Ellen was one of the first people in Flint that I felt really saw me for myself, and not just as the partner of Deb.  She and I would often say the words in the other’s head during group conversations with our partners.  More than once, Ellen would laugh at something I said and say, “you and I really are so much alike”.
I wish I was more like Ellen.  When I was sick, I was impatient and whiney.  I was angry and manic from the steroids and the anxiety.  Ellen taught me to quit feeling sorry for myself and deal with life as it is, not as I wanted it to be.  Ellen knew when I needed to talk about something other than the cancer.  I tried to do the same with her.  So much of her last 10 years was spent in the hospital for chemo, radiation, surgery, bone marrow transplant, more chemo more radiation, check ups, blood draws, more chemo more chemo morechemomorechemomorechemo.  Yet still, she volunteered at her daughters’ school, met with friends for lunch, shuttled the girls to softball practice, play practice, visiting relatives in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.  Yet still, she had time and made energy enough to cook dinner for her family every day (even when she really didn’t want to eat)  She still, up until the end, helped the girls with their homework every day.  She loved her time to have them read to her.  Yet still, she had time to go on a cruise, go to Disney a couple of times, swim with the dolphins, ride an elephant and help fix an orphanage in Cambodia.  Yet still, she had time to sit and talk with me from time to time, and laugh and remind me not to take myself too seriously and remind me that one person really can change the world.  Yet still, she had time to love on a Tasmanian devil puggle puppy named Jake and a serene mutt named Serena.  Yet still, she put other people’s needs before her own.  As she got sicker and sicker, even if she could barely keep her eyes open, she didn’t turn visitors away. She said that they needed to say goodbye to her or they needed to see her.  Not that she needed to see them, but that they needed to see her.
She told me that I needed to learn to play again.  She told me that she was worried for her kids, but felt good that they were going to have us in their lives.  Then, she laughed and said that we have to put up with them through their teenage years and she doesn’t.  But, she said she also doesn’t get to see them grow up.
In the last week or so of her life, Ellen’s life partner asked me to write Ellen’s eulogy.  Of course I would write it, but I had doubts:  I have only been close to her for about 11 years, what about all those years before?  Will someone be offended that they were not chosen?  Can I get through it without completely breaking down into a blubbering mess?  Can I do her justice?  Can I write about Ellen without having it only center on my relationship with her?  Can I leave room in the eulogy for other people’s grief?  Can I make the girls and Annie know how Ellen cherished them?  Can I explain how Ellen changed the world?
All these doubts, yet I felt like it was a sacred honor to be asked to do the eulogy.  I really wanted to finish it so that Ellen could hear what I was going to say about her.  I wanted her to understand what she meant to the world and to me.  I wrote about 5 different versions of the eulogy, then finally, took the very best of them all, took a lot of myself out of it, added some changes that Annie requested, and cried a hundred times during the writing.  I was unusually crabby and quiet at work, and my coworkers came to understand why, and let me be in that space.
The reason why all of this is related to my not writing on my blog is that, all I wanted to write about or think about or pray about for months was Ellen and her partner and the girls.  I didn’t write it here because Ellen used to read my blog faithfully and I felt like I needed to be strong to support her, not the other way around as seemed to happen so often, even when she was sick.  Even when she was dying.
And then today, I said goodbye to another dear friend.  I held him and his wife, also a dear friend, in the light of love and joy and I sang him home.  And I grieve with her and laugh at our memories of him.  And I miss him fiercely already.
But, I believe that somewhere, Walt and Ellen  are dancing together, perhaps in the glow of the Northern lights, or in the sound of a cello.   

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Around the Bend

(written April 21, 2010)

I am doing a tentative happy dance this morning.  Happy because I have finally, after 24 years, finished the coursework for my BA in English!!!  Tentative because I still have to schedule and pass a French test to prove that I remember everything that I forgot from my classes over 20 years ago. 
I will walk in the May 2 graduation.  I am being coerced.  Personally, I’d like to just skip to the party and dispense with the 2 ½ hour meditation in boredom.  (Although it is tempting to go see Obama at the Ann Arbor graduation the day before.  The problem is, that would require yet another vacation day stolen from my October sisters’ trip to Arizona or from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.  Both of those are important to me this year.  I will probably miss my big family reunion though.  That is always a fun time.)
I am surprised at how much French I remember.  I am much slower than I remember being with it before.  I am still working on the specifics of verb conjugations, always the hardest thing to learn.  For some odd reasons, I remembered almost all of the prepositions.  Why is it that I can remember everywhere a rabbit can go, but not when it goes there.  I can say the basic, present tense of go, so that is something anyway.  I don’t know how to say rabbit though, so I can’t demonstrate here.
Part of me longs for my one very manic summer of twenty something years ago when I began to think in French.  That is one of my most vivid memories from those days.  Perhaps because I didn’t sleep much, it was like one long day instead of one short summer…
I was working full time on midnights at the local convenience store.  I was working part time at the MSU Voice Library (awesome place- one of the largest in the country-but that’s another story), I was taking a playwriting class which was emotionally intense, and I was taking an intensive series of French classes, three hours per day five days per week plus homework and a daily journal.  I would lunch on the lawn behind the student union, and regularly shared my raisins with a squirrel who always saw me coming.  (I quit feeding him raisins from my hand when he got pissed one day when I didn’t bring him raisins, due to being out of them.  He, lickety split, ran up my leg and grabbed my hand to look for raisins, and looked at me like I had dishonored the Queen!)  I didn’t have a whole lot of time to sleep.  So, at night before work, I’d take herbs to stay awake, and again in the morning before class.  Break for lunch with the psychotic raisin addicted squirrel go to work for a few hours at the library go home take herbs to sleep for about 2 hours before work at the store.  I took the couple of hours between lunch and work to do my homework (no computer in those days, so the green grass was my desk).  On the nights that I didn’t work at the store, I’d usually go out dancing because I couldn’t sleep an;yway because I had gotten my body into this crazy no sleep pattern and my brain wouldn’t turn offffffffff!  One day, during this manic frenzy, I was making chocolate chip cookies and listening to music really loud.  I think it was classic rock because I remember that I was delighted when I realized that I was singing along in French, not in English and I hadn’t had to do any translating.  I had begun to think in French!!!  That was pretty amazing.  I’m glad that I lived with very tolerant and patient friends that summer.  My friend Sara and I still laugh about it.  She still teases me about taking guarana and living not just a manic moment, but a whole summer of manic.  I wrote a lot that summer.  I laughed a lot that summer and I probably would have died very young had I kept up that pace.  But, I did learn to think in French.
And now, I’m nervous about taking this test because I am nowhere near being able to think in French, except to tell you: in out between before after on under until because why...That’s not very substantial.  That is very very small talk.
I am so grateful and feel so blessed to have such an amazing support system in my life.  Without the support of those around me, I would never have gotten to this point.  I would not have motivated myself to get back into the classroom and stimulate my brain that way.  I have had some fantastic teachers as well.  Those teachers have shown a dedicated passion and love of what they do, which in turn motivates me to love the subject as well.  I have a pair of angels who have believed enough in me to lay out the funds that it has taken for me to finish school, so that the money that I earn has been able to go toward my regular household stuff.  Thank you.  You know who you are.  I feel honored that you believe in me that way.
I wish my friend Ellen was still around to celebrate with me.  She did hold out long enough to see me to the beginning of this last class.  (I’ll write more about her in another post.)