Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Repeat as needed.

In the year following Sandy's death (it has been eight months today) I have been re-reading the blog posts from her last year here, on the dates they were first posted. It's a small and significant ritual that brings me enormous comfort. She didn't write very often - once or twice a month - so there are only a handful of posts left. The ritual has taken on extra urgency as I approach the last of these messages from my friend.

Am I dying?

I feel like I'm climbing a ladder. Or maybe, more properly, I feel like I'm crossing a suspension bridge. You know the kind - wooden planks laid across a pair of ropes. There's nothing significant about what lies beneath it, except that it's not some sort of great chasm; I see it as more like a river.

I'm looking across to the other side, which is a place I haven't really been to before (though I've been looking at it for some time), and counting the boards I'll step on before I reach the grassy bank.

There are only six left.

Last May 18th, Sandy wrote this:
I panicked, a little bit. It wasn’t that I might die, but that I hadn’t finished something. I had spent hours and hours organizing my house, and buying things I thought my family would need, and sorting through trash, and endlessly DOING things, that I hadn’t spent any time writing anything down for my children, or my husband, or my friends. I had things to say, and I hadn’t said them.

I think everyone knows, by now, that they shouldn't leave things unsaid. Haven't we all seen the movies where the tough guy eventually breaks down because his dad died while they weren't speaking to each other, or where the crusty old man, twisted with bitter remorse, regrets that his children never knew he loved them?

How do you know when you’re dying? How do you know it’s time? Do you wait until you DO know, or do you just start saying things, and hope that you get to repeat yourself?

Sandy was a woman profoundly divided - an exuberant and explosive person who directed amazing amounts of energy outward, and an introverted, private person who obsessed about minutiae and worried about how the world saw her. She drew anxieties inward, settling them in place within her and turning them over and over in her mind. Part of her brilliance of spirit was her ability to make something out of nothing - to expand the events of life, inflate them, change them from the mundane to the marvellous. It's what made her an amazing teacher, and a brilliant literary analyst...but sometimes it damaged her.

And so, maybe I need to start saying some things.

She carried a huge stockpile of emotion around. Most of it, she didn't even know was there until she got too weak to bear that burden anymore...an amazing (sickening, wonderful, heartbreaking amazing) part of her last year was this transformation she underwent, shedding layers of old matter, breaking through the carapace she had constructed to keep her vault secure.

We accumulate so much stuff in this life. So much flotsam and jetsam. So many superfluous items, and ideas, and opinions, and feelings. So many resentments and pettinesses. So much stuff. And for so long we think it’s important. We cling to it. We grasp it.

Watching my friend move away, watching as the distance between us grew wider and ever more impassable, was an odd sensation. Partly, it was terrible. Terrible, in the truest linguistic sense: an experience of terror. There was no reclamation possible - as time went on and the space between us, which had started as a crack and was rapidly becoming a gulf, grew wider, the moments of reconnection were fewer and more difficult to achieve.

And partly, it was exhilarating. Exhilarating, again in the linguistic sense: to bring out gladness. I felt like I was watching someone run to victory; like I had seen my friend suffer through a marathon and now she was on the home stretch, the last hundred meters.

...there is really no planning for this journey. No packing. In fact, I said to someone the other day that I feel the need to unpack for this journey.

The someone was me. We were talking about how weird it is to be together - with my mind on my approaching loss and the ways I might be able to help her, and her mind on her approaching gain. How weird it was for me to watch her go on, and for her to see me recede. She had trouble concentrating on the earthly realm, sometimes. As time went on, I stopped telling her about little things that used to distract and amuse her...she just wasn't interested. Not because she didn't care about me, but because she had started to see this world through a veil. The urgency of it was gone, for her: she knew that all things pass away.

I still saw - I still see - through a glass darkly.

Standing on the sixth board from the end, remembering what it was like a year ago, what I feel is a profound gratitude. A thankfulness that we knew she was leaving, that we got to smile lovingly at one another and say goodbye.

That she got to say things, and repeat them.

That she kept writing a blog - a silly word for an amazing thing.

That every two weeks or so, I'll hear her voice again.


geekknitter said...

That distance you speak of, it reminded me.

I sat at my step-mother's death-bed. Held her hand, talked to her when she was lucid. Watched her focus shift inexorably away and away to places I could not see.

It was like sitting next to a blast furnace, that light from her. It felt terrible. It felt exhilarating. It was the closest I've ever come to touching the divine.

April said...

I love reading your blog. Words fail me.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Shannon, as you know we are making daily treks down to the palliative care unit to visit our friend and neighbour. Today we found a fun bracelet in the form of a tiara, it struck us both as perfect. We'd been bringing her food and drink and watching her struggle to try what we brought. So, forget food, buy costume jewelry we thought. She loved it. It will serve her well on the journey, I think, she kept glancing at it and smiling, once she even laughed. She is very near the other side, I'm sure that God heard the giggle, even though it was faint. A moments connection both here and there ...

Gwen said...

Mmmm. Lovely that Sandy could start to shuck off her human shackles and make a final sprint towards the finish line. I suspect that those ever-increasing glimpses through that curtain enabled her to get through the terrible pain at the end. Lucky, lucky Sandy!

Love this post. Love you. Love Sandy because she loved you! <3

lizbon said...


Mel said...

Love. Thank you for sharing Sandy, her words, your love.