We expect some of our greatest life lessons to be from those we are closest to and in keeping with the natural flow of life, these lessons usually come with a heavy dose of pain.
My chosen theme, and by chosen I mean it chose me, happens to be that of loss either directly or indirectly connected to me. I was served my first lesson at six years old, one that has taken me nearly a quarter of a century to digest. It is bad when you attempt to bury things before you’ve let go them go and it’s another box of chocolates for that thing to be taken away from you before you’ve had the chance to say goodbye.
Sometimes I think I’m in a looping nightmare at THE worst aerobic exercise class, consisting of moves that involve a lot of awkward hip thrusts and way too many steps for an uncoordinated human being; I can hear myself saying I’m sorry to the toes of my counterparts… but that too is part of the big picture. We need to look beyond the trees and see the forest–see our growth. As someone once said to me, you take the rough with the smooth.
This last year of my life was perhaps the most challenging in all of my adult life and many of you might be surprised to know it had nothing to do “about a boy”. I turned 25 (that in itself is a post, but I’ll be 26 next month so who the hell cares now), my island was hit by a category 5 hurricane (a teaching in simplicity and gratitude), I lost my boss of seven years and then lost a family friend to Cancer. The last point is what I hope to speak on today.
Her name was Lily. She was actually the sister of me and my sister’s babysitter, Jenna. I first met her about five years back, after getting a message from Jenna that Lily had a mastectomy done and asked if I could visit her as she wasn’t on island. I remember googling appropriate things to bring for someone in a case like this and settled on bringing her one of those U-shaped pillows and a few bottles of water. After a brief greeting and well wishes that was it, until a few weeks later I would see her shopping at a grocery store; I didn’t call her or anything, just smiled to myself pleased that she looked well and was up and about.
Fast forward to last year October, after the passing of Hurricane Maria, when telecommunication had become a bit more consistent I received a message from Jenna saying that Lily’s cancer had returned, overtaken her lungs and had now spread to her brain. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do for her.
I went to the hospital the next day, not entirely sure of what I was going to say or do. Anxiety claimed me the entire night before, I only hoped to be a somewhat collected mess. I bought some water, as Jenna said that’s all she might need and walked up to the hospital. I’m not a fan of hospitals, this one in particular was the place my Mother spent her last moments alive—anxiety levels upgraded *boop* *boop* *boop*. But seriously, that special hospital smell, the horror screams and the creepy hallways that somehow give the same unsettling feeling whether crowded or empty.
I arrived at the ward, to find out that she had been dismissed, turning to leave I hesitated, but finally asked “How long does she have?” The nurse responded with, “Only God knows”.
I called her sister and she said that she was dismissed but had to come back shortly after due to breathing complications and that she should be in casualty. I then made my way to casualty and was let through without any trouble. Expecting to be escorted to a room, we came instead to the end of the hall and there she was, alone, draped on a stretcher in the corner of the hallway, opposite of a man who I would soon find out had an rather unpleasant reaction to a night of heavy drinking when his Gastritis said, NO MORE.
Lily looked up and smiled weakly, I was never sure of my expression but I hope I never made her feel more uncomfortable than she already was. I remember hearing my family speak of how people would tell my mother how good she looked when she really didn’t and how she was going to get through this, when she really wasn’t and they knew it. Perhaps, like all of us they were in denial and wanted desperately to believe in a miracle.
Her head was tied in floral pink cloth, she wore a dress that hung loosely on her now disappearing frame, most of her face was covered with a breathing mask attached to the oxygen tank helping her to do something we all probably take for granted. She could hold little conversation but I stayed with her until she wasn’t alone.
In the moments of our silence and the in between moans and gags of our unfortunate neighbor, I thought of my mother, what Lily’s sister must be feeling, of my own sister and of course Lily’s own heart.
I would visit her as much as I could, I felt a strangeness I can only describe as what I think Fitzgerald F. Scott, meant by “within and without”. In my brief visits I saw her at her most vulnerable, I saw the pain and acceptance in the eyes of her loved ones and the love and care in their hands. The steadiness in their voices were beyond words, their hearts are ones I hope to hold if ever placed in such a situation.
I remember once, when her sister finally was able to enter the island, given all the security and restrictions after the hurricane, Lily placed her hand on her chest and her sister asked her what was she was looking for and Lily responded with, “For a heartbeat”.
Maybe a week after that moment, I would be invited to the wedding of Lily and Robert. It was her last wish to be married and she got it on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning. I arrived and was brought into a room that the nurses had spent the night before decorating and organizing seating arrangements. The Priest even commented on how surprised and refreshing it was that the ceremony was done outside of the hospital room/bed and commended the nurses on their incredible gesture. All her family members were present, a bittersweet celebration of life and love. The effort put forth only spoke volumes as to the character of Lily, it was truly an honor to be a part of the ceremony.
Two days later at 2:30 am, unable to sleep, I would get a message that Lily passed away. I sat up in my bed and wept as though it were my own sister mixed in with the presence I lacked at the passing of my own mother. Super dramatic as I was merely an outsider lucky enough to have been a part of something much bigger than myself, but the knife cut deep and terribly familiar.
“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump
© jk.larayne, 2018