(Study for a painting of Laurie Foley, "Cartographer of Panoptic Experience" by Erica Dornbusch)
I am waiting for someone I love to die. It is an extraordinarily difficult liminal space in which to be living these last weeks, in part because it takes place in the context of life going on -- my cardiac rehab has begun; Felix is deciding to go back to school; my psychiatrist has given me the homework of zero self-criticisms -- and these are all things I would call and tell Laurie, but can't.
She is beyond language now, and I am so thankful for our last conversation a week or so ago that lasted for two hours. I kept trying to say my goodbyes, thinking she must be tired, and she kept talking. Let us not short circuit what is happening for the sake of what we believe others feel. Lesson learned, and what a beautifully rich, real, funny, and meaning full conversation that was, our last. We covered a lot of grounds (yes, plural). There were a lot of "I love you's" in that call, enough -- one can only hope -- to last a lifetime.
I can remember the sound of her voice from that call, like a caress. She cried, I cried, we both laughed. She wept at one point, her voice squeaky in trying to talk as she cried, "I just really appreciate that both you and John have always pronounced my name correctly. It may seem like a little thing, but it's not."
When I got home from the hospital, she was newly in hospice, and I started lighting candles every morning for her, burning through a box of tall white candles I had purchased for a retreat I never got to, because I had a heart attack instead. They have burned all day every day since then, for Laurie, the flame a constant reminder that I am waiting for someone I love to die.
Several weeks ago, I commissioned a painting of her spirit to help ease me into this new reality, one that, frankly, seems surreal at the moment. While it isn't finished in this photo, the painting above is what it looks like in mid-progress.
As the artist painted this, a shaman she had never communicated with sent her a link to a video she said she felt compelled to send. And in that video, I cannot un-see the woman in the video coming from the ground into the clouds above. And the colors, and the energy. It all set my hair on end.
Sometimes when you are known for being wise and kind, it is hard to find friends who won't leave when they find out that while you are often wise and kind, sometimes you are also stupid and angry. I've lost a number of friends that way, people who started in my life as fans, became friends, became disillusioned at what we all have even in some small measure -- a seeming disconnect between in and out us, between our writing and our humanity that shows up fully sometimes, in all its ugliness. Not Laurie. She loved it all unconditionally. And that is a rare friend indeed. She will no longer be here to talk to, ask advice of, tell her things I tell no one else, but I will tell her anyway.
I am waiting for someone I love to die. It makes me angry that she will go and others will live on, that she will go and leave behind a son the age I was when my father died, that she will go and leave me here, bereft, wanting to call and explore her wisdom, laugh with her until we both pee in our pants. It makes me angry.
It makes me terribly sad. Bereft.
It makes me feel sorry for myself at the loss I will feel, which cannot approximate her loss, her desire to remain, her wanting to be here with us.
When she dies, there is no doubt that she will soon be at work, clipboard and yellow highlighter in hand, assessing the new place and figuring out how it works and how she can help. She is a helper. How will I ever understand Excel spreadsheets without her? She will soon be creating that map of which the artist speaks. I have asked her to send me signs. I cannot wait to see what they are.
I know that death ends a life, not a relationship. This is true for all of us who love Laurie. I will be "calling" her many times for advice in the years to come, I know. But damn it, I want her voice, her humor, her wisdom here.
When she called me to tell me she was moving to hospice, I was in the hospital recovering from my heart attack, watching the sun rise. I said the first thing that came to mind, "Oh, Laurie, this is not the outcome I wanted. This is not the outcome I wanted for you."
But it is the outcome she got -- and we got. And I, and we, can best honor her by choosing to transform this grief at this heart-wrenching outcome into molecule-rearranging love.