Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Retreat

April 17, 2011

Dear Andrea,

            I am just returned to my home here, sunshine bright through the slats of wide, white blinds.  Sadie is asleep here on the floor.  Stella, my cat who looks like your first cat, Lisa, meows downstairs.  She insists we come down to join her.  I call “Stellllllla.”  I hear her run up the stairs.  She walks by Sadie, sniffing her.  Sadie does not move.  Stella then comes over and weaves herself in, out, around my legs.  She purrs.  If I were a cat, I would be purring.
            All weekend I have been on retreat in the Longhouse at Evergreen.  I was bathed in the warmth of words spoken by young men and women less than half my age.  In stories passed down generation to generation in the Leshootseet language spoken in clicks as well as consonant and vowels, then translated into English.  The sound of the story was so much more beautiful in Leshootseet.  It was as if I was a child, being read a bedtime story.  I closed my eyes, wanting the story, the sound and shape of it, to never end.  We made rope from cedar bark and cat tail reeds.  Heard poems read by Dunstin Skinner—his father’s poems of Ireland, and then his own.  We cooked and ate together.  Today, I made pancakes with real butter and maple syrup from the sap of Vermont trees—just like I used to every Sunday, when you were growing up.  I watched a doe eating from low lying branches as her fawn trailed behind.  Sadie came with me. 
            It was a weekend of writing and experiencing the beauty of it.  It could not have been a more perfect setting.  The smell of cedar paneling and enormous whole log beams above us mingled with the smell of humanity.  Though there were short bouts of rain, the sun shone through, giving time for walks in the surrounding woods and forests.  It was a time for observation, contemplation, silence.  In that space I wrote this down for you. 
            August 31, 2009

            “I am going to die.” 
You looked at me, unafraid, consigned to what your body was telling you.  “You need to accept that.”
            I did not want to hear.  My heart embalmed itself.  I stood in silence, not knowing what to say, remembering the coupling, then the contractions that brought you to this place.
            You sat there on the edge of the hospital bed.  The gown they gave you was snapped in the back, bare flesh exposed.  It was all there to see, if I dared to look.  Those first contractions of your death.  You were alone with it, as I was alone with you when you were born.  There was no midwife for this, though—for either of us.
            I wanted to sit next to you, to hold you as I held you as a baby, rocking you in my arms until you fell asleep.  I wanted to watch your chest rise and fall, smell the milky sweetness of your breath as you lay cradled in my arms.  I wanted to sing you lullabies and tell you everything would be o.k.  But you were older now, a woman.  I sat next to you then, wrapped my arm around you, pulled you in to me.  You laid your head on my shoulder.
 “I am going to die.” You whispered.
 Still, I could offer only silence.  There were no words for this.
            The doctor came.  “The tests came back,” she said, “your heart is fine.  We can find nothing wrong with you.”
            “Fine.”  You said.  “Then discharge me.   I’m going home.”
            “Wait.”  I said.  “Your tests are wrong.”
            “Leave it mom.”  You said.  “I’m going home.  These doctors, I’ve had enough of them.”
            This was your decision to make, not mine.  I had to honor that.  When you were a child, I could decide everything.  I could protect.  Now this was not my role.  My presence, whatever you would allow, was all I could offer.
            You dressed.  I helped you pack.  The nurses came with clipboard, pen, instructions.  Sign here.  Sign here.  Here’s your copy.  Call if you have problems.
            “I called.”  You said.  “You never listen.”
             September 1, 2009

            You called me at noon.  You were in your silver slug bug with Sadie.  “Wait.” You said.  “I’m at Starbuck’s and I need to order.”
            “A grande mocha frappachino with whip.” I heard you tell the voice in the metal box with all the pictures.
            “That will be $4.95.” The voice replied.  “See you at the window.”
            “Sadie drank my last one.”  You laughed.  “I left her in the car for just a few minutes when I went in to get my mail.  She’s bouncing all over the car now.”
            I could hear Sadie panting.  You and I were making plans to fly to San Francisco to see a doctor there.  One who specialized in Lyme disease.  All day long we talked and texted.  “I’m going home to take a nap.”  You told me around four p.m.  “I’ll call you when I wake up.”
            Eleven p.m. you were logged into Facebook talking to your friend Edwina.  Then nothing.  Edwina feels guilty.  She thinks if she came to check on you, you would still be alive.  I assure her that is not the case.  There was nothing she could have done.
            You died alone.  Sitting at your computer.  When your body stopped, you simply fell over and laid there on the floor.  Sadie laid on top of you, absorbing you, as you midwifed yourself from your life.  She staid on you until you were found. 


            I am midwifing myself through your death.  I am surrounded by a close circle of family and friends, some of them new.  They whisper to me, breath in, breath out.  Breath in, breath out. 

Love you, Mom.