Miss you, with a side of fries

Friday is the new Tuesday. It’s a fact. We are at McDonald’s. The familiar, weekly pit stop at Tim Horton’s, comforting as a well-washed plaid flannel shirt, is no longer the routine.

We are here now. It is bright. New, I guess. When I suggested lunch, I foolishly imagined a café or a bistro or a drive into the country to dine somewhere nice. Then she looked me in the eyes, as she pushed her walker out the glass front doors of the retirement home. Said she wanted a Filet-O-Fish. “The fish here?” She rolled her eyes. “They poach it.”

*

It was a beautiful end-of-summer day up the valley. Up where the fields and cows and fences sing alleluia. Not a black day at all. So I left that dress in the closet and wore the old green sundress. Wore green because it reminded me of the wee shamrock she gave me for my wedding day. She was old green Irish, of tis and tisn’t and rattling, headstrong faith.

I worried still. The parking lot was full. A stream of mourners headed into the church, buffed, polished, poised and behealed. All in black. All dignified.

And us.  With the dog barking a Vegas solo from the car.  Me. Worrying the sun would unsolemnly shine through my cheap dress.

We slipped into a row at the back, were wrapped in the embrace of family, in the blanket of hugs and kisses and hellos.  Then came the tap on the shoulder, a sheet of words. I was led to a pew at the front, where I looked down at the thick jumble of sentences in a church full of lonesome and thought ‘Jesus Mary Mother of God – I’m supposed to read that?’ As the congregation stood and music started – such lovely voices – what came to mind were horseshoes, worn mesh lawn chairs giving way to bums, and long-ago laughter.

She suffered.

“Do I go?” I whispered  to a cousin in the pew ahead. “Go,” she hissed. “Get up there.” I went.  Stood with the first reader, young Jenna, at the side of the altar in a shaft of sunlight that streamed through the window.

Does God call?

I don’t know. I know I am grateful the dog was there with us. They were friends, those two. Wild Irish Rosie the golden doodle played, joyful, on the grass by the graveyard where she finally went to rest.

I know when it was my turn to stand at the lectern and utter that eternity of words, I wanted it to matter. Wanted my voice to love her.

*

She wanted Jimmy and he got there on time. Sweet Jimmy, my childhood playmate, arrived and, next day, I went with him to the hospital. The place was full, so she was still, almost two days later, in the ER. Soon as we saw her we knew this was it. The borrowed time was up.

They found her a third-floor room for the dying. We went with her in the elevator, held her hand, stood awkwardly.  In that brief journey between here and there, before and after, she knew us. Even though it was night, was late, with dark painted over a horizon, I collected her sister – the third in our weekly threesome – at the retirement home. For this one last, brief visit, our wee circle would be joined.

No Tim Horton’s this time. Instead, the holy water was flying. For my elderly borrowed-time aunts, it was considered trading up.

He looked like Anderson Cooper. A good thing in a priest. Came gently in the waning light to give the last rites. In the giving, he brought grace. A loaves-and-fishes, water-to-wine story, this was a pee-jar-to-sacred-vessel scenario. Since he had none of the blessed water at hand, he disappeared into the bathroom and came back with a pink-topped specimen jar full.

There it was, right with us in the room:  Faith.

                                                                    *

Near the start of the beginning of the end, they cried at the dinner table. Shook with the crying. It was Christmas at a smallish, utilitarian table for four in a dining room at the nursing home.  My holy godmother was new and lost-to-drowning in this sore place surrounded by wheelchairs and infirmity. Her companions, gentle-eyed ladies, all wore terrycloth bibs. One of them sobbed right along with her. It was Moddycom. Tears seeped from her eyes, steady down her face to drip off her chin and soak her bib. I hugged back and forth, one to the other, through dinner. “Moddycom?” she asked. “Moddycom moddycom moddycom.” A caregiver came by, rubbed her back, explained. “She had a stroke. She is a bit emotional.”

Can you love someone you don’t know?

Can you love them and leave them?

My heart-friend Moddycom has two words: moddycom and yeees.

“Yeees,” she would say when she saw the dog and me coming down the hall.  “Yeeees,” she said, reaching her arms out for us.

*

The sharp end corner always gets me. It swallows next. Walk around that corner, fall off the face of the earth. Merry go ’round that corner, nonchalant, slam into G-force Os. Mouths and eyes shaped like Os. The Os are bubbles blown iridescent in the air to bursting; balloons floating away. O. Oh dear. Oh oh. Oh no.

The O-mouths and O-eyes of the care workers told us before words. My aunt, the dog and I were rounding the desk at the nursing home with our Tuesday Tim Horton’s feast for sharing. We didn’t expect what we knew was coming.

She wasn’t there.

Gone forever.

As they came parading, the residents, from their trivia session in the dining room, they stopped to see us. They wanted to pet the dog. Always did. Wanted hugs. Always did. Eyes lit up. Always did.

Moddycom’s arms reached out.

“Moddycom?”

How do you deal with loss and grief? Please share.

Abiding faith in chewing gum

My own personal Jesus is a stick of Wrigley’s chewing gum. I’m not sure where it is right now. Perhaps in the top dresser drawer or maybe at the bottom of the flower-patterned cardboard box full of keepsakes that’s on a shelf of the bookcase. I know it’s taped inside a dollar-store greeting card that arrived in the mail.

Gum Guy sent it. It was a thank-you for sharing his story. He shared it with me and I passed it on. He did not know I would hold it true, and not only believe it but believe in it.

I do. And now, years later, I share it with you.

He was over 80 then, Gum Guy, when he walked down that long grungy basement hallway to the wee office at the end and told me about personal catastrophe. Despair. Serendipity and wonder.

It took a long time for me to see clearly, recognize and understand that revelation for the gift it is. No incense, no crown of thorns, no almighty answer. There are a couple of images, though, fitting ones – I believe, on the 10th  anniversary of 9/11. They are pictures of turmoil, trauma, survival and grace.

Imagine a grey, leaden day. Rough water. Choppy waves. The whine and boom of a plane shot down, all inhabitants dead save for one. The sole survivor drifted in a rubber dingy. Gum Guy couldn’t swim.  It was wartime, 1943. He was alone and lost in a vast chasm of wet and cold. A full day passed in a sea of desolation. Then another. Eventually help and hope appeared.

Imagine the drone and thunder of an airplane under siege. High in the air, bullets raining. The shake and rattle and rat tat tat of assault. The sucking hiss of gaping tears in the metal. A frantic scramble to plug holes and stay aloft. An airman patched the largest opening with sheet metal, but what about the smaller holes?

Feel the split-second pause: There it was. There it is. Wrigley’s gum.

I like to believe, I choose to believe, even at the darkest of times, when the waters are choppy, the sky is leaden and bullets are raining, there is a stick of gum. It is a pause, a deep breath, a synapse. I imagine a phone ringing, a door creaking open, a gesture of caring, a straightforward question. They all have the potential to alter the course of a life. The most inconsequential of objects or thoughts or memories exist that can, even momentarily, fill holes in hearts rent open. Fill those holes, ever so briefly but long enough to touch solid ground.

Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. Today, we remember the attacks of September 11, 2001.  Every day, for somebody, a war is internal. Experts suggest people in suicidal crisis are in such overwhelming pain they can’t see past it. Can’t see a way forward.

However, suicidal thoughts are not permanent.

There are ways to land. If you’re the friend, parent, relative, teacher or coach of someone struggling, there may be hints something is wrong: 

Distress Signals

  • Are there changes in mood, behavior, self-care, eating or sleeping patterns?
  • Have you noticed withdrawal from people or activities?
  • Increased substance use?
  • Anger, risk taking or impulsive acts?
  • Talk about feeling hopeless, helpless or wanting to die?

Listen. Take it seriously. Let him or her talk about it. Don’t judge and don’t be afraid to ask: “Are you feeling suicidal?”

If the answer is yes, don’t promise to keep it a secret. Get help. There’s a toll-free Mental Health Crisis Line at 1866 996-0991. If the situation is life-threatening call 911.

If you’re overwhelmed and thinking about suicide, remember you’re not alone. Tell somebody. There is help. And this state of mind will not last.

That Wrigley’s gum exists. So does a rescue boat – just out of sight.

Check these places for more resources: http://suicideinfo.ca; http://cmha.ca; www.ospn.ca; http://www.suicideprevention.ca

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