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