When I tell you this story, there are some of you who will hear, some will listen, and some will know.
I feel that I am at the beginning of grieving the loss of my friend Beth. When I think of her lately, I can feel her hair in my hands; at the end of her life, her hair grew back as she wasn’t on chemo anymore. Her hair was brown and short and stuck up and out in places, but she still looked so cool with her yellow beanie. When she died, we realized that one of the colors was always yellow.
When we went to the doctor on October 4, her longtime doctor and trusted caretaker told her that she had lived well with cancer for a long time and that now she would not live well with cancer anymore. Her liver was failing; destroyed by chemo, it had changed from the soft sponge of bodily fluid filtration to a hard rock that didn’t let much in or out. Her tummy filled up with liquid and she felt ugly. She wasn’t, of course.
During that doctor’s visit, every experience that we had had together flashed before my mind. I thought of Port O’Connor, and Angela, apartments in Dallas, plastic jewelry, my first marriage, Cecile’s old apartment, and when she decided to marry “a rich guy”. I thought of searching for dead things and going out to Sunday Beach with Angela’s high school crush (or perhaps she was his?) and his two children. His son looked like a Troll doll and we loved him. He covered us with mud. We escaped without sunburns. I thought of walking through the Albert Memorial near Buckingham Palace, and traipsing past Embassies and through the city at night. I remembered getting dizzy in the jewelry room at the V&A and eating sandwiches on the lawn, watching naked British children bathe in the pool.
When we were told that it was the end, I remembered all the lived experiences; so much life! That is of course what I learned the most from Beth. I learned about LIFE. We once found a beautiful coffee shop with a caravan in the front garden in Port Lavaca; it was an old Victorian house and we never found it again, but that one time we found “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay and she told me about how and why Louise Hay wrote the book. On one of her last days, she said to me, “I wish my body could heal itself!”
During that last month, I spent most of my time with her massaging her and talking with her. She was in so much pain, although I suspect she didn’t admit the true force of the pain because she didn’t want to be woozy with Dilaudid. I massaged her because I wanted to keep her energy moving; keep her chi zipping around her body and soul. I spent a lot of time rubbing her perfect feet and legs and the middle of her back; this is where most of the pain was. I would also rub her face and her head and her shoulders. I would try to move the energy around, hoping it would keep her with us for longer.
One night I was staying with her and I looked at her in the half-light of the lamps. She was so tired but kept saying thank you, kept saying thank you and I love you. I went outside and called our friend Vivien. I said, “Vivien, I am worried. Her eyes look funny.” It was as if they couldn’t focus properly, or wandered when they shouldn’t. I remembered Maw Maw and how fast she slipped from us once she started. I will never forget her sleeping in that big bed with its white sheets and its golden light, falling asleep at about 7pm after I cooked us a dinner of lamb chops.
I have heard a theory of grief that I like and can attach to; the pain we feel is an alternative experience to the love we feel for the person. When my dad died last year, I felt like I was falling off a cliff into some bottomless space; there was no anchor. Slowly though, I found my footing again and realized that I must make my own anchor and remember all the tools he gave me, despite our many fraught years. This is different.
As I said above, when I think about Beth, really think about her (because I avoid it in my conscious mind sometimes), I can feel her hair in my hands, I can feel her hands, her shoulders, her tiny arms, her beautiful legs, and perfect feet. I can hear the sound of her moving in her hospital bed. I can see her eyes clouded with ammonia toxicity. I can see her moving around and saying thank you to me. I can hear her talking about cheese and visiting Italy. It is like she is becoming a part of me, of my body, as I feel all the parts of her. It is like she is right here, an ethereal version of a very real person. I think that this means that I truly love her, and she loves me, and this feeling, this painful transformation, is the process of grieving her loss. From now on, there is the Patience that lived when Beth was alive, there is the Patience during this grieving process, and there will be the Patience after.
Due to her immense grace, humor, love, and understanding, I suspect the Patience after will be a better person who is more in touch with faults and feelings, and with the preciousness of the moments.
When we went to the doctor on October 4, how would we have known she would die less than one month later, on November 2? She had lived so well, for so long. I wish I could hug her. But I can, because when I think of hugging her, I can feel her hugging me; I can feel her tiny body that cancer just ate up. I can see the light in her windows and the green of her houseplants. I can think of how great a hostess she was, and how she loved drinking dandelion tea those last few weeks to help her liver.
Beth, I miss you so much. I know you are here, in your own way. As Lilian said the other day, it’s like you are everywhere!