Carved out. I’m awake and afraid to touch my soft belly…flat…empty.
Seven years growing in me like a child with no heart…hard, round, weighty. My breath catches with the absence of them. Thoughts muddled. Grieving.
I am taken to Diane and Suzanne’s home where I will stay until stronger. Suzanne settles me in; reads poetry. I fall asleep.
Soft women’s voices register before I am fully awake. Speaking quietly in the kitchen; cutting warm bread and fresh cheese for me.
Sun fills the house… alive with dust angels. Light… yellow, orange…I taste it. It’s warm on my face and I breathe it in…to empty places inside me.
We sit together in the golden space where words are not necessary. I love them and their easy way of making space for me.
I lie on soft pillows and let sun and good company begin my healing…close my eyes and the women silently leave me. They do not need anything from me. My strength slowly…slowly returning. Filling vacuums…as nature does.
Suzanne fills the room and smoothing the comforter gently over me; bending to fluff a pillow behind my neck. This is the tough lady…attorney…sailor///who says things like: “whoever said life was fair?” And other harsh truths.
She likes the poetry I bring and my presence in her home. She is pragmatic and tender…bringing oatmeal to nourish…tending to me like the strictest mother with the biggest heart.
I am stronger now and walking; braced by oatmeal, sunshine and love. These women have opened their home to me in a way that makes it easy.
They tell me not to go yet. It’s too soon to be alone. I have never in my life been cared for in this way. I stay. Leaning into comfort …so new for me and unfamiliar.
I am forced to accept their help. This moment of need is a savage teacher for one who never reaches out. I am loved here even though I can offer nothing.
Watchful flowers follow the sun with dark center eyes. Their backs are to me and I lie wishing I had a sun of my own to follow. For now I have no sun; no grand plan…just generous women and healing.
Fluffing…a simple action. Each time I return from a trip to the toilet Suzanne has fluffed my comforter and pillows so that it is a new bed when I return. Seriously…every time. She enjoys it. I’m uncomfortable.
Neither of us can figure out why she was so adamant about my staying. I really didn’t even know her. Diane and I had been friends for years but not Suzanne and I. She was a bit intimidating to me…capable and strong and smart and firm.
Her invitation to me was more like a command. Diane was working all day so that left Suzanne and I alone for most of the time. Yes… something is in motion we agree. We take the time to see each other through the eyes of the other. The reflection this gives is clear. She understands my difficulty with stillness…with receiving… and challenges me with me actions to be still and take.
And I give something to her.
I read to her. Peaches. Lee Young Li’s poem of dusty peaches. Dusty peaches that taste of summer. She is still. A statue. Listening…barely breathing. She later tells me: “this house needs more poems and conversations about peaches and a lot less talk of business, retirement and crap. She likes the way I slow things down. I like her. She asks me to stay longer. I agree. Ten days instead of two. Coffee and oatmeal in the mornings. Walks with Rumi and Li in the afternoons.
I hold my spiritual life close; sacred and silent…sweet secrets… alive and quietly empowered…magic. She asks questions…many questions. I share with her this most personal part of me. She holds these things tenderly…with respect. She does not comment.
We talk of many things, sacred to us. I begin to know her. It becomes more difficult to think of going but I feel I must and so we make plans. You know…the kind you rarely keep? Yes we will stay in touch. Yes. We absolutely will. In June I left.
I went to work. I went home to other friends. We did not keep our promises to each other and I did not even notice. I was once more wound up with taking care of others, working and business.
In November Suzanne called me. She called to tell me she was dying.
Just. Like. That.
Would I be willing to be her main emotional support and walk her to the end of her life; she asked.
Of course I mean YES.
I began to bargain with a God I hadn’t spoken to since childhood.
The cancer she says is especially rare; in her skin; in her glands; in her blood…moving fast. Horrifying. No poetry can fix this. She is dying. She is pragmatic about it.
Chemo. She will lose her hair. A woman’s hair is important. We fuss with it. We color and change it and grow it and tease it and pile it up and cut it off. In her journey of endings she knows she will lose it in patches; the ugly aftermath of chemotherapy. She asks me to create a ritual for her…for shaving her hair. She takes charge now whenever she can. She will do it her way.
We have a head shaving ritual at my home for 11 women who love her. She chooses just these women, from many, for this.
We create a circle of loving…she steps into the middle. I read from Rumi. She lies on my floor and we touch her. Each of us hoping our hands will be the ones to somehow heal her. We want so badly to believe in magic…some grace from anywhere…any miracle will do. We meditate and love her…simply this. Her head is shaved.
We offer hats and scarves and accolades. She tries on hats for her video and promises her grandchildren that when they visit her they will all wear hats. Promise.
We smile at her…feeling bleak…hoping not to let this show. Diane does a remarkable job of being present…of being there…of even laughing… and my heart falls open to both of them and all the women gathered in so much love and respect…the room resonates with it … and I am selfishly glad this is happening in my home. And…we are all determined to keep our own pain inside for the sake of these two dear ones.
Suzanne smiles us; takes off her hat and eats pie…shiny head cocked to the side… studying us. Bright old crow. She makes us laugh then standing there…bypassing salads and fruit platters eating pie. Smacking lips and laughing and choosing the hat that I gave her with stripes and propeller…swallowing our love with each bite…watching us…eating pie. She stood at my table with a big spoon and ate pie. “I have denied myself for years…I am eating pie now. I have 30 years of pie eating to make up. I am eating pie.” And…she did. Pecan and berry and chocolate with cream. I bring her pie. I bring her peach pie.
May on her terrace with coffee and oatmeal; smells of spring wafting around us; reading poetry, laughing, sighing, sharing or…she told me she had no idea why she had felt so compelled to pull me into their home…into her life.
November sitting with her in their tiny new house speaking of treatments…she knows. We weep together…Diane Suzanne and I. Every tiny thing now instantly mattered. Life became a photographic negative for all of us…backwards, wrong somehow…unclear. Just wrong. I wished I could save her…heal her with oatmeal and walking and dusty peaches.
I am angry now. Angry at doctors; angry at myself; angry at Suzanne…meaningless anger…all of it. And the why of it. Why her? Why? Why now? WHY? WHY? WHY?
The women in her life stepped into the need. Teams of women…flocks of them. Herds of them. Women cleaned their house each week. Women cleaned their yard, readying it for spring hoping she will be here to see the blossoms. Women cook meals. Women open their homes to her visiting relatives and friends who come to say goodbye and offer support. Sitting with her before she is lost to us.
Women offer massages and reiki and prayers. Women build a sandbox for visiting grandchildren. Women create timetables for rides to appointments and treatments and vigils for the waiting and support for Suzanne and Diane and themselves.
I go when she calls me and sometimes when she does not. She asks the others to leave the house so she can feel…be sad with me. She speaks to me of few regrets…that she is leaving Diane…that she is leaving her grandchildren too early. She fears they are too young remember her. So women create a video of her and her history and memories for those who are too young to understand.
She tells her children’s little children that she is like a beautiful ship…sails unfurled…lovely in the wind and powerful…sailing away while they watch from the shore. And as she disappears from their view…over the horizon…on the other shore others are calling: “Here she comes. I can see her! She’s almost here.”
One day we were sitting in the tiny living room when a crash shattered the quiet. One of the women building the sand box had put a shovel through the kitchen window above the sink. She was appalled and apologetic as she ran into the house to view the damage. Suzanne was irritated a bit by the interruption not the broken window and the glass all over the floor and sink.
“We don’t have time for this” she said, heading for the back room. She returned with a framed poster of Bob Dylan that fit perfectly in the window hole. “There! That’ll be just fine” as she jammed it into place. Then she invited the woman out of the kitchen with a wave of her hand and a smile and sat back down on the couch next to me…”what were we saying?” with a grin.
She is beautiful and brave. My teacher.
And then there was the anniversary.
It was their 15th year together and Suzanne was in the hospital on the oncology floor where everyone was dying. I was going of course but worried. How would I do it? All those poor dying people? How could I stand it?
The dying were the holders of hope and joy for the rest of us.
They came down the hall with their rattling IV poles with more zest than we had; offering gifts for the party. For Diane and Suzanne. They didn’t stay…just dropped their offerings and left; smiling and congratulating the women who loved each other so deeply. A woman came in with one hand on her IV pole, the other balancing a huge bouquet. Someone had sent it to her and she was loaning it for the party. An older gentleman came in with a brick of cheese and a bottle of wine he had been saving for a special occasion. “This is it” he laughed, handing it to me on his way out. And there were more.
I did NOT feel pity. I felt humbled. I felt uplifted and hopeful. I will never ever forget. This memory does NOT grow dimmer as the years pass.
I love that day and the memory of it and the love that filled the room and the tenderness between two women who loved, honored and respected each other deeply while being fiercely themselves.
Will I laugh and be brave and eat pie when I’m dying? Pretty sure I will eat pie come to think of it. Perhaps I’ll go to Crete and drink retsina and smoke cigarettes and eat the fresh catch from the sea. Will I want the company of friends or prefer the company of strangers who have no idea of my story? I am sure many of us asked ourselves similar questions in those afternoons with Suzanne.
It may simply come down to: eating pie, reading Rumi and Li and contemplating regrets, appreciations and…most of all for me…remembering summers of dusty peaches.
One comment on “For Suzanne”
Suzanne Gene Courtney
April 4, 2018 | 9:26 pm
Victoria, you captured the human essence of living and dying with great dignity and depth. Thank you for your insights! Another Suzanne, a Reiki Master, Grief Coach, and author xoxo