Friendship, fear, death…and confessions

What do you say to a friend who is afraid to die? Even now, six months later, I still don’t know what to say.

VirgHer name was Virginia. She was 92. And she died this spring, a frail, withered shell of the woman she used to be. Her hearing was almost gone, and her memory was failing her. She could not walk without assistance and she had great difficulty swallowing (common in the elderly, I’m told). And even though her eyes were pale and rheumy, the fear was plain in them when she asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”

Other than some platitude about what good care the staff showed in their care of her (at her nursing home), I had nothing to offer. I don’t know the answer.

Her life was good, but not perfect. It was stereotypical in some ways in that her husband had passed away years before her, yet they had had a daughter who would continue their family line with her own son. But in other ways, Virginia took stereotypes and stomped them in the ground. Prior to World War II, she boarded a bus – alone – in her native Minnesota in order to join her older sister in California. She would live in various places, and she would serve as a Navy WAVE during the war and, later, as a Grey Lady at Letterman Hospital during the Korean War. She did not marry until the age of 31 – rare for women of her time and, not to mention, having a child at that age. Through it all, she worked at various jobs until I met her in the 1990s when we were both secretaries.

She taught me how to do cross-stitch. I took her to a Billy Joel concert for her…78th (I think) birthday. And…she entrusted me with her beloved tabby, Fluffy, when she felt she could no longer adequately care for the cat. To this day, I am undecided whether or not I betrayed that trust by lying to Virginia. For this is my confession: Fluffy died on December 17, 2004, not in December 2005. Some friends already know this and they tell me I did the right thing because, in December of 2004, Virginia was recovering from a hip replacement and subsequent pneumonia. She was in terrible shape, physically, emotionally, mentally. I could not tell her that Fluffy had cancer and was going to die soon. Fortunately, I had several pictures of the cat – so I could continue the lie – and gently worked my way up to Fluffy passing away the following December (I kept it the week before Christmas so I could keep the lie straight).

Fluffy

I took this picture of Fluffy with me to Virginia’s memorial service. I hope that Fluffy is with her now, and I hope Virginia forgives me. Most of all, I hope she is no longer afraid.

But instead of crying, I try to remember the laughter that Virginia could elicit with her sharp wit, even when it was aimed at me. She turned 80 just a few months after I turned 40. So when I called her to wish her happy birthday, I said “Hey, I’m half your age now!” Without missing a beat, she replied, “Well, thank God for that, I thought you’d never make it this far!”

 

Slices of Migraine Pie..and weird dreams

The neighbors fighting; doors slamming; cursing at 1:00 a.m.

“Meoowwl” The cat howling way across the room for no apparent reason at 2:38 a.m. (Note to self: yelling at the cat to shut up does not make him shut up.)

“Fwap, fwap, fwap” The sound of a car with a flat tire driving down the street at 4:56 a.m.

The grinding and banging of the garbage truck at 5:35 a.m.

Its urgent mission now over, the distinctive engine sound of a fire truck returning to its station a few minutes later.

If you’ve been awake during the night, willingly or unwillingly, these might be some of the sounds intruding upon you. When you’ve got a migraine, and you’re waiting for the medication to take effect, they can be heightened to mere annoyances preventing your mind…your brain…from relaxing, or to the point of severe pain. Migraine sufferers will know what I’m talking about. Others will think “but it’s just a headache.”

It’s not just a headache. Migraines can be debilitating, interfering with your ability to live a normal life. But they can also be oddly…revealing. As your brain navigates its way through the twists and turns it feels like it’s doing, your thoughts alight – usually briefly – on the ordinary problems of the day or, if you’re a writer like me, upon ideas and story plots. Or maybe the pain (or is it the meds?) sends your mind twirling around in a bizarre series of dream images that will become mere flickers of memory the next day.

Do you remember your dreams? I usually don’t, but every so often one or the other will be so vivid, or repeat a theme dreamt before, that it outlasts the pain, the medication, or a much appreciated good night’s sleep.

About a week ago in the middle of a migraine came such an image. It was brief. I think. I don’t remember the details, but I do know that I was in a house. Again. It was my house, yet not my house.

It’s a recurring theme in my dreams (although not usually during migraines): The House. Or so I like to call it. I can’t say how many times this theme has cropped up, nor is it a regular – predictable – event, but it’s happened several times over the years, starting quite some time ago. Out of curiosity, I have searched online on some of those dream interpretation websites, for a meaning behind this dream, but of course, those sites are contradictory and not entirely useful.

All I really know is that I find myself in The House (sometimes it starts out as an apartment) and that The House continually expands. I discover new doors, new rooms. Sometimes it’s rooms off the kitchen, sometimes it’s extra bedrooms. And sometimes, like the last time I can most vividly remember this dream (maybe a couple years ago?) it’s hidden rooms off the basement.

I’m never afraid in the dream. It’s more like a journey of discovery and I’m thrilled to step into a new room I didn’t know I had. It’s sometimes exciting, sometimes wondrous. And, gee, I didn’t know I owned so many books! Yes, the last House included – down in that ever-expanding basement – a huge library. The kind of library you might see in fantasy movies where the library shelves climb the walls so high it’s dizzying to look up at all those tomes. I don’t know the names of any of the books on my library shelves. I recall not stepping that far into the room – only sensing how deep it was. Instead, my attention was drawn onward and outward.

The House finally did end (the first time I can remember an actual ending to The House in any of the dreams). But I guess it didn’t really end. In the last room was an open rear wall…and a beach. Yes, my basement opened onto a beach. It was a pale sand beach, kind of foggy. I could hear waves crashing onto shore somewhere close by.

I don’t remember stepping out onto the beach. I just remember thinking “wow!” And that’s all. The dream ended there.

Some days I still wonder what those dreams mean. But maybe it’s not important. Or maybe it’s just really simple. Suddenly I have this urge to go to Hawaii, or Tahiti, or Key West, or the Maldives….