A rain sogged morning, gray and beautiful and peaceful. Wet and clean, bathing the jets before they take off down the runway. Starbucks, inside PDX; missed flight. Slept through wake up calls; 99 of them Cowboy's. Ninety-nine. I slept through over 100 wake up calls/ and an alarm. TIRED must be an understatement. A missed flight, kind ticketing agent re-booking me on the next available seat 6 hours later and he keeping my bags for me so I can relax (sleep?) as I await my next chariot in the sky to home. Into the arms of my Cowboy but I'm leaving a large chunk of me here in Oregon with my Dad and StepMom. "Call me Mom" she instructs, and so I do. I rub her bald head, little sprouts of hair beginning to return as the weeks since her last chemo treatment get further and further away. She looks up at me, her eyes the bluest blue they have ever been, searching my face for an explanation of what's happening to her. Sometimes she forgets, thinks we are going on a trip to Australia when she gets well, and other times talks to me about the trip she will be taking that we cannot accompany her. "Did you tell those people you couldn't come with me!" she demands to know one night as my brother and I visit with her. "No," he tells her gently, "we didn't tell them that. But we can't go on that trip with you because it's not our turn." She ponders this thoughtfully, looking back and forth at both our faces searching for understanding. "Why is it I have to go first?" she asks us, a reluctantcy in her voice. "I'm not ready." We smile, telling her she's the one who got picked first, that she won't go until she's ready, and that we will join her there later, we promise. "Oh... okay." she says, a soft smile scrolling acrossed her face. "If you promise to come." We assure her we will and she seems satisfied, yawning and settling into sleep for the night.
I will do what I can from a distance again, coming back if needed. How they have fed my soul as much as me theirs. I am so lucky to know these people, to belong to them, to have gotten a chance to see them through new eyes. My Dad and I will be forever connected in another way: terminal illness taking our spouses. I'm nearly 20 years down the road from my experience, remarried to my wonderful Cowboy and looking back remembering how I wondered how we would survive Den's death. Three teenage boys who were my anchor; keeping my chin up for them most especially. It is remarkable what is survivable. You don't think so at the time you are wading through it, but once on the other side, you always look back and wipe the sweat from your brow and say, "Whew! Made it. Again." Sometimes I wonder if you ever run out of that tenacity to survive; but I've seen people recover from the most dire of circumstances, more than I could imagine trekking through, and they find the perseverence to keep on keeping on. My stuff is so nothing compared to theirs, but it is mine, and the load is heavy sometimes even for me. But here, now, I look at my Dad; my Daddy, papa, Granddad to my children -- the other day I unconciously called him "Pop" for the first time.... I see the worry, the pain, the impending loss in front of him, and I ache that he is going to feel the loss of love. And my Stepmom, Carol -- she is a symbol of strength, independence, fighting for it right up to the end. Some days she surprises us with her strength and unflagging determination; we helplessly watch her bad days creep into the increasingly fewer good days. Dad can no longer manage her at home and up the endless flight of stairs to their apartment. Stairs that make me, two decades younger, pant. I can now make it up them without pausing to rest midway, and without that nagging pain in my left knee. I'm getting in better shape you think? Smile. Smile at how they climb the mountain to the tiny enclave at the top for all these years because my Dad wanted to be there, and she followed, reluctantly. But that was their life and their choice and when living at the top of those stairs became a hazard - they had to part. So now Dad drives to see her daily, and I was honored to be his personal chauffeur during my stay. I got reacquainted with the folks in new ways that would not otherwise have been possible without this terrible illness. Finding some good in the bad?
I want to cry again, but I'm holding it. The gush will come when I finally see my Cowboy's smiling face and they won't stop until my face is buried safely in his chest and his arms are snug around me. He always has a way of making everything all right. He is my knight in shining armour, my rescuer, the one who rights all wrongs. Kind of like my Dad used to do when I was a little girl. Maybe this is why tradition has the father giving away his little girl to the groom in a marriage ceremony. A passing of the guard, so to speak. Even as my Cowboy comforts me this afternoon, so will we together comfort my Dad, in the days and weeks to come.
Another Skinny Cinnamon Dolce' Latte please ... and a tissue.