Friday, I woke up to the chirping of a fat little robin fledgling on the window sill by my bed. My bed is level the window, so it looked me in the eye, and chirped, asking perhaps if I knew where it’s mother was. It hopped down into the garden and picked around in the dirt, grabbing at sticks and stems in the mulch, but not getting the worm I imagine it was craving. Soon a slender adult robin swooped down and chirped at the fledgling, then they hopped off, chirping together.
I was still in a state of sleepy, dreamy fog. I wondered if it was Mary Ruth’s soul, being carried by the little clumsy bird, til she found her new life. Many cultures believe certain animals carry our souls after we die, until we find our new home. One summer, I was followed around by blue dragonflies, in the sense that everywhere I went I saw one close by. Right above my head, on my friend’s car windshield, on the porch when I went outside. I was convinced it was the same dragonfly, and not part of the abundance of dragonflies we had that year. I thought it was my brother, keeping an eye on me, protecting me, from where ever he went after he died.
I know this is magical thinking, but I like it. I think it’s healthy for us, for me, to have stories and myths to believe when we lose loved ones.
I went with 2 of my friends to see Mary Ruth in her nursing home on Thursday. I’d called Mary Ruth a few times, but there’d been no answer. I called the office, and they said she couldn’t answer the phone anymore, that she wasn’t eating, she was sleeping a lot, and that she was talking but not really making sense.
I asked if there was anyway we could visit her. We couldn’t visit on her 104th birthday because of the virus lockdown. But they let us come last week. They took our temperature. We were given masks, gloves, body wraps, and shoe covers. They disinfected my wheelchair. We could go in the room two at a time.
The last time she was sick, she still looked like herself, and the last time we visited, she was well and telling stories, participating in conversations about books and current events.
But this visit, she was not herself. She was skeletal and shrunken, her eyes small and cloudy, and set deeper in her face. She seemed to be staring out from some far away place. She was mumbling and I couldn’t understand her. We brought some music and played a little for her. I stroked her arm and told her I loved her. My friend said the same. Mary Ruth tried to understand, tried to respond, but she said to my friend, “I have to go with him.”
I stayed in the room but my friends changed places, and the other friend came in with her high sing songy voice and said hello to Mary Ruth, and that we love her. And clear as a bell, Mary Ruth loudly said I love you, too. Then she sunk back down into herself, doing what she had to do to leave that old body of hers.
I wondered how she would be if Marfan’s disease hadn’t crippled her so badly, bones deteriorating for the last 3 decades. When I met her, she was 6’3″ I think. Tall, strong, impressive, and gentle, kind, and adventurous.
In her 90s, she lost one foot, and over time her hands had finally stopped working altogether. Up until recently, she was still alive in so many ways, but the physical struggle was hard, and the isolation of the nursing home was hard for her, though she made many friends among the staff and residents.
And yesterday, Sunday, July 5th, she left that old body behind and went on to her next life. Complications from old age. I like to think she is flying around somewhere, or that she is in that place of sunshine and beautiful plants she spoke of when she was sick over the winter.
You are my friend, you are my spiritual grandmother, you are always in my heart. I learned so much from you, you left me braver and smarter. You gave me a way to accept pain and loss. You built a bridge to help me cross over obstacles and to not let anyone steal my need for justice, for peace. You gave me a way to live up to my name. You gave me joy.
Thank you eternally for living your best life and sharing it so freely. Thank you for becoming one of the best parts of me.
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