Friday, June 28, 2013

In Peace

At the beginning of the week, I knew that Julia was about to die. She was no longer able to eat and was essentially comatose. I selfishly wondered how her family would tell me; via an email or a text message, I figured, since that’s how we usually communicate.

Yesterday morning, I texted Julia's daughter, "Nina," to tell her that I was thinking of her, her mom, and the rest of their family; that this must be a terrible time for them and I was so sorry. Nina texted me back a few minutes later to thank me. Then she told me when and where the wake and funeral would be.

For some reason, I was shocked. Despite that I anticipated this news since the day I met Julia two years ago, the real thing felt like a devastating surprise. I wondered if Nina and her family felt the same way and I prayed that they didn't.

*  *  * 

Two nights ago, thanks to the idea from an awesome new friend and fellow blogger, I spent some time writing about bucket lists. Actually, I'm me, so I hadn't actually reached the bucket list part of the bucket list blog. But after several drastic changes of direction, I finally had an idea of where I was headed.

When I started brainstorming about bucket lists, my gut told me that a bucket list wasn't really my kind of thing. Then I thought more about it. I wrote and I deleted and I wrote some more. I remembered a book I had read a few years back, when I was on maternity leave with Annabel and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my professional life which, at the time, was mostly miserable. The book was called, Creating Your Best Life, and something made me dig it out of my basement Wednesday night.

Turns out that the first chapter was all about bucket lists. My subconscious may have remembered that part, but otherwise, I had totally forgotten it, probably because back then a bucket list was as foreign an idea to me as cancer. But I had remembered the main message told over a few hundred pages -- Write down your goals and you will be better able to achieve them. And when you achieve goals, you are happier. I got the point, and a few months later on the train home from work, I made a list.

It wasn't a bucket list. It was just a plan for the next few years -- when I would have my third kid (summer 2013), when I would leave Ropes & Gray (January 2015), how much money we'd have saved by each milestone (a hell of a lot more than we have saved now). My list is in a folder in a file cabinet in my basement. Laughing at me.

Nevertheless, by the end of my writing hour on Wednesday night, I had decided that I should draft a new list -- places I want to go, things I want to see. I had no idea how we'd ever afford these things, but I'd dream about them anyways. It wasn't a cancer thing. It was just a fun thing.    

Cancer, however, did make me hesitant to put the list down on physical or virtual paper. I worried that if my cancer returned and I never made it through my list, my family would find it one day when they were cleaning out my things and be crushed that I had dreams left unfulfilled. So the list was dangerous, even if it included the most important caveat -- that these things were just gravy, small items on a silly list, because I had already been given almost all of life's greatest gifts. So, in my usual roundabout way, I wrote about how I was going to make a mental bucket list. 

Yesterday, however, the news of Julia's death changed me. All of the sudden, the idea of a bucket list, even a mental one, made me feel guilty, spoiled, and totally misguided. I was back to my gut reaction -- no bucket list for me; just day to day appreciation of the simple things.

Surprisingly, the whirlwind of emotion I had over Julia's death had very little to do with my breast cancer. I just wanted to scream for Julia and her motherless children. Staring out my office window at Boston Harbor, I became a bit irrational. For some reason, I wanted to take all of my anger out on Aaron Hernandez. I know, it's the most ridiculous and random reaction, isn't it?!? But for some reason, after I learned of Julia's death, I blamed the ex-NFL star for all that was wrong in the world. Why did he get to walk on this Earth and Julia didn't? Why was he strong and healthy enough to shoot people and Julia was dead? I know, I'm mostly just nuts, but as I broke my no-crying-at-work rule in the privacy of my own office, I was just so mad that someone so good was taken so early.  

A few minutes later, after I collected myself and realized that Aaron Hernandez and Julia weren't exactly related issues, I was just sad. So very sad. Julia never got to make a bucket list of adventures and travel destinations. She wasn't even well enough to go to Nina's high school graduation, and I know how much that had meant to her. My heart ached; physically ached. I've felt that sort of ache only a few other times in my life and in those times it was under similar circumstances -- someone so good and so innocent being taken far too early. 

I tried to work, and somehow, I pulled myself together to actually get things done. But when I left work, my heart still felt broken. 

On my commute home, I just thought about stuff. I thought about what I could write, because that's come to be the way that I organize my most confusing thoughts and emotions. But I had no independent clarity; no words of wisdom; no idea of how I could ever make this f-ing awful situation somehow seem, at least a tiny bit, right.

Now I realize, it's not right, it never will be, and I shouldn't even bother searching for anything to argue otherwise. 

But last night, as I waited on the platform at Back Bay, I returned to the stream of text messages between me and Nina, as if seeing her words could somehow comfort me. I knew I was a fool to expect someone in an inner circle to help me in my outer circle, but I was desperate for something.

As I mentioned above, Nina's first message back to me yesterday included logistics about the wake and the funeral. But in my shock that Julia was gone, I had glossed over Nina's last sentence. My Mom left in peace, she had written.  

At first, I internally scoffed at that. She didn't leave in peace, I thought. No one could die from cancer in peace.

Then I thought more about Julia. I thought about how organized, calm, and brave she was when my amazing colleague, Liz, and I first met her; how she always smiled, even when she was crying. I remembered how she had come into the small office at the back of the health clinic in Dorchester with a small Hello Kitty notebook full of her most perfect Vietnamese penmanship. How she had documents in worn but well-cared for envelopes. I remembered the first time she removed her wig in front of pre-cancer me -- how free and sick I thought she looked, and how scared I felt. I remembered how Julia sat with us for hours, a tiny woman on a really big mission.

What she wanted was simple, albeit, almost impossible -- she wanted the father of her children to be here with them when she died. No bucket lists. No skydiving. No sleeping in satin sheets. Julia just wanted to be sure that her children had their dad; that they wouldn't be alone when she departed. Then, she could die in peace. 

Julia's children were not alone yesterday morning at 7:19am when Julia passed. Their father was with them. I felt an ounce of comfort when I remembered that.

Nonetheless, I am a long way away from finding peace with Julia's passing. But it's not all about me, now, is it? Just because I think it's so tragically unfair doesn't mean that Julia hadn't found peace. In fact, deep down, I honestly believe that she had. 

In the end, my gut instinct was right -- at least right now, I'm not a bucket list kind of person. I'm more like Julia. I don't need to travel the world or bungee jump or finish a marathon. I just need to know that my family would be OK if, Heaven forbid, anything ever happened to me. In the end, I really just want to leave in peace. Whatever that may mean at the time. 

And finally, since Julia's story may never be told anywhere except the pages of this blog, there's one last thing I want to mention. Julia's name is not Julia. It's Mary. 

1 comment:

  1. What a profound crossing of paths you two shared. The Universe gave each of you such a gift by presenting you in each other's life.