Friday, December 21, 2012

When A Bag is more than a Bag...

Candace's Bag
When Candace’s husband asked me what I wanted of Candace’s, I didn’t hesitate. I asked for the bag hanging in the garage. This bag. This large, blue and white, 15 - 20 year old Land's End bag that says "Candace" stitched in cursive.

It may seem like an odd thing to ask for a bag. I, of course, don’t see a bag. I see a trip. I see almost every trip we ever took together. Thank god this bag can’t talk. If it could, the things it would tell about our excursions might make me blush in mixed company...

Some of our earliest trips were to stay overnight at my dad’s ‘cabin’ in Marblehead, Ohio. Calling it a cabin made it sound so romantic. It was a trailer. An old trailer. A 1978 trailer. A comfortable middle class trailer with a room built on and an air-conditioner stuck in the window. My mother had chosen to cover the kitchen floor with carpet that had strawberries on it. God I wish I had a photo of that carpet. Sometimes it was just me and Candace. Sometimes? It was Randy. And sometimes it was a dating weekend with her boyfriend (later husband – Mike) and my boyfriend at the time. Sometimes it was a girl’s weekend. There was almost always skinny dipping involved. Oh yeah, we were wild women in our 20s. Later as well got to know each other that trip was ‘couples weekend’. Steve and Ellen, Mike and Candace, Hans and I. We lived like we had all the time in the world to be happy. And we were. Candace eventually married Mike, Steve and Ellen eventually married and Hans and I remained friends, even after all these years. They were good times. Some of the best times, and I am pretty sure Margaritas were almost always involved.

In my early 30s, I moved to Seattle. I told Candace I would only be out there for 5 years. - then I’d be back. I did move back later, but never again would Ohio be my permanent home. I remember the day I left. Candace took me to the airport. In the back of her van this bag sat full of summer stuff she hadn’t removed from her car yet. She hugged me, I made my empty 5 year promise and we cried. And we cried. She told me once she cried all the way home. Then cried for several days. I did the same. I knew I was leaving a part of myself behind. It wouldn't be long after that she started her family.

Candace and I talked on yahoo instant messenger almost every day. We talked on the phone, although I really don’t like talking on the phone – she loved it. Sometimes she’d call just to talk and I wouldn’t answer the phone. I feel bad about that now. I feel bad that I didn’t take the time to connect. It never bothered her and I don’t ‘regret’ it, just think today how much I’ll miss that. Even towards the end of her illness she'd call me and her voice was full of joy. I will miss that more than anything.

Candace and I made the trip across the country from Ohio to Seattle five times together. I can’t even remember the details of all the trips. She desperately wanted to make that trip one more time with the kids, but that didn’t happen. I remember on one of the trips, we decided we were going to stop at every cheesy roadside attraction. We saw the giant statue of the Jolly Green Giant, The Corn Palace (which was to become a favorite stop), the Spam museum (inside some strip mall at the time, we almost didn’t find it), Wall Drug (of course the signs lured us in) and The Badlands. One trip we affectionately named “eating across America”. It was not our finest hour, although we did learn the joy of fry bread tacos and I learned NEVER to take Candace to Dairy Queen twice in one day.

This bag went with us on our RV trip to the Grand Canyon. On that trip we filled it with pamphlets, AAA Guides, books from the library with all the places on Route 66 she wanted to find and National Park guides. (We always tried to take national park trips, but usually ended up taking photos out of our car windows.) On our Grand Canyon trip, Candace had just had her hip replaced because the cancer had eaten through her bones. She had barely recovered from the surgery and her doctors told her she shouldn’t go. Thank god she had an adventurous spirit. Because every single moment of that trip – all of them will be part of my shared history with Madalyn and Grant. I thank god I had the support of people around me – both financial and emotional to make that trip happen. Even the plague of locust in Oklahoma has made a memory that will never be forgotten.

Of course, this bag, if I look closely, still has sand from our trip to Put in Bay. Last summer we went one last time together. Madalyn, myself and Candace – she drove up to the lake and met me, I drove her back. Just the drive up to the lake exhausted her. Looking back, I realize letting her drive was nuts, but she endured. She brought this bag - only this time it wasn’t full of towels and sunblock, it was full of medicine. She needed an entire canvas bag to hold all of her medicine. Later, after our trip, when we returned to Columbus, she was so exhausted she slept for two days without waking up. She didn’t take any of her medicine. Two days of missed morphine was two too many. That was when I realized, for her, it wasn’t ‘better living through chemistry’ but simply ‘living through chemistry’. But the day we went on our trip to the island? It was sunny and beautiful. I rented a golf cart and Candace, Madalyn and I laughed, went to the winery and drove around the island over and over and over – none of us wanted to leave. We even went junking! I had rented a hotel room by the water. At the end of the day we took the ferry back from the island and went to our favorite restaurant – Phil’s Inn and ate spaghetti. During dinner, Candace got the call that her grandmother Gwen had had a massive brain bleed. Gwen was much more than Candace’s grandmother, Gwen was Candace’s mom, her joy, her love. Hearing that Gwen had a massive brain hemorrhage and likely wouldn’t recover, I asked if Candace wanted me to take her back to Columbus. She said, “No, Gram would want me here by the lake. It was our favorite place. She loved it here and would want me to be here. I can’t take all the drama there. Here, I can make peace with everything.” She cried and cried, but I have no doubt Gwen was the first one to greet her last Sunday. Gwen died the next day. Candace often said that it was the hardest day of her life. Last Sunday was the hardest of mine.

When Candace died on Sunday, there was no funeral. She wanted to be cremated and there were no showing hours. I was with Grant and Madalyn when she died. When I told them, Madalyn asked me to take her to Put-In-Bay. I called the ferry and it was running but the lady at the ferry told me that nothing was open there this time of year. Everything is closed. No golf cart rental, no lobster bisque, nothing. When I told Madalyn, I promised her I would take her this summer. She and Grant and I will go to Put-In-Bay together and rent a golf cart and drive around. Sometime before this summer, her husband Mike and the family are planning a “Celebration of Life” party where everyone can come and share their stories of her. I hope I can make it.

I’ll make sure to bring the bag. I’d hate for it to miss anything.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tending to the Heart

On Dreams and Other Things...
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I had two dreams last night - both of my closest friend, Candace. In the first dream, she was sitting on the couch in her living room. She was trying to talk to people because she had things she wanted to say. Everyone was gathered around her, and she was telling people how much she loved them and how she was going to miss her family and her friends. She was getting tired but we listened as she spoke to everyone individually as best she could. Then she got sick. She fell on the floor and I covered her with my body and held back her hair and she vomited - over and over. She said she was tired of being sick and I told her I love her - that everyone did. And I held her while she cried.

In the second dream, we were out shopping for Christmas gifts for her children. Grant and Madalyn were with us. Madalyn wanted a specific pair of shoes and we were in our third store looking for them. Candace looked at me and said, "Wow, look at you all getting me out shopping. You always gave me energy when I didn't think I had any". I looked at her and I said, "Honey, you know you aren't really here, right? I mean your body is back in that bed." And she looked at me and she smiled. I fell to the floor sobbing. I said, "How am I supposed to go on without you? How do I do that, because I don't know if I know how to do that." And I full-on, open-heart-chakra started wailing. She waited a moment, smiled at me again, touched  my head with her hand and said, "MK, my body is full of light." And I knew she'd be okay, I just wasn't so sure I would.

For the last two days I have watched as my best friend slowly drifts away. She has not been lucid. She has simply slept while hospice gives her medicine every few hours and people come and whisper their "I love you's" into her ear. I have tended to the kids, and let others tend to the things that needed tending. There has been a lot of 'tending' going on. I have tended to everything... everything except my heart.

I'm sitting in my hotel room right now; my beautiful goddaughter sleeping next to me. I'm trying to cry quietly so I don't wake her up. My bff hasn't eaten or had anything to drink for 4 days. It won't be much longer now.

But in my dreams? She is a ball of light. She is smiling. And she is full of love. She is the long-haired, hazel eyed, cheerleader. She is joy. And my heart knows that even as she transitions to another place, she is not so different there than when she was here.

ETA: 3 hours after writing this blog, my best friend died. I wanted to say she 'transitioned' or she 'passed' or any of those other euphemisms, but her body simply gave out. Her spirit did not.