I avoid the phone. I know this sounds terrible. People are calling to ask how I am and I should answer, but I have no answers, at least not ones they want to hear or one that I’m comfortable talking about. I am Humpty Dumpty, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men…
It’s funny really, Bill could fix anything. Give him some Elmer’s glue and he was on it. Once he broke our toilet with a snake while trying to unclog it. I’m sure one of the kids flushed something down it. I heard some magnificent swearing coming from the bathroom and went in to find a gaping hole in the front curve of the bowl and Bill holding a piece about 6-8 inches in diameter.
“Holy crap, how did that happen?” I cried. “We can’t afford a new toilet.”
“Don’t panic. I can fix this,” he promised. And he did fix it, with Elmer’s glue after taking it off and drying it good. Then he glued it and put one of those big clamp-on lights shining directly on it until it dried.
“It’ll never hold,” I scoffed. It did hold, in fact I don’t think we ever replaced it and eventually we moved.
The kids thought their daddy could fix anything and because of that I had a hard time explaining death. When Jeremy stuck a spoon into an electric outlet and shocked himself good, turning the spoon and part of his fingers black I told them how dangerous it was and how he could have been killed. He didn’t believe me. “My daddy can fix anything.”
When B.J. cut the 220 dryer cord in half with a pair of pliers, blowing every breaker in the house I was terrified, sure I’d find him dead after hearing him scream from the back room. He was all right. Thank God he chose a pair of rubber gripped pliers or he would have been killed. I had the death conversation with him again. His reply, “Don’t worry mom, my daddy can fix anything.”
I don’t think they began to understand the permanency of death until we lost a puppy. This stray had a death wish of his own. He was cute as a button and constantly getting into trouble. He got tangled in a fishing pole and hooked snooping around the shed. Another day I was carrying groceries into the house and a bag ripped. A glass jar of baby food went crashing to the stone steps and before I could set the bag down, the puppy was on it, licking the food and glass while I hollered my head off.
Finally one day Bill stopped on his way back from a call with the firetruck. I don’t remember what he wanted to tell me or pick up but he pulled the truck in the yard and came inside. Of course all the kids wanted to get close to it and did. The puppy did too, crawling under the truck and laying down behind a tire. When Bill went out he counted heads and waved the kids back. He never knew the puppy was under the truck and when he pushed in the clutch to start the truck he rolled back and over the puppy.
The poor thing died instantly. Bill felt horrible and of course the kids, neighbor kids and I were all screaming. “There,” I said,crying my eyes out, “that’s dead and daddy can’t fix it. Do you understand now that some things can’t be fixed?”
It was a hard lesson. I’ve never forgotten it and I’m pretty sure the kids haven’t either. Bill went and got a shovel and buried the dog out back. The kids had a suitable funeral and made a marker. In a way I felt bad for them. They suddenly realized their father was not invincible. He was not a superhero who could turn the world backwards like Superman to avoid disasters. On the other hand I was relieved that now when I said not to do something dangerous I had a chance they would listen to me, at least until they were teenagers and knew everything, not to mention being immortal.
Despite that early lesson as time passed and they grew into adults with children of their own, they always turned to their father for advice and help. I was the finance person. If they called for money he would always say, “Ask your mother.” Anything else was his department. He could diagnose car problems over the phone from thousands of mile away.
“Take the phone outside and let me listen to the motor,” he’d say. Just by the sound he often knew what the problem was. He talked my brother-in-law, not a mechanic by any means, through changing his own brakes, step by step from three thousand miles away.
When the internet became a big deal I wanted him to start a business. I figured there were so many people who needed to learn to make small repairs to their vehicles and he had a wealth of information and the patience of a saint. (Most of the time) How many times have you wished you knew a mechanic you could call for advice? He would have made a fortune, but he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t particularly fond of talking on the phone and he said between working his regular job and taking care of me, the kids, his family, he didn’t have time. He was probably right.
I guess where I’m going with this is that some things cannot be fixed, even by the most patient person with the best glue in the world. My heart is one of these things. Shortly before she died a little over a week ago, (another heartbreaker), I talked for the last time with my dear friend, Jan Pereira. I told her that I was sort of checking off milestones. Get through our anniversary. Get through Thanksgiving. Get through Christmas, etc. So far it wasn’t working. Yes I might make it through the day or event, but as soon as it was over I was right back where I started. Here’s what she said to me:
“You’ll never get through it. It doesn’t go away; it’s forever so stop trying so hard. Most people survive it, some don’t, but most do and you will too. The grief will never leave you, it’s part of you now. You can’t escape it; only keep yourself busy if you can. In time you may go a day without crying, but you will never stop missing him so badly you want to die.”
Jan was dying, soon. She’d been dying since the day I met her. Right up front she said, “I love your books. Hurry up and write another, I don’t have a lot of time.”
We bonded instantly. My mother died of what was killing Jan. Her husband died and I was living in fear of losing Bill. We had a lot in common and she was such a ‘real’ person, I could tell her anything. I listened to her fears, regrets and let her talk to me about her coming death. My regrets were that when my mother was dying, we didn’t talk about it, not really. We both knew how limited her time was, yet I was in my bed crying and she in hers. We didn’t want to make it worse on each other.
Jan helped me heal from that. She was in the same place my mother had been. She didn’t want to burden her children and make it worse for them, so she talked to me. By taking with and listening to Jan I was finally able to forgive myself for keeping all my pain to myself. I was able to let it go.
Jan was a remarkable person who always made me laugh. Often we would laugh and cry at the same time. She flew in to visit us for a weekend and I tried to come up with interesting places to take her.
“No,” she said. “I came to see you, to spend time with you. I don’t care about any of that other stuff. Show me your office. Tell me how you think up all these stories. I want to get inside your head.”
So we ate takeout, talked and talked and watched Frozen with my granddaughter. I was so sorry to see her leave when the weekend was over and regret how long it took me to repay the visit. I never made it to her house until shortly before she died. I’m so glad I went. At our last conversation I asked her to find Bill when she got to heaven and tell him to come and see me.
“I will if I can,” she replied.
“I want you to come to me too,” I said, hugging her gently. “Tell me how I’ll know it’s you.”
“You’ll feel a breeze across your cheek, as though I’ve kissed you,” she promised.
God, how much can hearts take?
I remember rushing to finish, The O’Malley Brides with her nipping at my heels, lol. It turned out she lived through 10 more books, but she never stopped using her approaching death to hurry me along. Once she asked me why authors used such awful names now.
“Why don’t they use normal names so women can pretend to be the character?” she asked. “If I don’t like the name, I just change it in my head to something I do like. Then I call them what I like as I read along.”
“What names do you like, Jan?” I asked her. “Want me to write a book and name the characters Jan and Kenny?”
“God no,” she laughed. “At least not until after I’m dead. I like Cheryl,” she answered.
“Okay, I’m going to write a book and name the heroine, Cheryl.” And I did.
Near the end she wanted me to send her something new I’d written. I hadn’t been writing much. The story about Maeve and Sean O’Malley, Kiss Me O’Malley, had sort of been on hold. It’s hard writing romance when you’ve drowning in grief. She asked me to send her what I’d written. She didn’t care if it wasn’t finished, so I did.
When we went to visit her she’d had trouble downloading it and my daughter Cathy managed to get it on her Nook. She said she was going to read it, but she never did. The pain meds worked to keep her as free from pain as possible, but they also made her groggy and she couldn’t read.
That last visit I told her I wanted to write a book about us, two women who met by chance on the internet and became the very best of friends. I wanted to know if she had any objections. I have hundreds of emails and messages and someday I hoped to put them into a book.
In typical Jan fashion she replied, “What do I care, I’ll be dead.” Then she laughed. Lord, she was so brutally, refreshingly honest about everything. That is a rare quality in anyone. I’m truly missing her.
She told me that eventually she’d see me in heaven. She and Kenny and Bill and I will be great friends and stay in a beach house. I looked at us and sort of snorted.
“Don't worry, we’ll be 30, and hot,” she promised me. “We can cause lots of trouble.”
It’s one of the rare things I’m looking forward to.