Angie’s entire being refused to think she would succumb to her cancer so during our walks we never talked about the potential of her dying. But I shared stories of visitations I had experienced from family members who had passed away; visitations I could never have conjured up. My experiences made me feel there must be something else beyond this physical reality in which we now exist. Angie was wide open to that possibility and we held it within us like a small flame.
Because Angie was thriving we all believed she would pull through. But this August Angie’s body took a turn for the worse. Her days became riddled with migraines, seizures, and nausea. She went in and out of the hospital and clinic. Nothing medical or alternative eased her suffering and Angie began to disappear from all of us.
Sue and Jeff opened their home to us, assuring us there was "no need to knock" - just come in and sit with Angie whenever we wanted. We were grateful to be embraced so lovingly and we took them up on it. I walked across the bunchgrass early in the morning in my PJs and maneuvered through it with a headlamp late at night. As Angie grew more distant, Sue and I grew closer, talking together at Angie's bedside while her kitties were piled up on top of her and Kali lay nearby, always within sight. For days family and friends came in force. All of our loving gestures for Angie were also a salve for our fears. After everyone had come to see her, Angie passed away with Sue, Jeff, and her brother by her side.
Early the next morning I had to meet with a Social Security representative in Missoula. I hadn't slept well and was reeling from Angie's death, but decided to go anyway. The man who met with me had a small poster pinned to his wall that stated “We are spiritual beings experiencing a physical reality.” I couldn't help but smile. What are the chances that I would see those words at a random meeting in the Social Security Office? It felt like Angie was affirming that indeed there was more than this physical reality we embrace so passionately. As I left the office I told the man I had just lost someone dear to me and thanked him for those words.
Now Sue and I walk together with Kali and Lily. I am a mother myself and agonize at the thought of losing my child, so I can imagine Sue’s despair. Every parent can. But my empathy doesn’t come close to the pain Sue is experiencing. Sue not only lost her daughter, she lost her best friend. The void and sadness she and her family are experiencing is unfathomable.
As we walk together Sue’s grief takes voice. Joyful memories pulse up through her despair like sunbeams bursting through clouds. Bittersweet moments. My heart vibrates in kind and we slip into Angie Time - the only way to make it through.
Thank you Angie for enriching our lives and for modeling how best to live it. We love you and miss you dearly and will do whatever we can to support your family.
The world that our Montana winter suspended for the past five months is coming back to life. On my walk with Lily today I heard varied thrush, robins, and juncos singing in the treetops and Canada geese honking above us as they flew to the pond. It was delightful hearing bird music again.
Friends of mine who live in the lower elevation, ponderosa pine/grassland habitat have seen bluebirds. This means our bluebirds, who have claimed rights to the nest box on our deck the past two years, will soon return. We have also heard that the bears are out of their dens so sadly, we must wean the chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers of their sunflower seed and suet diet and pull the feeders in so we don't attract the bears.
Ever since Mom died, feeding her birds and watering her houseplants has been one way in which I connect with her. So this past Friday, which marked the year anniversary of her passing, I fed and watered those beings with a little more fanfare. I swear the little nasturtium "vine" that germinated in one of Mom's houseplant pots last year is Mom reincarnate! It grew into a diminuitive, lanky plant with a three-foot-long stem no thicker than a shoelace - an unlikely form for a nasturtium. After Mom died it put out three remarkable blooms. The nasturtium's dime- and silver-dollar-sized leaves, which stayed green throughout our long winter, have remained plastered to the window as if willing the garden outside to flourish with life. This little plant's determination to experience beauty and light is so much like Mom's that I can't help but speak to it as I would speak to Mom.
Our winter was foreshortened this year and though we need more snow I, too, am willing the garden to turn green. I am ready for life. As the garden beds reappear from beneath the snows I have been planning Mom's flower garden - a promise I made to her. I ordered the seeds she picked out from last spring's flower catalogs and will start them inside. Then in June I will transplant the seedlings into "Mary's Montana Garden."
As time has passed I have felt Mom's absence more and more deeply - something I can't shake off and don't want to. When my emotions consume me and I wish I could bring Mom back, I am grateful that the flowers and birds are who help me feel connected with her. They don't question the rhythm of their lives. They simply live. They come and go, never remain static. As I watch them I can hear Mom say "That's the way it is. You might as well just accept it."
And so I will. I can't think of a more joyful way to feel close to Mom.