Shadow’s Fight for Death

The funny thing about writing a blog that just makes me gut laugh is that sometimes, when I have had a few too many Blue Moon adult beverages, I write things, publish them, and forget what I wrote. That leads to questions from family members or coworkers who literally freak me out for at least ten seconds, a long ten seconds, like eternity, when I am trying to remember how they saw me dancing on a front porch, or how I could forget telling them such a private detail about Clyde. Then that ten seconds is followed by the ten second recognition they actually read something I wrote and remembered it, even more than I did, so they were reminding me of my own self forgetting what I remembered.
Then I hug them for feeling so overwhelmed they actually read my blog.
Then they don’t know why I am hugging them, which makes me laugh harder.
Then there are times I write long soul crushing love letters, with someone so specific, so especially crafted in my mind, I am certain they will know I am writing to them and about them, so I wait and wait for a response.
And nothing happens.
Then there was tonight. I am bursting at the seams with creative expression, with so many thoughts and ideas flowing and competing, and for the life of me, even in the shower, I can’t get them out of my head.
So, divorcee made salmon, my personal favorite, and I think I followed him around talking all night, like I had ten red bulls, and this is rare for us, mainly because we live our separate lives, collaborating about the kids quickly, always on the go. I realized at one point, he was brushing his teeth with the door shut, while I was still talking, about my epiphanies, about Operation Rob, about detailed adventures involving my palm being read, a community I thought was coming my way, my intuition guiding me stronger than I had ever experienced. I think I brought up his grandfather and my dear friend who both died today. The same day! Could he believe it?
His response was so him, so monotone and matter of fact.
“I always know when you haven’t been writing.” he said, in between brush strokes, the door now open, me following him into the kitchen to clean, still chattering.
It made me laugh because it is so true. Writing balances me with strange certainty, releasing me from some imbalanced process, and when I don’t write when I need to be, I am on fire, all over the place, and sometimes, he loves it. Sometimes it annoys the shit out of him. But, he made a great point.
So I tell you tonight that my dearest love Shad, short for Shadow actually, was so thrilled to leave this earth plane, free of the intense pain over 30 surgeries, her son dying only two years earlier, a guy my age. Last time I saw her she had been joyfully writing her funeral, with a big pen with a flower on it, her eccentric little self all snug in her wheel chair, tubes tied into her body.
I asked her what she was doing.
“Writing my speech for my funeral, dear.” She said it like she were buying plane tickets to the Bahamas.
Her oxygen would make a pumping noise, while she would take a deep breath, sigh, and then go back to her writing, with that ridiculous pen, a flower so gigantic because she truly would lose it. If I could have anything that belonged to her, it would be that pen. I think I am scatterbrained enough to have earned it.
“Shad, do you really want to go, like really?” I asked like it were a question, even though my heart knew the answer.
“Oh, dear. They just wont let me go, you know?”
She nodded in the direction of the living room, her husband obsessed with her blood levels, always on the phone with doctors and pharmacists, at least when I visited.
I have known her to be in my lifetime the most free spirited woman I have ever met, ever, and it was a sad sweet pleasure to sit next to her as she pulled out memory books of pages and pages of adventures. I saw big happy hilarious groups of people dressed for Halloween, only all year round, and she would moan and sigh, and remember, her smile as big as her memory.
Then, she would come to the present, tap her cane angrily, and say, “I don’t like living like this. This is not living.”
Her husband would enter, put a straw into her mouth to drink, all the while, she rolled her eyes at me watching him, as if to say, “See what I live with?” She hated she couldn’t go out in her garden, or to her national conferences, where she would study Native American Spirituality, always pointing out her collection of feathers and drums she had once collected. She said she had been part of a group of women, who would dress up in Native American attire when her kids were young, get drunk, and laugh their asses off, the one night a week they had to release and have some fun, all the while, watching each other go through divorce, death, depression, and illness. She said nothing kept her from having fun, that I know for a fact to be true, as she sat in front of me, writing her funeral.
I had never known one to do such a thing so I sat on the bed, one of her cats surprising me by jumping and lying across my back, while I asked her questions.
“Shad, what are you writing?”
She would smile so brightly and read it like a song, a joyful little song about what saddened me terribly, and I knew she sensed this, so she stopped reading.
“Why are you not finishing?” I asked, aware she saw me hurting, but I thought I could bullshit her.
You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.
She put my hand on my knee. “Dear, I live hour to hour in excruciating pain, misdiagnosed and mistreated, all the while shuffled from doctor to doctor all because my husband cannot face the pain of what is inevitable, to us all, to himself.”
“But, he loves you so much, Shad. What if he didn’t care? How can it be wrong to be so loved?”
She patted me. “Honey. When you lose your son like I did when he was in his 20s, when you hurt so bad all in your body you don’t know how to breathe correctly, when you can’t even look to see if the tomatoes you planted are ripe…” She stopped in that thought, and I saw my dear friend. I saw her.
“Shad, he is keeping you alive because this is not love, but him being selfish? Is that what you really think?”
She put her flower pen on her lap, folded her paper, and leaned back, pumping air into her nose. She breathed for awhile. “Yes, my dear. No way around truth, I suppose. I want to go, and I need to, but he is too selfish or brave to let me.” She shook her head angrily.
I leaned in, wiping tears, seeing this moment he was missing, her joyful little funeral song, because he was sorting pills, propping up pillows, roaming the hall on the phone, and I saw her point. He didn’t talk to her, engage with the life she had right now, escaping into the illness had filled something in him, like it had given him purpose.
“Shad, I want to tell you something.” I felt my heart bursting out of my chest it was beating so fast.
“Yes, dear?”
“I want to plan that funeral right now. Lets discuss the songs, the quirky way you want to have your ashes, the people you want to come,” and she laughed so hard as I wrote her eulogy for the paper, clearly inappropriate and exactly how she felt. There would be dancing, candles, and her memory books, and she would pop in to make some kind of scene, and I didn’t give a damn he told us to stop that nonsense, that she wasn’t dying, because I only wanted to see her laugh, with her silly pen waving in the air, making a point to show her enthusiasm and rebellion.
“Shad, you know I’m not coming, right?” I said softly.
She looked up, curious, and I explained that nothing on that piece of paper would be allowed at the funeral, that my heart would break seeing all her requests overruled by him, that there would be crying, and people consoling him, and I couldn’t stomach it. I wanted to see her death through her eyes, and I knew all that was nonsense to her.
“Thank you, love.” She held my hand. Her eyes brightened. “Light me a candle, okay? Light a big white candle and imagine me laughing harder than today, dancing in my garden, holding my son…” Then, right before this thought would begin to turn into a cry, her husband said it was time now for me to go, that Shad needed to rest. When he wheeled her around, the last memory I have was my dear friend, all hooked up to oxygen and strapped into her own personal hell, with one little finger up.
She was shooting him the bird, behind his back at me.
I almost wet myself in that hilarious moment, only Shad, so weak she could barely sit up, would use her energy to shoot a bird, her eyes mocking with the last unspoken rebellion, while I responded by pressing my hands to my lips, blowing her a silent joyful kiss.
I remember it made her giggle.
That was several months ago, the very last time I saw her.
I got a text today that said she had passed and that “The Viewing” would be Thursday, to all who had questions to please call his cell phone directly, her phone being turned off permanently. I remembered she had said cremation was her most important request. I read it in the car, while running in to Target for a quick errand, and I laid back, closed my eyes, waited for the pain and the tears, but I felt nothing. It was nothing, then it felt something like laughter, and then compassion, my thoughts of how much more she had endured since I last visited before she passed.
She would be the only woman on the planet as passionate about dying as she was about living. She had no patience for us living people with our nonsense fear of death holding her back. I refuse to be selfish about letting her go, the only gift I feel I have to give was her true voice, her story of what being let go meant for her. I want her to know I saw her, and I heard. I listened and maybe I can’t make a circus act appear with Celine Dion on front stage with all her friends blowing bubbles and cheering her on to heaven, to her son, but I certainly can tell her story.
I am going to light her a candle now, before I sleep, and let it burn through to the end, but first, let me tell you a little secret. In the car today, when I first got the news, I was feeling feisty and a wave of exhilaration hit me, so I gave her a shout out, and shot both my middle fingers into the sky, just for her.
The white car in front of me didn’t even notice, or respond, and I thought to myself, “So what?”
Sometimes shooting a middle finger means we just might be alive, in the moment, angry and rebellious, and as this feeling will pass, I will go tomorrow and make my own flower pen.
I want to make it even bigger than the one she had, a symbol no longer about a pen, but about missing her.
I think she would like that.
I love you Shadow. You changed my life, told me the truth anyways when I refused to know, told me to get off my ass and be brave for my girls. Your joy touched me and I am forever changed for knowing you and I promise this.
If anyone shoots me a bird, I will look up the sky and shake my fist, laughing, knowing you are dancing in the light, smelling your ripe tomatoes, walking into the arms of your son. You my love, are finally free.

One thought on “Shadow’s Fight for Death

  1. Your friend sounded like a witty, spunky, and wonderfull woman. I love that she flicked off her husband in a last minute rebellion, which seemed like she was rebelling against living anymore. Also i thouroughly enjoyed your personal memorial of giving her the bird and laughing in pure bliss and accepting that she is where she wants to be now, with her son. Your honesty gets me everythime, please never stop writing!

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