Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shared Spirit / Parting Gifts

This is a Re-Posting, by request:
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I used to be on the writing staff of a blog called Our Big Gayborhood I wrote a piece about Cindy, But that blog is no longer online, so I couldn’t send you a link – I have the document in my archive.

My relationship with Cindy is unique there is shared spirit, shared knowing that isn’t really explainable, and an ability to feel what the other is feeling.  That sounds – and is wonderful, but wonderful… isn’t all it ever is.

When I was eight years old, I received an unexpected gift.  Her name was Cindy.  My Aunt June had passed away 2 years previous.  When Uncle Les married Aunt Arlene, Cindy and her brother John, joined our family. Cindy and I were the same age. From our first meeting, we just clicked.  It didn’t take long before we were co-spirits. Cindy had five brothers, no sisters and always wanted one. Although my given name is Linda, and am Lynn to my family and friends… Cindy dubbed me “Lindy” creating the dynamic duo of “Lindy and Cindy.” No one before or since, has ever called me Lindy. As we grew up we remained confidants, co-conspirators and to say we were close is such an understatement! We shared spirit. Our family had a tradition that amoung the three families of cousins, we could take turns staying in pairs at our Grandma’s house, but the rule was never could it be two from the same household.  It was always… Lindy and Cindy that paired up. During one such visit, we forgot to shut the back door and a blackbird got in the house.  Grandma chased that bird from curtain rod to windowsill, upstairs and down throughout the Chicago bungalow with a broom, as we laughed and we laughed and we laughed!  Normally our little Dutch Reformed Grandma was pretty reserved, but she was LIVID! She would quit the chase - every so often - long enough to chastise us - enunciating “ sit on that couch… it’s not FUNNY, stop LAUGHING” which only made the situation MORE hilarious – we collapsed against each other on the couch and just dissolved into each other’s laughter! For the remainder of our lives “remember the bird” was sure to reconstitute the moment and a guarantee a retelling of the tale.  When we were 15, my father died unexpectedly. When Mom remarried, my family moved to Indiana while Cindy’s family remained in suburban Chicagoland.  Even with the changing family dynamics, our bond was unchanged.  We stayed in close contact, but didn’t see each other as often as we would have liked.  This of course was before cell phones, before email… we would send each other long letters, or silly cards and clippings, sometimes just one or two liners, quoting favourite lyrics, usually the Beatles.

As we reached adulthood, we were there for each other through marriage, Motherhood and divorce, through celebration and despair. Cindy was there for me through the devastating loss of my Mother, and called me every December 27th to give me a long distance hug and let me know that it mattered to her that I was hurting that day.  I was there, when her beloved brother Butch died of AIDS.  When Cindy’s son Zach got into a little bit of trouble, she made the difficult choice to send him to live with his Dad, because she felt Zach needed a male influence… she thought she would just die without him at her side each day. I stood with her and we breathed together and cried together and tried to figure out the next right thing to do.  When I divorced and later came out, Cindy was by my side and she embraced Jen as if she had always been in my life. That is who she is in her innermost being.  This is who we are.

There would be days… that one or the other would just stop – in our tracks “Oh! Gotta call Lindy / Cindy – she needs me!” and we would – and it was a lifeline moment.  One of those moments November 2005, I was furiously packing for an emergency trip to California – my son Josh had been in a horrible accident and I had planned to call Cindy from the airport. She called with “what’s going on… is Josh okay?”  I nearly lost my son to that accident, and Cindy was an amazing source of support. That is who we have always been to each other.

Cindy’s hadn’t been feeling herself for some time, but had kept it from me because of Josh’s situation… she continued to work full time at a low paying job with no health care benefits. Uncle Les had a sudden stroke in December 2005, and although she was increasingly certain that something was amiss with her own health, postponed pursuing answers because in her words “this is Dad’s time.” At the funeral, I made her promise she would go to the doctor.  One look told me things were not right with my Cindy. When the dust had settled after the funeral, she went.  I remember the call, and hearing her tell me “it’s ovarian cancer Lindy, stage 3, they need to do surgery, then I need to get on public assistance. I don’t have any insurance and the treatments are really expensive.” Cindy employed the tenacity of a bulldog and the patience of a Saint cutting through the bureaucratic bullshit, and she got it all arranged. I prayed for insight and skill on the part of the doctors, for energy and healing for Cindy, and for an understanding of what I could do to help her.

After the surgery, while she recovered, we talked constantly, and I took on a new role.  She turned to me to research treatments that were being proposed.  Cindy didn’t have a computer and proclaimed herself to be technologically illiterate. It was easier for her to have me find stuff and funnel it to her.  So when the doctors would propose a new chemo cocktail, she’d get the names of the drugs and call me.  I’d search out the most accurate and up-to-date information I could find and get it to her via fax or snail mail. It helped her to know what to expect going into her treatments.  It helped me to feel like I was helping her walk this difficult path in some way.  Cindy confided in me how long and boring the infusion sessions were.  I offered an iPod, but Cindy thought it sounded complicated, so I bought her a personal CD player and commenced making CDs of music that she liked to help her pass the time.  I combed by digital collection for songs that spoke of life and love, songs from the profound to the silly.  I compiled an assortment of musical journeys to help her pass the time and to help her feel my presence during her treatments. 

Over the course of three years, hope waxed and waned. What a blessed gift the summer of 2008 was! Cindy got to share some great adventures with her son Zach, even tooling around on Zach’s bike a time or two.  She LIVED for that boy, that they had this wonderful time together was so awesome!  She was feeling good, and her counts were in a good place. My prayers at this time were those of thanks for the healing and the good times Cindy was experiencing with her son.  Zachary was her life, she would move Heaven and Earth for him.

From the time of her diagnosis, Cindy asked me to be there for her.  “You’ll know what I need, when I need it… you always do” she said.  Although I sure didn’t always feel like I knew, looking at it now, I suppose I did. As various treatments did not bring about the result we all prayed for, she called on me again.  “Lindy” she said “I can’t talk to Zach about this – I don’t want to hurt him any deeper, and I don’t want him to worry, and I don’t want him to feel he has to come home!”  Zach was in Austria as part of a prestigious international education program.  She continued “I can’t talk to Bill (her fiancé), I can’t talk to Mom… they won’t LET me talk about death, and I really, really need to, can you come?” We made a date and I went.  Driving to Chicago I prayed, I asked for Cindy to be blessed with healing, but if that was not gunna happen, I prayed for more good days than bad, and minimal pain. I prayed for days of sunshine, and the physical ability to be out amoung her flowers. When I got there, we talked about death, we talked about fear, we talked about faith, and we talked about love.  She asked me to help with some household chores, changing throw rugs, and scooping the cat boxes and stuff, and then she asked me to do a very difficult thing.  Cindy asked me to help her get out her jewelry boxes, and to pick out something for myself.  Inside I was screaming, part of me wanted to run from that apartment, get in my car and drive far away from all of it!  But that was not what she needed; so we went into her room, laid stuff out on the bed and lounged around together as we picked out a turquoise and coral ring that she called “twisted sister.”  She said “Look Lindy, I’m the turquoise, you’re the coral, and we are all twisted together.”  We hugged and we cried and cried. She said she was going to wear it for a while, load it up with her energy, and then tag it for me.  I assured her that I was in NO hurry and we laughed.  We actually laughed… in relief I think, that even this… could not keep us from being the giggle twins that you see in the picture.  Then she asked me to look at what she had picked out as her funeral clothes. [internal scream “RUN – run from this place!”]  She held up the swirled blue and green skirt and made it swish.  “I always felt like a butterfly in this, I know it’s too big now, but they’ll make it work.” I told her it was beautiful and perfect.  We put everything away, and went to grab some lunch.  She was exhausted by that point in the day, but wanted to get out into the sunshine and fresh air, so we hit the drive thru at Taco Bell.  I will carry, all of my days the spirit memory of her leaning over as we waited in line to pay and go, and saying “Thank you for today – for always being my Lindy. I’ll ALWAYS be with you Lindy!” 

Over the next several weeks Cindy’s condition continued to deteriorate.  We talked on the phone often and Jen and I went to see her at the hospital.  “I’m so scared Lindy” she whispered as I hugged her.  She didn’t want her Mom, my Aunt Arlene who was sitting at the foot of the bed, to hear. “Me too Cindy” I replied.  We held each other and cried so hard we shook.  Aunt Arlene said “what are you girls laughing about NOW” which did make us laugh and we cried in unison “the BIRD!”   Hospice came in and Cindy went home.  She wanted to be at home amoung her flowers, and with her beloved Bill, and with her cats.  In those last days, Cindy and Bill exchanged vows; they were never able to marry. Bill was self-employed, with no benefits, but his income would have made Cindy ineligible for the assistance that paid for her treatments and for hospice care. 

One Tuesday afternoon Cindy called with an update.  She said that the hospice nurse was concerned about her rapid weight loss. “I’m a stick, Lindy, and I hurt so bad.  I’m just so scared Lindy, don’t tell Bill I said that, he worries so much as it is.  They’re going to try a different medication to help with the pain, so give me a day to let that kick in, then call me on Thursday… we’ll schedule a visit.  You give Jen a big hug for me and tell her I love her for making you so happy… I love you Lindy!” I told her that I loved her and assured her that I would call on Thursday.  My prayers shifted again.  I prayed for it to be over, for her suffering to end.  I asked our Divine Beloved to take my Cindy home.  I felt like a shit to be praying that… but it seemed to be what she needed and I had run out of prayers.  I called again on Thursday evening – I was on my way home from teaching a night class – I often called on the drive home.  Bill answered. I was alone in the car, on my cell and driving. I asked him how he was, he mumbled something I couldn’t even make out.  I asked “hey is Cindy awake, can I talk to her?” “Honey, Cindy’s gone, she died this morning” he blurted out. “I’ve been on the phone all day, I thought Mom called you” was his reply. That call on May 28, 2009 changed my life. 

I don’t remember the rest of the drive home. I could have been teleported home for all I know.  When I walked in the door, Jen took one look at me and knew something was wrong.  I told her about the call and we clung to each other as we each poured out our grief.  When I walked into the funeral home a few days later, Aunt Arlene accosted me, and said “I have something for you, Cindy made me come and get it near the end – it was SO important to her, if I forget to give it to you, she’ll kick my ass!”  It was of course, the twisted sister, with a little paper tag hanging from it that simply said “Lindy.”

I had bariatric surgery 3 days after we said Toksa Ake (until next time) to my dear co-spirit. This pic is from one of our last visits, Cindy was very sick, so was I, just differently so. When I admitted to the hospital they asked how I was doing, the usual questions. I didn't tell them I was emotionally and spiritually devastated. I didn't want any of my medical team to think I was too unstable for the surgery. I realize now that the buttoning up I did at that time was not without repercussions. Of course I grieved for Cindy in those first days, I mourned my loss, I cried and I wailed, I wrote and I raged right up until the morning of surgery, but then I had to just bottle it all up and put it AWAY, at least until I came home. Once I was home, it hit me hard! My loss, the endless well of grief related to her passing, the feeling of having part of my spirit yanked out – were not great tools for healing from major surgery.

All of those emotions are still.right.there.

There are times that I cannot make my brain REALLY comprehend that a world exists without Cindy's physical self in it. It hurts my heart... daily. At the most unpredictable times, it just wells up and bubbles over and leaves me as hollowed out as a jack-o-lantern.

I cherish the twisted sister, and have it on always, but the gift I cherish more is the gift of walking alongside Cindy as she faced her biggest challenge, and helped her meet her death, on HER terms.  That is a rare and precious thing, and a thing that changes those who walk that path… forever.

When I lost Cindy, something deep, something of me, was ripped loose and just flew away with her.

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night.  Take these broken wings and learn to fly.  All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

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