Maggie

The days are now passing quickly. An all too short summer is evolving into autumn. Leaves are starting to drop and every evening I crunch through them making my way home from the bus stop. I’m enjoying our annual Indian summer here in San Francisco. Most of the seasonal festivals have wrapped up. There’s still so much to enjoy before the predicted El Nino arrives.  In a few weeks time we will be celebrating Fleet Week, with the parade of ships through the Golden Gate, always sharing the spotlight with the Blue Angels. So majestic and always spectacular, reminding us that we too can dream and fly away.

My son, Casey, and I have always tried to celebrate his birthday in mid-September by boarding the Jeremiah
O’Brien, an old WW II vessel that hosts Brews on the Bay his birthday weekend every year. Good times. Casey has spread his wings now and moved on to explore his dreams. What every parent knows will come and  with both heartfelt pride and sorrow we send them off with God’s speed. He’ll do great. He’s a good one, Casey is. So full of talent, generosity and kindness.
Now there is one more empty place at the table. They’ve all spread their wings and made their lives, following their bliss. What an awesome group of kids these are! Kids, they’re all grown adults. I remember our dinners around the dining room table. Between the “you know I don’t like that, and we’re having this again? and Casey spit at me!” there was also much laughter and sharing and growing. Now only my plate remains and sometimes that is a bitter pill to take. Their places though stand ready to welcome them when they can come home, even if it is just for a moment. Pure joy. Somehow the memories of who won’t eat onions or mushrooms are fading, and what special mustard is required, or what free trade brand of coffee is best.

It all takes me back to when we moved to San Francisco so many years ago.  I had to register Casey for school. For some reason it was more than I could tolerate…I sobbed for hours. I can’t tell you why. I guess even then I wasn’t ready to let him go.

I was transitioning into being a single mother in those early days. At the elementary school, there was a group of women who were going through the same transition as I was. We bonded and became a network of support for each other. Picking kids up from school, feeding them, getting them where they needed to go. I know I would not have made it without their friendship and generosity.
Now, all these years later, only one of the group and I remain close. She and her family were angels of mercy as far as I’m concerned. Maggie’s parents were adopted grandparents for my children. I would drop the kids off early in the morning. They would feed them breakfast and get them to school on time.
“Grandpa” would pick up the little one and keep her safe. They enjoyed her and she them. “Grandpa” is gone now, lived well into his 90s. “Grandma” is 93 now, and although silenced by a stroke, her smile is as bright and electric as always.

Maggie and I have been through a lot together. Before I left for the East Coast several years back, she was generous enough to load into her car all the trash bags that wouldn’t fit in my bin and we drove around San Franciso filling other people’s trash cans with all of my stuff. What a hoot.
When I returned to San Francisco 3 years ago, Maggie was still here, as benevolent as ever, including me in family holidays and special occasions. She was my chauffeur after I totaled my car. She also introduced me to gambling, which I had never done before. What a splendid, horribly corrupt vice.

Last March Maggie fell and injured her hip. She had also been talking of some relentless neck pain that had been bothering her for a while. After the fall and a stint in the hospital she went to rehab for her leg and was able to go home for a while, but never really rallied.

In May, Maggie stopped answering her phone. Emails and texts went unanswered. I diligently tried to find her, but as time went on, my attempts became less frequent.  Her birthday was in July. I sent texts and called, but to no avail. I was frantic. I called mutual friends. They had not been able to reach her either. We decided that her privacy should be respected.

Maggie called me a week ago and asked me to come visit her. She gave me an address.

I found her in a nursing home, 50 pounds lighter. She, for whatever reason, had not felt comfortable sharing her journey until now.

One morning in late May she had awakened with loss of feeling and motor function in her arms and hands. She was taken to the Emergency room and she was diagnosed with Breast cancer with metastasis to the spine. Tumors were compressing her spinal cord. Radiation was started that very day, Chemo soon after. She was heavily medicated due to pain for over a month. She has little memory of what transpired. She had already been in the nursing home several weeks before she called me.

She now has better function in her arms, but still can’t lift heavy or awkward things. She is now able to use silverware.She cannot yet walk. She is coming to terms with how her life has changed and what her future looks like. She is fearful she will never go home again.

Everyday day there are highs and lows. Tears come easily for her.
We sit and talk about all the ridiculous things we’ve done together. We were young women together. She reminds me about the party our friend Cal had, and how I spent the night in the bathroom playing with his new bidet because I liked it so much. She loves that story.

Today I called her to tell her how, when I was at the ATM, a dog wrapped his leash around my legs and I fell flat on my face, right on Clement Street. How we laughed. I’ve always seemed to fall a lot. She says some things never change.

My dear friend, what can I say or do to let you know what a colorful and anchoring thread you have woven through the tapestry of my life..that I couldn’t have made it without you? Of all the challenges we face in this life, this has to be your greatest. I would gladly take some of the burden from you to help ease your pain. But I can’t. It’s not my time. I can
be with you though, right beside you to share in your hopes and dreams and fears.
You were once my lifeline. Now I can be a tether in yours. I will pray to our Dear Heavenly Father to lift you up with strength and love, to provide you with hope and comfort and thoughts of happy tomorrows.

People come and go in our lives, each weaving a bit of that tapestry. Some become frayed. Some seem to get stronger as the years go by. The topography of our lives is ours alone, being shaped by the earthquakes and mudslides inherent in being human. But the real stuff, the good stuff stays deep in our hearts to remind us of our connection to each other, how important we are, what blessings we are to each other. Thank God for old friendships, and new ones as well, for they will be old ones someday.
We can’t be human alone. The sweetness in life is, in part, our connection to those we hold close to our hearts.

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