But as Carol looked at me across the table, gentle-eyed and gaunt, I saw that my current stratagems would never see me along that other, harrowing path that I was trudging; the one that was leading me, inexorably, out of this life. If I wasn't doing so hot with a mere illness, how would I handle the slouching approach of death itself?
Honestly, I didn't know. I made a mental note: Talk more about this with Carol.
But within a week, she'd become too sick to leave home. A hospital bed was carted in. Hospice arrived. Each afternoon at four, her Buddhist sangha arrived to chant and pray in a semicircle around her. Conversations shrank to simple exchanges, and then a few words. Once, while sitting on Carol's bed and smoothing her hair, I said, "With you, I've been able to be myself." A smile lit her face, briefly. Nine weeks after our lunch date, she was dead.
Seven seasons have turned since then, and the hole in my heart is still ragged. But once in a while, unbidden, I flash on an image of Carol, just three days after receiving the most harrowing news of her life, punching her foot high in the air and showing off her new plaid sneakers. I'm still not sure how she managed that—how, smack in the midst of breathtaking loss, she'd grabbed onto that sweet spot on her circle, like some high-wire acrobat of the spirit. How she'd hung there for a long moment, swung over to grief, and then back to laughter once again, all in the space of a crab-cake lunch.
Even if there'd been time to ask, I'm guessing that Carol wouldn't have been able to explain quite how she mastered these moves, strenuous and brimming with grace. But she showed me this: I'd better start practicing.
Networker Features Editor Marian Sandmaier is the author of Original Kin: The Search for Connection among Adult Sisters and Brothers. She's written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Health, and Social Policy, She's also a professional book editor. Contact: email@example.com.
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