My garden is end-of-season-neglected, but not because all the vegetables have been harvested.
I am not sure what I will find when I return to it, much like I was not sure what I would find when I sat last week in the front room of my friend J, who entered hospice three weeks ago.
Before that visit, she called me.
Hi, it’s Me. I’m really, really sick you know.
J, my dear–sick in the mind or sick in the body? Or sicker in both? Tee hee! Is there a prosecutable offense involved? Or lots of juicy drama?–
–Actually, the pulmonary fibrosis has progressed. A lot.
Oh. Well, you and I knew that would happen eventually.
At 74, I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be intubated again. I don’t want to be poked or prodded or in pain.
Your DNR orders and advance directives—we’ve made sure that won’t happen.
Oh, enough about me! What have you been up to?
J, I hiked a little mountain this weekend, Goodnow, near Santanoni. It took about three hours; the trail was full of tree roots and rocks. And then I went up the fire tower.
I don’t think I could do it, climb that mountain.
Not with your oxygen tank, no. But perhaps we could get one of those things you sit on, a litter, with the four guys, to carry you up.
Only if they are hunky.
Ok. And fancy tassels will hang off this, waddya call it, palanquin, that’s it! With soft pillows for you to recline on.
And a scarf! I want to wear a white scarf, flowing in the breeze. But wait, what about that dancer, who got strangled by her scarf? What was her name?
Isadora Duncan! Hmm. I will plan for a fifth guy, who will be there just to make sure the scarf swirls around artistically but doesn’t choke you.
How was it, the mountain?
You could see peaks all around for 360 degrees. The Adirondack lakes below were so cold and clear and blue. My knees were shaking while I climbed and then I was so scared of the heights I was growling like a wild animal to keep myself moving on the stairs! Hanging off the metal fire tower, that was perched on the rock, over those fall colored trees, up on the mountaintop–I was on the edge of the world.
Thanks for taking me there with you. But I’m going to lie down now.
Well, all right….I miss you. I love you.
I love and miss you too.
J, do you want me to come out to see you again?
Yes, please!….It’s been really good talking to you, but my memory is so bad, what if I forget what we said?
Well, are you enjoying yourself right now?
My side hurts from laughing.
All that matters is that we are talking. If you forget, I will remind you what we said. Or if I forget, we’ll do it all over again next time, and just laugh some more. Wow–I guess that’s what they mean by living in the moment. See you Tuesday.
Tuesday came, and I went for a week and lived in that space some call Kairos-Time, Meditation-Time, outside of our normal lives, in a place that is exhausting and sad, long and short. I was glad to be there to say good-bye.
For now, J is at home, and comfortable, resting in her palanquin of quilts. Her bearers, the many friends and family, come by to visit, waiting in her front room for the moments here and there when she is awake, to share their own memories of the hard climb, glimpses of silk scarves and long views of lakes.
While performing final blog-edits, I received word J passed away early this Friday morning.
So my dear friend has finished her own end-of-season harvest. It may have looked spare and imperfect to outsiders–that’s just the messy way fall in the garden is–but whatever was there had matured and grown somehow perfectly ripe, sweetened even, by the inevitable change of season. I’m grateful that, for eighteen years, we got to hang out together in this part of the garden.