Eric’s aunt died on Friday afternoon in Los Angeles. She had been ill for a long time and had rallied countless times throughout her life after her doctors told her to ‘call the family’. I didn’t know Margie very well, but I had gotten to spend time with her a few times and I have heard many stories from Eric and Ruth (Eric’s mom) and the rest of the family. For Eric, Margie was the aunt who was unconditionally accepting and loving, kind, funny, and excited to hear about what he was doing and ready to be enthusiastic and supportive. Eric and I visited Margie and her husband, Gary, in LA in 2006 after I graduated from college and Eric and I took a 6 week road trip around the country. We started in Seattle, drove down the west coast on the 101 (mostly) to LA and then through the Southwest over to North Carolina, up to visit my family in Pittsburgh, then back across the northern route–through North Dakota, Montana, Idaho–back to Seattle. It was an absolutely amazing trip and visiting Margie and Gary in LA was one of the highlights. I was struck by how warm and welcoming Margie and Gary were. I also loved Margie’s ‘no-bullshit’ attitude. I remember I was sharing with her my anxiety about driving and car accidents and she said, ”You know, Katie, it’s just about hedging your bets. We do the best we can to be safe when we drive and that’s all we can do. Hedge our bets.”
When we were getting ready to leave LA to head east through Arizona and New Mexico, Margie asked where were headed first. We said, “Joshua Tree National Park!”
Margie was shocked. “Oh God! Why would you ever go to Joshua Tree?! That’s a miserable place! Joshua Tree?! Don’t go to Joshua Tree! Go to Disneyland!”
I mentioned that I had never been to Disneyland. That made her even more appalled and she said, “Go, right now! I’ll treat you both to Disneyland for the day! You have to go, you just have to go!”
We didn’t go to Disneyland (I’ve still never been to Disneyland or Disneyworld). We went to Joshua Tree. And you know, it was kind of miserable. 114 F with no shade in sight. Joshua trees, it turns out, don’t provide much shade. Of course, it was beautiful and breathtaking in the way desert landscapes are… But it was not the kind of place you would want to hang out for long periods of time. Or even longer than five minutes.
Even though Margie’s death wasn’t a surprise to anyone who knew her, I think death always comes as a surprise as we realize that, quite suddenly, the person who was there in the world one moment is not there the next. This realization is profoundly shocking. Especially with those in our lives who are terminally ill, we get consumed at the end with their suffering and the knowledge that death is coming, and trying to be there for them in whatever ways we can be. But I think it’s not until they’re actually dead that we realize that death means they’re gone and we don’t get to see them anymore.
When I was 15, Barb (who lived on the third floor of our house and was a third parent to both me and Lucy for our whole lives) died after a long battle with failed kidney transplants, dialysis, etc. We knew it was coming (for years, really) and spent a week after she stopped dialysis surrounding her with the people and foods she loved before she died. I had known it was coming and yet, when I got home the next day and the day after that and the day after that, and went to tell her the latest gossip from my day at school, and realized that she wasn’t there—that was the worst part of losing her. Yes, there were the big moments in my life—like my wedding, graduations, etc—where I thought, “I wish Barb were here.” But it’s the little day-to-day moments, even today—when I think, ”I’ve got to tell Barb that, she would think that was hilarious.” And then I remember that she’s not in the world any more, and all I can think is, “Oh.”
I know this is what it must be like for the people closest to Margie. For Gary to go to bed alone and wake up every morning without her. For Ruth to try to call her big sister as she did for a lifetime and realize she can’t. For Margie’s kids to want to be with their mom and not be able to…These are the shittiest things about death.
Eric and Ruth and Chuck (her husband) went to LA on Saturday for Margie’s funeral and I held down the fort here. Mally (Ruth and Chuck’s dog) is Maizy’s best friend, so he came to stay at our house and I went over to Ruth’s house in the mornings and evenings to feed and love up their cats and chickens. Eric came back to Seattle on Sunday so he could go to work on Monday, but Ruth and Chuck stayed until today. Before I picked them up from the airport, I made lunch for my dear friend Karen. I’ve been feeling incredibly unmotivated in the kitchen lately (hence the absence of recipes) and just decided to get some premade lunch items for us to eat at Whole Foods. I got some rapini cooked with garlic, a black quinoa mango salad, and I toasted up some bread with hummus, cucumber and avocado:
For dessert, I cut up fruit in a bowl for each of us–strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and some (under-ripe) kiwis and we had tea. Back when Karen made the egg salad sandwich lunch for us at her house, we decided we were going to be “ladies who lunch”. I didn’t have it in me to make up a fantastic recipe like the egg salad sandwiches, but the Whole Foods lunch sufficed. While we were sitting there eating our bowls of fruit, Karen commented on how nice it is to have a bowl of fruit prepared for you. She said that she always had fruit in the house for her son, Oliver, but that she rarely prepared a nice bowl of it for herself. For her, it was a real treat—a luxury—to be given a bowl of cut fruit to eat.
After lunch with Karen, when I picked Ruth and Chuck up from the airport, Ruth got in the car, burst into tears and said, “Thank you for picking us up…I think I really just need some nurturing.”
Of course she needs some nurturing. She’s just begun one of the hardest, shittiest journeys—having just lost someone you love and getting ready to be reminded at the most random times that she’s gone. Sometimes we need someone to pick us up from the airport even though we can take the light rail. Sometimes we need to sit on the couch and cry in front of Grey’s Anatomy. Sometimes we need a hug or a late night phone conversation with a friend. Sometimes we need to be reminded that someone knows exactly what we’re going through. And sometimes, we all just need a bowl of cut fruit.