Last night I woke in the wee hours with the insistent drumbeat of two words thrumming in my head– Let Go, Let Go, Let Go. Let go of what, I found myself asking as I woke again far too early– one AM this time. On my better nights I make it to 4:00 or if I’m really lucky 4:30. Those hours of the night are good for doing a whole lot of thinking, or roaming into some dark terrain, which I call ‘white night’ wandering.
Mostly though, I’ve been relying on the comfort of books, while curled in the nest of blankets and pillows, window wide open to the night and its noises–the occasional car, the susurration of night breeze in leaves, the occasional hoot of an owl, or the cry of a distant fox. As it turns out, there is company to be had even at three o’ the clock. Sometimes if I can’t read another word, and I just long for sleep the way I long for a hearty meal these days, I’ll take some potion which opens that back gate into the Land of Nod. There are a variety of these–some prescribed, others truly in the realm of magical thinking, as though breathing in strange rhythms will take away my thoughts.
All my literary company has been in the pages of non-fiction books, settling in around a campfire with myth-tellers and manic depressives, with the yarn spinners and the slightly mad. As it turns out, they are tremendously good company. During the day I keep company with my own people- both the corporeal and the ones of imagination, though in truth I think the latter are very real too, and they sustain me in such wonderful ways. They have become another family to me, built through long years of acquaintance and love. I forget disease, I forget sorrow, I forget uncertainty and live in their world with all its sorrows, troubles, joys, love and beauty. They have been such a blessing and a sanctuary for me this last while.
Over these last few months, I have felt alone, not necessarily lonely, just alone. This journey now has a lot of uncertainty built into it, which is by turns, terrifying and exciting. Normally I am a person who has a very strong sense of self, even as a small child I did, maybe it was because I lived so deeply in my imaginative world (yes, even then) that I didn’t need too much of the constructs of the outer. I’m still that way, though being a rather hermit-y sort of person doesn’t make the journey of disease any easier.
It’s a strange time of life, feeling neither kith nor kin in some ways. Out of place, alone, uncertain. And yet, none of these things feels inherently negative, just a bit discombobulating with a strong sense of skinlessness, porousness, as though I have no shield between myself and the world- it pours through me–both the beautiful and the sad. Some days I’d like to be able to shut it out, but I don’t think that’s what this time of my life is meant for, so again I let go of what I think I want, and try to be with what is.
For the first couple of months after my diagnosis I felt haunted by my auntie. I now have the same disease which killed her. Of course then, no one knew what it was and there was no diagnosis for her until an autopsy was done. My aunt raised me for the first six years of my life, and I stayed with her and my uncle and cousin every holiday after that, and always for several weeks of my summer. Her home was home to me, that place where you are loved and accepted and can just be. And now I have an inkling what that last while must have been for her. We thought she had the flu, but then she got terribly confused and didn’t know where she was, and so my dad- her brother- took her to the hospital, by that night she was in a coma, from which she emerged for one brief day a week later for an afternoon. By that night she was once again in a coma, from which she never again emerged. I now know why–she had hepatic encephalopathy, which is basically a toxicity of the brain caused by the liver cancer no one knew she had. So she was confused and probably very afraid. She was also only thirty-six years old, and leaving behind a seventeen-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old niece, who looked at her as her mother. She knew that, and asked to see me on the one day she emerged from her coma, but the hospital said no, because I was not her actual child, even though I was in all the ways that mattered.
I have the clearest picture of her from that last night, just before she was taken away to the hospital; she was on my grandmother’s couch, and the sun was setting. It was this time of year, in fact the anniversary of her death just passed last month. She was haloed in the light, sitting in a pool of red-gold, and she looked so tired and terribly distant, as if she’d already gone into a far land where the rest of us could not follow. It is a picture I have carried with me for forty-two years now. I have always hated August since then, it’s just a month I put my head down and get through. I feel relief when September arrives. But this year, I don’t mind it so much because I feel kith with my aunt, and in a place of understanding. The woman I am now, wishes she could cross that space of my grandmother’s living room floor, and simply take my aunt in my arms, and tell her how much I’ve missed her all these years. How much I wish she had known my girls, my husband, my books (oh how proud she would have been of my books. She was a reader like me, a book always on the go, and several more waiting. I’m pretty sure she would have loved Casey too.:)). I write in part for her, whose life was cut so short, who loved words and escaping between the pages of novels. I write also for my grandmother, her mother, who was never the same after my aunt died–because you never can be once your child is lost.
Let Go, Let Go, Let Go. Let go of what, I ask again. And the answer comes to let go of the pain of loss, let it be an old friend, but don’t let it steal your breath, and tighten your chest as though your heart is the weight of a stone. Let go of the expectations of your life, which even though you told yourself you didn’t really have, it turns out you did. My life was a fairly straight road for a long time, now I think I’m on a meandering cow path, bare-footed with a tongue stained with blackberry juice. There are hedgerows all around, and I can’t quite see over them into the next field, but that’s all right, the view will be all the better if and when I crest that hill, turn that next corner and see what’s ahead.
And so I open my hands, one finger at a time, and let fall the things which are no longer mine to hold.