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i'll do it myself
by cindy heil

The dull light sneaking through the cracks between the blinds and window frames give the once warm and inviting living room of my beloved friend’s just-right-for-a-woman house a shroud-draped appearance until my eyes adjust. Even then, I can’t shake the feeling of being covered in a cold, gray blanket. As the familiarity of her “things,” a couch, couple of chairs, TV, some great jazz CDs, and the other, usual living room stuff, materializes, one fact remains true: this house is no longer a home; it reeks emptiness. Any presence of my friend’s physical being that had been there for the five years she lived there is now long gone. As for her energy—her spirit, it dissipated “into the vastness,” as she had put it, weeks ago.

She didn’t leave quickly. Her departure was slow, draining, wasting. However, the kind hospice nurse overseeing her home care had told us, it was not physically painful for her; the pain had been controllable. Thank you, God (if you are there), for this one comfort, because her leaving was unbearably painful for her daughter and me—watching this bright, beautiful, intelligent, successful writer, editor, and business woman; this warm, loving, caring mother, sister, and friend melt down to 70 pounds and witnessing, by her jumbled words, her mind wash away with her body.

Just before leaving, she clung desperately to life for two days, clawing at some jagged, foreboding precipice leaning over a vastness that only she could see; holding onto the warm security and memories that her home, her ordinary but precious-to-her possessions, and a life well and fully lived bring to those smart enough to recognize them. She held on, not because she was afraid to fall into that vastness, but because she wanted to spare us seeing her fall. However, we would have none of that; we would see her off on her journey.

After we said our goodbyes—told her how we would miss her so but assuring her that we would be O.K., she knew by the strength in her daughter’s arms as she held her mother, the closest friend I’ve ever known, that she could go. And so she opened her eyes wide to guide her and took her final three, deep breaths to carry her to her next place.

Now I make my weekly walk through her lifeless house to check for the usual suspects: a faulty furnace, leaking pipes, dripping faucets. Finished, I turn to soak in this room as I put the key in the bolt of the front door and prepare to leave. Soon her daughter will return to dispose of these “things”—her mother’s “stuff” and house, and we will truly be forced to adjust to life without her mother, my friend.

Her daughter has a husband and friends to help her with this adjustment, and I am blessed to have friends to help me. They know that, while they are close to me, no one will ever be as close as my departed friend; they have no problem with that. They knew her, too, so they understand and even share my loss. There are counselors and clergy, Web sites, grief-support groups, and self-help books galore for this kind of thing, but I don‘t need them. Still looking out for me, my loving, departed friend is letting me know in her own way that the best method for accomplishing a goal is to do it yourself. There is no question that I’ll get by with a little help from my friends, but when it boils down to learning to live with my best friend in her new, intangible existence, I’ll do it myself, in my own way and time, as we all must.

 

Cindy Heil lived in the Washington, DC, area before moving to Asheville. She is a freelance writer and editor and a tutor for at-risk middle- and high-school students. She writes for the Cool Careers for Girls book series, which was founded by her best friend, Ceel Pasternak, who recently passed away.

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