My friend 'Bea' died from cancer on a painfully sweet May morning, the day before Mother’s Day. My calendar said full moon and I smiled in spite of the ache. How like her to go when the tides are pulling us towards light; a morning full of new leaves, bird song, and a slow rain.
I have a favorite technicolor memory of Bea from another May morning. Typically audacious, she wore white in her garden - a floppy hat, long sleeves, pants tucked into socks. Her muscled arms thrusting a spade deep, she looked like a vital Spring goddess turning soil; trees in flower and the sun shining a glory around her body. Her absolute desire to get dirty was so delicious that I drove by waving madly out the window. She had survived the winter of her first bout with cancer.
Friendship between women busy raising children is whole-cloth woven from interrupted conversations sewn together with threads of goodwill over a continuum of years. We were coming to some especially interesting patterns in the cloth when death interrupted my conversation with Bea. Once, while I rubbed her hands warm during a hospital visit, relating tribulations with my kids, she gently admonished me to “just go home and love them up, hold them closer more often.” Following this advice was not always easy but it usually worked best. It was a simple lesson in redemption, a gift from a mother who loved fiercely and wanted so much to stay.
Another time I visited after a bad night. The nurses had moved her next to a window and we sat looking out together. Everything was bare, flat hospital rooftops and April’s naked branches. Early Spring is a hard time for hope in New England because winter holds on tight. I read to her for a while, then massaged her feet in their wildly colored socks. In a hospital johnny, hooked up to IV fluids and pallor gray from chemotherapy, socks were how Bea reminded us of her soul. And of our own.
Bea was the kind of friend who reflects back for you the parts of yourself you don’t necessarily appreciate enough or want to let show (or have learned to hide). She saw me in a way that allowed for how intense I can be. She reminded me once that I couldn’t help being this way, it was all part of the package. Her understanding gave me courage in a critical moment to go on being myself. It is this courage, which I still associate with her colorful socks, that I carry forward.
I asked Bea once why she thought we incarnate, souls taking bodies to play out the inevitably painful human drama. She replied that it must be because living is such an interesting torrent of experience: to feel, taste, touch, smell, hear, see, learn, make and create, perchance to love. From the loneliness and sterility of a dying person's hospital bed this insight gifted me with seeds I plant, season after season, while turning the soil of my inner garden; the one I tend to keep from feeling broken. On Mother’s Day I am blessed by the memory of my friend’s fierce loving, reminded to sense everything, and especially to give thanks for the feel of my kids arms around me, and mine around them.
from the book Housewife Blues: dispatches from the garden of broken things (2021)