It’s November 3rd, That’s Why

Two years ago this — Helen and I kept vigil through the night with my mother. Helen had snapped this picture while I was dozing.

Three generations of hands

I went home in the wee hours, grabbed a little sleep, then went back to the hospital to relieve Helen.

After struggling so much the day before, making terrible gurgling sounds as she tried to breathe, my mother finally slept peacefully. I think the atropine helped.

Atropine gets its name from Atropos, one of the Fates, the one who chooses the mechanism of death and ends a mortal’s life. I find that both strange and interesting.

But my mother slept.

And we took turns sleeping.

At the end, Helen was sleeping when my mother passed away. My siblings were all there, but Helen, who had been so close to my mom, so faithful and present in so many ways, was not. In retrospect, I should have called her. But I didn’t know when the thread of life would finally be severed. None of us really do.

November 3rd feels heavy, like a weight on my heart.

My friend, Michael McNevin, wrote a song we play every November 4. The first few lines run through my mind unbidden.

Thinking of the cold to come…

It was 61° this morning — not very cold, but I shivered anyway. Today my father goes for a physical as a step toward entering an adult home. I am so unsettled with this decision. Ah, the cold to come.

From what I hear it will make me numb…

I remember the numbness after my mother died. I don’t want to feel that again, and yet, it is inevitable. My father walks more slowly now, shuffling along with his walker. His pacemaker paces 90% of the time. His thinking is muddled at an unquantifiable percentage.

Two of his peers took him to lunch the other day. When his friend brought him home, he pulled me aside. “Your father really couldn’t follow any of the conversation today,” he said, “And he fixated on one small thing. That was all he could talk about.”

Yes, I’ve noticed that, too. It makes me sad.

Look at how the wind goes by…

A breeze refreshes, but the wind is the wind. It blows through our lives – pushing us along, trying to hold us back, knocking dead branches out of trees, grabbing loose items and skittering them away.

Two years ago my mother died on a cold November day.

I can remember walking up the hill to the hospital that last time when she was still alive. It was still dark, maybe 5 AM. I wanted to give Helen a chance to sleep. The wind blew tiny raindrops against my cheeks — portending tears to come.

It’s November 3rd, that’s why.

 

The Receiving Line

One by one they took my hand.

“I’m Sally, Stewart’s sister,” I would say.  Then they would tell me their name and how they knew Stewart.

From the food bank. “I volunteered with Stewart at the food bank. We could always count on him.”

From Habitat for Humanity. “Stewart took the minutes for our meetings. They were always precise and thorough.”

From the church in Tarentum. “Stewart had been our pastor.”

From the Presbytery. “Stewart served on a committee with me.”

From his apartment complex. “Stewart sat in the gazebo with us every night and we talked.”

From a coffee shop that had become his family. “We didn’t even know he was a pastor for the longest time.”

A young couple said, “Stewart performed our wedding.”Stewart 017

One man told me, “Stewart changed my life.”

A man named Buster stood in front of me, humble, awkward. He was as tongue-tied as I felt all day, his eyes watery as they looked at mine. “Stewart was a good man,” he finally said.

“Thank you,” I said, over and over and over.

I wished I had more words.

No, I wished they had more words. I loved hearing about the lives he had touched.

“Stewart drove me to the doctor.”

“Stewart drove me to the store.”

“Stewart loved that skate park.”

“Stewart listened.”

“Stewart helped.”

The two hour receiving line became almost unbearable. All these people. All these names. All these words — good words — but I couldn’t hear any more..

After the service, while people were still milling around and chatting, I sat by myself a short distance away. Maybe I seemed uncaring. I only knew that I was exhausted. Mary came to sit beside me and I hugged her.

This may sound crazy, but instead of a two hour receiving line, I wished for a two month one, where I could sit, one day at a time, with the people, share a cup of coffee with them, and really hear their story.

I have so many questions for them.

Did Stewart laugh a lot? I always liked his laugh.

Did Stewart cook for you? He was a pretty good cook.

Tell me everything you can about Stewart and his life here. Please.

I’m so hungry for more.