Two days after the community had pulled together to landscape the grounds of Martin Gardens, my cell phone rang.
“It’s Helen. She’s not going to make it through the day,” said Greta in a voice thick with emotion. “I’ve already called Honora.”
After asking MJ to watch the store, Skye and I drove to the assisted living facility. EveLynn and Honora pulled up as we were leaving my car. Together the four of us walked into the place, spoke to the receptionist, and headed toward Helen’s room. The door was slightly ajar when we arrived. Feeling a bit like an unofficial leader of an expedition, I tapped and walked in.
Kookie was sitting on his perch in a corner. He was totally still. If I hadn’t known better, I would have taken him for a stuffed bird rather than a live one.
A male form was sitting next to Helen’s bed, holding her hand and speaking to her softly. He lifted his head at our approach. Jay Boehner’s damp eyes followed our progress as we all filed in. Helen gasped and shuddered. He said to all of us and none of us in particular, “That irregular breathing pattern you’ll hear is Cheyne-Stokes. It’s normal when someone is approaching the last moments of life.”
We pulled up chairs and sat around the bed. Greta joined us. Her eyes were red. “I checked. Helen has no family.”
“That’s not true,” said Skye. “She has us.”
“It’s all right to let go. Follow the light,” said Jay, as he patted Helen’s hand. Soon, she heeded his suggestion. The silences between each breath had become longer and longer, so that when she took the last one, it didn’t dawn on me that she’d left us. Not for a while.
Helen, who had come so suddenly into our lives, slipped away so peacefully that we scarcely noticed she was gone.
I thought I’d be more upset, but I wasn’t. Not really. I felt like I’d seen something through to its natural conclusion. As Jay arranged Helen’s hands over her chest, I got up and walked to the window. The plants had begun to take root. The sprinkler system turned on, leaving rainbows in the path of the water. The flight cages waited for new birds to come and bring life to the garden. I could almost hear the gurgle of the fountain. Closing my eyes, I imagined the koi that would soon take up residence. On my lips, I tasted a fig from the new fig trees. If not for Helen, I would be looking at a sea of mud. If not for Helen, I would not have met Greta, Freddie, and Jay Boehner. If not for Helen, I would have missed out on watching our community pull together.
So while I would always regret her passing, how could I be sad? Helen had brought me gifts I’d never known I was missing! Her presence had been full of a blessed spirit. And although she, physically, was gone from us, that spirit lingered. And yes, we cried, but we felt her good wishes, the way you do when you stand on a train platform and wave goodbye to a fellow traveler. Helen had gone on ahead. That was all. Where she went, we soon would follow. I had to believe we would meet again. And until we did, I would hold her memory close. I would guard it and find it precious. Helen had come into our lives, asking a favor, not for herself, but for someone she loved, Kookie. But Helen had granted all of us a bigger boon, because she’d given us an experience that warmed our hearts and reminded all of us that we are only temporary. This is fleeting. But the good we can do will linger, even after we are gone.
And that brought a smile to my face.
~ On Monday, I’ll write an epilogue. Until then, have a wonderful Mother’s Day. And if your mother has passed, remember: She’s just gone on ahead. That’s all. You’ll catch up with her, someday.
Your friend — j