"A Year Ago" says the subject line of the email in my inbox. "A Year ago" writes Kevin, musing about meeting Brad in the ER and watching the Eagles take on the Redskins. He emails us now as Donovan McNabb takes the field in a maroon jersey. Huh.
It was a year ago that we went to see Brad down at the University of Pennsylvania the day after Thanksgiving, a year ago when I walked into his room in the ICU, the place I would return to less than a month later, where I would become a midwife to the afterlife. The swelling filled out his face, the edema filling in some of the hollows carved by the MD, in many ways a mirage of healthiness from far away, one that faded when you approached the bed and saw the shimmer in the sand wasn't water after all. A signpost in the desert: This journey is almost over.
Kelly moved around his bedside so easily. I watched her soothe and rub lotion into his feet and thought, "She is going to make an excellent nurse." Nearby, her husband held her purse where it couldn't touch the ground, away from germs that could come between her and the NCLX.
Every now and then he'd wake. I'd feel his gaze and stir from my thoughts. I know he can see the worry and fear on my face, but when I catch him watching, all I could do is smile back.
I didn't hear from him on his birthday. No light bulbs blown, not one note of a Tom Petty song. No internal hug, no child pointing to an empty sand dune and seeing his Uncle Brad. There *was* a Catholic Church full of sunlight that day, a sunbeam on October 16th perfectly timed with the Prayer of the Faithful in memory of those who'd recently died. I held my telephoto lens steady on a groom who'd lost his grandfather weeks before, but like a special dedication going out on the radio with another couple's song, I knew without a doubt- this sign was not for me.
Two weeks later, I'd finally squeezed in a family portrait session I'd had to reschedule in the dark days After. It took the family 11 months to rebook. We met at a mansion and then drove in tandem to a nearby park. "Did you know," my client said, "one of your brake lights blew?" Nope. But thanks for telling me. I smile, seemingly to myself. Hey, you. Missed you on your birthday.
One week later, in India, a firework will explode WAY too close to the ground and mourners will gather to cremate their dead in the lap of the Mother Ganges. Death fills my nostrils and dogs prowl the burning ghat, and Death, my old friend, works across the river speaking another language entirely. I waive tentatively from my wooden boat, but Death isn't expecting to see me here. I set my candle afloat and Death carries on with his work in without sparing me a second glance.
Nephew-Child: "Aunt Angie, I wanna tell you a joke."
I want to hear a joke, A.
"I put a cheesbuhguh, anna piece a' cheese and a television IN MY MOUTH." Hysterical laughter ensues.
That's a pretty good joke, buddy.
I make hot chocolate, build a fire in the fireplace and since we had to move the couch into the garage to make room for everyone around the table, improvise a "cuddle nest" substitute. Aiden and his mom and I snuggle with Joel and Ollie and my own mom on the living room floor. "If I lay down I won't get up," she says. "Good. That's the idea, Mom" I say, and I toss her an afghan.
Aiden gets to stay up past his bedtime to watch "Miracle on 34th Street," and as tears fill his eyes after he burns his tongue on the hot chocolate, I hand him the nearest cold drink I can find: an open can of Coke. He gulps it down, hardly believing his luck, and moments later as we spray whipped cream directly into our mouths, it hits me- I am simultaneously the best auntie in the world, and the worst friend on the planet.
I say as much, but Kristen shrugs. "We've done this before," and sprays the whipped cream into her own mouth. I promise to wear him out, at least. She notes the time and reminds me that she plans to hit Toys R Us at 6 a.m. for the Black Friday sale, so honestly, if Aiden sleeps in, I'm doing Adam a favor. I balance my sweet boy on my shins and gently take his hands, "flying" him carefully back to Disney World, the beach and wherever else he wants to go. He giggles non-stop and when he grins he looks so much like his uncle, hovering just above me. All I can do is smile back.
I'm thankful for each and every one of you, my readers and family and friends, in this world and the next. Thanks for the visit.