Air stood still, suffocating the room. An eerie silence lingered in the space. Our family was being split apart. My husband Keith and I were getting a divorce. Our sixteen year old son came to live with me in Bakersfield California. His brothers, Gary and Brian stayed in Hemet with their dad, Keith.
David and I lived not as mother and son, but as friends. We cleaned house together, laughed until we cried over everything from Sanford and Son, (a popular T.V. show) to playing pranks on each other.
Visiting the flea market was one of our favorite pastimes. Early one Saturday morning while the desert air was still cool, we strolled our way around looking for bargains.
David spotted something shining in the next booth. “Look Mom it’s a toaster!”
I wondered to myself. Do we really need it?
David: “Mom, don’t worry, you never buy anything. It’s only $2.00 and we don’t have a toaster.”
We rushed home with our treasure, laughed at ourselves, and our adventure.
That afternoon we relished the tasty treat of buttered toast and jam.
Our joy filled days would soon be over. David was sick. Local Doctors poked, probed and found nothing, I worried and lost weight. David kept thinking he would get better.
He didn’t. We found another doctor.
He was given a death sentence. Timeline unknown. We were told it was imminent. He was seventeen years old. An inoperable and malignant tumor the size of a lemon had taken up residency in his brain. When he realized that he might not make it, he looked at me and declared: “I am too young to die.”
The tumor was aggressive, painful and insistent. His crying out came in the form of seizures and episodes of violence. His brothers Gary and Brian protected and loved David as much as he would allow.
However, his frail body was losing the struggle and he was admitted to a nursing home where gentle souls cared for him and attended to his needs. His mental capacity was compromised, he could barely speak, and the outbursts of anger were difficult to subdue.
Brian, taking on the role of the eldest, initiated and insisted on a family meeting to discuss possible plans for David. My ex-husband Keith and his new wife just happened to be visiting in Hemet from South Dakota. We hadn’t seen each other in years. Gary was not eager to see his Dad after a recent disagreement.
Out of our mutual love for David, we set aside our personal agendas for this moment in time, and agreed to attend the meeting. Scattered by the years and distanced both emotionally and physically, we gathered one autumn afternoon at Brian’s home.
Charged with emotion our bodies sat rigid on the chairs. Stilted greetings and flare-ups of anger threatened to sabotage our time together. Avoiding eye contact, we re- focused.
Brian and I facilitated in and around the issues, the broken pieces of our fractured family. The tension in the room began to soften, and I could sense Keith wanting to engage.
Skirting around our pain, we shared thoughts and memories of David. The inevitable silence took over the room. Taking a deep breath, I shared our deepest fear: “David may not survive this; he has suffered for so long.” Conversation flowed a little easier as we began facing and sharing our anxiety and sorrow.
We decided to continue our visits, although he rarely recognized any of us. We agreed to collect pictures to share with him. His tendency towards violence would be handled by a professional. We talked about a memorial.
Before the visit was over, I looked at Keith and before my eyes I watched the inner film of our marriage. The infinite mystery unfolded without permission and offered the opportunity for forgiveness. I was surprised. The heartache, anger and blame was gone. My inner self reminded me, “Do not forget this moment of peace.”
I stood and said, “Goodbye Keith.” He responded, “Oh, we will see each other again at David’s memorial.” My whole being knew I would not see him again. On my flight home to northern California, I reflected on our family meeting with a full heart. I rested easy that night knowing we were all on the same journey.
The next morning my son Gary called. Keith was in the hospital, having had a massive heart attack. The second call came ten minutes later. He was dead. My knees buckled, not at the loss of Keith but how we had all answered the call of destiny. The gathering was a magnificent gift, an opportunity for healing. I’m forever grateful to Brian for following his heart and guiding us.
David died the following year. I feel certain that Keith’s spirit was somewhere present at David’s memorial.
Nancy Hargis started writing her life stories at the age of 75. She is a regular contributor to The Village Talk magazine in Santa Rosa California where she makes her home. She became a playwright, took acting classes and performed her one woman show, Voices from the Alley at 6th street playhouse. Now a spry, 80 years old elder, she co-facilitates transformational workshops in the prison system. A lifelong student, she continues to participate in writing classes and workshops and her inspirational short stories are waiting to be heard. For fun, she goes to poetry readings, art shows, and enjoys long walks with her husband.
Image courtesy of Rachel H.