Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The happiest sad moments...

(Reader's note: I took a mind-altering substance to help me sleep at a rational hour, so if the typing gets bad, or the words don't make any sense, I apologize, because that's just the drugs talking.)

As someone who has seen many of the highs and lows of life, I'm going to go ahead and say that sometimes life throws a twist your way when you least expect it. To steal a line from Steel Magnolias, "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!"

And so I got to thinking and I must say that I agree, laughter through tears is something worth noting on the emotional scale. And it's underrated because we all have times in our life when we have good reason to weep openly, and the friends who can somehow make us laugh our way through the monsoon pouring out of our faces. I've been blessed with the kinds of friends who when of us is in a low spot and the tears are flowing, the jokes pick up a certain kind of steam the likes of which have never been seen. The jokes have to hit new highs to bring the rest of us out of the lowest lows. I'd have killed myself long ago if it weren't for that kind of levity at bad times. But for the purposes of this post, I'm going to focus on the deep sadness I felt on a couple of occassions, and the happiness that was in an incredible way able to find it's way there.

The first time in my life when I can recall an event like this was when I was 8 tender years old. My Grandfather, who I loved, adored, and idolized for all my young years had aggressive terminal cancer. The man who taught me to love my Cubbies, the man who taught me a lot about being the kind of good person I wanted to be. Selfless to a fault. The man would give a stranger the shirt off his back and then say, "Follow me home, I've got some stuff in the closet you could use too." He sacrificed important aspects of his own life so that others could have their days to dream and realize those dreams. I was 8 when he finally succumbed to the cancer. And as my childhood idol lay dead in the beautiful box laid out in front, and as the family prayer service began, I was weeping inconsolably. I sat on my mother's lap, and cried a river into her shoulder and I felt a little tug at my dress. It was my 3 year old cousin Lindsay. Giving me a look, trying to understand the pain I was feeling, and in a way that only a small child can do, she offered up her ratty doll, Phyllis, that brought her so much joy that she carried it everywhere with her. And as she looked at me, and looked back at the doll, and in the single most self-less act I've ever been priveleged enough to see first hand, she handed me the doll. Of course that doll could do nothing to break the streams of tears, but the gesture has always stuck with me because she gave up her one comfort to me because she saw my raw pain. It was such a rare moment that I could only smile and thank her for her little gift.

Being much older for the next family funeral of significance, (I say that because there were many funerals in there that were equally sad, but lacked a certain something to make me mark it worthy for mention here.) I am referring to the relatively recent loss of my grandmother... The happiest sad moments were in the hospital with her. When I arrived she woke up from her slumber and pain killers and looked at me standing in the middle of the room and told me how beautiful I looked... And she said this after I had gotten up at some insane hour, missed my flight anyway and gotten the quickest flight possible and drove straight to the hospital... It was incredible. I stood there and said, "Oh grandma, that must be the drugs talking. I'm not at all beautiful." And in her sedated-slow way she said, "No, you really are beautiful, just beautiful, no matter how much effort you put into dressing up, you are beautiful right here, right now." The tears flowed freely from then on. Over the next few days there was little we could do to comfort her, so we told stories of the past that were sure to incite laughter. And for two days we kept a bedside vigil. Never sleeping, just waiting for the end, and cherishing every moment from then until the cancer finally claimed her. We joked about her jewelry, we laughed about childhood memories of grilling out by the garage, playing baseball in her back yard, my mom and her sisters retold the gems from their collective pasts, and the lack of sleep over the days had worn us all down to the point where every tale was hysterically funny beyond ordinary constraints. And when she passed, it was the most beautiful passing possible, and to say that I felt joy mixed in with all that pain is such a gross understatement. I held her hand and watched her last exhale, and I felt such honor to be present for the event, because in that moment I saw endless amounts of love. And I learned that a love like that is worth it no matter how hard you have to work at it. To even behold it was a gift, and to be a part of it, well that is something I couldn't justify in words. As my mother and I were the last to leave, a few of the nurses pulled us aside and noted that there was something special about us in that room, and that they had never heard such laughter on the wings, nor had they seen such a lasting love so freely expressed. It was nice to know that it was something that impacted others and not just those of us who lived it.

To carry over honoring grandma's impact, we all wore pieces of her jewelry to the services. (And believe me when I tell you that grandma had some real DOOZIES in the jewelry department!) She opted for a 5 "stone" plastic-jeweled bracelet with each "stone" was roughly the size of a doorknob, and done in the colors of a city stoplight... Earrings in the shape of martini glasses, and covered in stones, bangle bracelets of every possible color shape and size, earrings shaped like broken unpainted easter eggs, or the zebra striped ones that were literally made out of napkin rings.

We knew we looked nuts, but to those who understood the references, it was a neat touch to honor a woman who knew very much what it was that she liked. And for us, that was a way of carrying on the happiness into the sad moments.

But the main thing was that there was such love, such an indescribable incredible, palpable love. And that love is something that I am trying hard to aspire to every day. I'm trying to not think about the future, because it is just an unknown concept that keeps us from being happy and showing all the love we should show every day.

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