The Angel of Death

LightMy best friend was buried on Good Friday of our junior year in high school. She’d been in a horrible crash with her boyfriend on a sunny spring break day. They were heading to the video store to grab a movie. They never made it. Chuck died at the scene. Marcie lived a couple more days. But I knew she was on her way out. I felt it.

Of course, I had no way to know how I knew. I just did. But, having a super-rational side, I brushed away the notion and just chalked it up to the dread of something bad happening turning into the reality of it.

I love her and carry her with me now. Sometimes I’ll catch a whiff of her — in a song or a photograph, or most recently, a silly fill-in questionnaire book we’d shared in 4th grade that fell out of a box I was throwing away — and my heart will stop for a moment. I’m full of the joy of knowing her and the sadness of missing her all at once.

Several years later I had the same feeling. The difference this time was that I didn’t know of anyone who was in peril. I was just banana crackers and trying to do anything I could to shove away the panic. I had an 8-deck game of solitaire going, the TV on, the radio blaring, and was begging my then-mother-in-law for company.

I got the call the next morning. “Granddaddy is very sick. We don’t know if he’ll make it through the day. Come home.” I made the trip from Boca Raton to Knoxville in about 11 hours. I didn’t call home the whole time because I didn’t want to know I was too late. He was Blind and in a coma, so his greeting me with a sweet and strong “Hi Gina!” as I walked into his hospital room was bliss and shock all at once.

I love this man more than any other human on earth. He was my saving grace as a child and my Tuesday date for years as his Parkinson’s and my Lupus stranded us in the living room reading Sam Venable books and laughing about how many dishes of ice cream we could sneak past Grandmother. He was a good guy. A really good guy.

He died as I talked with him — Christmas music playing in the background in spite of it being September — and I knew he was okay. I wore my wedding going-away-dress to give his eulogy and planned a picnic for the twelve who gathered to scatter his ashes in our mountains. It was the saddest and sweetest week of my life.  He still visits me — as birds — from time to time. Yeah, I’d think me nuts, too. But it’s true.

Like the time the Bald Eagle swooped over B and me as we visited the WWII memorial in DC. Grandpa spent The War in India and Grandmother worked at The Pentagon. Grandpa Eagle hung out with us as we read every plaque in the WWII Memorial and then perched in a huge tree for a couple of photographs. When we finally decided to walk on to the Lincoln Memorial, he took off, circled the WWII Memorial twice, and flew over the Reflecting Pool and beyond the Lincoln Memorial out of sight.

The most personal death I’ve lived through was that of my first child. We were happily readying our home for her arrival when I got that feeling again. I shoved it aside as hormones. I went to the doctor to be told everything was fine. I checked and rechecked every twinge and poke. And then the time came when I just couldn’t sit still with the knowing. My wasband took me for a drive and a walk and it happened — I lost her.

Losing a child in pregnancy is the strangest of all deaths. On some level you are the only person on this planet who knows this child. And she’s gone. And you miss her — the her you never got to meet or kiss or comfort — while you know her every heart beat. No one knows what to say to a grieving mother who has lost a child before their birthday. So, they tend to say all the things that only make it harder. How far along were you? (Far enough to love her.) There must have been something wrong with her. (She was perfect.) You can have another. (But I wanted her). So I smile, walk away, and say a little prayer of gratitude that they’ve never had to live through such a thing.

It is a personal, private grief that still catches me off guard when I hear someone say her name  — Sarah Katherine. It happened most recently at a graduation. I’ve burst into tears on playgrounds when seeing girls her age playing. I also have moments of happiness as I imagine her brushing past. My own, personal guardian angel.

It wasn’t until a friend’s father became very ill and landed in the hospital for the final time that I reluctantly gave in to the reality that I, somehow, know when people are preparing to go. Still living in Florida, I happened to be in Knoxville and driving by the hospital when I had a strong urge to call Stephen in LA. He answered and told me where he was — sitting in the building I had just passed. I spent the next week loving Stephen through his Dad’s final illness and the following week supporting him through his Dad’s funeral and memorial and interment. That’s when I was given the somewhat odd nickname, “Angel of Death.” I’ve tried to take it as a compliment.

There have been other deaths that have caught my attention. It isn’t always someone I know, but the feeling that someone is going is never unfounded. I usually get a call asking for my support about the time I’ve made it through my speed dial list trying to figure out who it might be.

So, it was especially heart-rending when my baby sister called me for help this week. I knew, of course, who she was calling about. She wanted answers — Would he live? Why did he have to suffer? What could she do to stop it? Was it wrong to pray for a different outcome?

“I know you’re the Angel of Death. Help me understand this.”

Oh, sweetie, I wish I could. I can make some guesses, but every person who lives on this abundantly gorgeous planet eventually leaves it. The timing seems as personal as any other aspect of our existence — and as universal. It happens when it happens. I tend to believe there is purpose and meaning in this going — even if the ones left don’t have the insight to know what that is.

I’ve been touched by enough people who have made that transition to know that regardless of how well-prepared or surprising their leaving is, they leave behind a need for the ones who love them to make a journey of their own. There are volumes written on grieving, so I won’t repeat that work here. I will say that it is a sacred space.

I’ve also been touched by enough people who have sent me the feeling that they were going before they made their exit to trust that the soul knows. And it prepares. And, somehow, it’s ready.

Even if we aren’t. Even if they are young. Even if we want just one more bowl of ice cream with them. Even if they are loved. Even if they’ve fought hard to live. Even if we light candles and wish it were different.

But that doesn’t stop us from loving and hoping and living.

Until it’s our turn.

Happy Quote

I'm a Right Brain Entrepreneur: My Creative Work Matters You have full permission to dream big, create passionately, and craft a plan that makes your heart sing and helps your head know where your business is growing.

— Jennifer Lee

The Right Brain Business Plan


At some point soon, this book will show up in Gina’s Reading. In the meantime, I wanted you to have this quote to chew on. It’s delicious, no?

Dig down deep…

I started that project. The big one. The one I have been dreading for about 5 years and officially procrastinating since Thanksgiving. No. I didn’t start a new exercise/diet/teeth whitening campaign. Are you ready for it?

I started cleaning out the garage.

See, my wasband (bless his heart*) is a pathological pack rat. He keeps everything. You know all those plastic cups that get dropped at ball games? Well, he takes them home. Hundreds of them. He goes through trash piles. He lives for garage sales. He accepts anyone’s toss offs. He. Collects. Everything.

Over the years he managed to completely fill up our two car garage, our crawl space, and our attic with his “collections.” And, you know, I didn’t really get worked up about it—really—until he moved out and left it all here!!

So we started that back and forth thing. When are you going to get this stuff? Later. Well, can I just box it up and bring it to you? Nope—I don’t want anyone to mess with my stuff.

Now, I know why.

Cleaning out the garage is like an archeological dig. Here is the layer from the car sales and NASCAR epoch. If you dig a little deeper you will discover the insurance sales and football era. Further still and you hit the financial analyst and baseball period.

It is sort of like opening a tomb. It feels like I am encroaching on sacred ground. Only instead of golden statues and dazzling emeralds, I am discovering ketchup bottles and broken glass.

As I shovel (sometimes literally) through all of this stuff, I can’t help but feel like I am mining the remnants of our relationship. There is a lot of garbage in there that makes it really hard to find the lovely parts. Perhaps, given time and lots of trash bags** I will be able to find a couple of nuggets to remind me of the pieces of our marriage that worked well. It is sweet to have a touchstone or two, but the rest has to go.

*As a southern woman, by invoking the phrase “bless his heart” I am officially declaring that I am not bashing him, but merely pointing out some odd quirk and that you should in no way take my comments as catty or ::gasp:: gossip.

** Not to worry all you pack rats out there, the bags are going to my wasband’s storage unit… not to the dump. I am determined to get this stuff out of my space, but it is his issue to deal with what ultimately happens to it all.