Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I never knew her husband, although she once had one.
Edith has been for all the years I recall, the older woman up the road, the one my Dad cared for. She read parking meters and wrote parking tickets before many moons ago retiring, finding part time work at our local vet.
My Dad met her when he was policing the same neighborhoods, and for as long as I can remember he's been showing up at her place to shovel her snow, fix her rickety steps, attach a wayward shutter. She'd return Dad's favors by dogsitting my parents' dogs, on the rare occasion they went away. She loved those dogs like they were her own kids, and she sat with my parents and cried, as they each passed away.
She has been an extension of our family for years, a piece of the puzzle that never quite fit by her own defining, but always invited, welcome. My mom still calls to invite her each year for Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday parties, dinner; she never shows. Instead, she sit at home with her dogs.
Her life: three little wiener dogs, and at one point a basset hound. Just her and her dogs. Alone and yet very much together.
Yesterday when I picked up T after school at my parents' house, my Mom told me that Edith called the night before and she has cancer, only a few months to live. She's refusing treatment, and before sharing with anyone the news, she went to make arrangements for her funeral, her final days.
Her wishes include that at her end, she will also end the lives of her three small dogs, embalming them to place in her casket, all of them, together. She is convinced no one could care for those dogs or love them like she can so she's made plans, is taking them along.
My Mom relays all this all to me in a corner of her kitchen and I stand there in horror, eyes bulging from my head. I turn around suddenly and find T standing there, soaking it all in.
Death visited our family only a week ago, this dying stuff lurks not unlike him standing there, raw, exposed, fresh.
T isn't supposed to hear any of this and he does and then we all three stand there; locked in this space of knowing Edith's secret, not quite sure what to say, what to do.
T is the first to speak, tears springing freely down his cheeks, breaking up this insurmountable mountain, this space. "She...she can't do this, can she?" he asks, tears falling to his lip and then dropping to the floor.
"She can," I reply softly, and I draw him in...as if somehow presence, embrace can soften this blow.
My mom keeps talking nervously, looking over the top of him, as if her cascade of small talk might make this all go away. He clings to me, then pulls away crying softly and repeats twice without stopping, "This is just not right. Somebody has to stick up for those dogs."
"This is just not right. Somebody has to stick up for those dogs."
And then, as if something summoned him, he packs his things, walks to our car. Once there and buckled he says with conviction, "I think Grandpa needs to go find her now, tell her this is not okay."
We drive down the road towards our house in silence, ice crunching beneath new tires, each block an endless mile. We pull into the drive way, and suddenly anger envelops him, tears still sputtering through shock, disbelief.
"This is just selfish," he says now. "Those dogs cannot possibly deserve this. They're dogs, after all, probably would have five happy years left each! And she... she's wrong for thinking this way, even if she is very, very sad about dying herself."
Finally home, I get out and gather the mail, while T sits in the car for several minutes in silence, tears steadily falling, his hand extended to the backseat, our own dogs licking up salty tears.
He gathers his things and joins me and I fumble at the doorway, looking for the key. A cold breeze sweeps between us and we both shudder, the enormity of it lurking there.
He looks off down the street towards her house as I push open the door and he whispers:
"This is no different than if I was dying and told you on my last day...sorry, but I am going to take three of my favorite family members with me, Mom.... and no one, no person should get to decide that they are going rob the world of those dog's love."
We both stood there staring at each other, the cold air busting into our home now, nothing left to say.