In Memory of June White, 1931 – 2015.
Reason to believe.
There’s a reason. There’s always a reason for everything we experience. We may not like the reason. We may rail against it. We may gnash our teeth and weep over it, but there’s always something to learn, something to uncover, something to unearth, no matter how luminous or slimy or ugly it might be. No matter whether it cuts our legs off or leaves us crying in a heap in the middle of the road, we’re here to experience and learn from everything: darkness, loss, love, strife, illusion, death. It’s all a part of this cosmic cake we call ‘life.’ That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It sometimes tastes bitter, rather than sweet. As Alanis Morissette once said, life is often ‘a jagged little pill.’
My friend’s mother, June, crossed the river of death this past Monday. Diagnosed with leukemia seven days before she died, J (her daughter) didn’t even know she was sick until last Friday.
Talk about getting your hair blown back.
One day you’re here, the next, gone, gone, gone.
And those who loved you most, are left to wonder what the hell just happened.
Six weeks ago, I sat next to June on Christmas Eve, laughing and talking about life. We ate steak and baked potatoes with all the trimmings. I ordered extra sides: sauteed mushrooms and grilled asparagus and shared them with her and the rest of the table. She regaled us with her sharp wit and sharper tongue.
“It’s tough gettin’ old,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “I’m tired. Sometimes I think we just live too long these days.”
Hilarious, wise, and beautiful, I found myself hoping I would be still be that much fun at 83.
Earlier in December, J drove up from her house in Coolidge with June riding shotgun. They picked me and my mother up, and we spent the afternoon running a whole cache of mundane errands (UPS, Costco, banking, groceries).
First, at a Gyro place a few miles south of my house, we crowded into a booth and lunched on Greek salads, kalamata olives, gyros, and souvlaki skewers, washing them down with iced tea and sodas.
At one point, June playfully batted J’s hand away from her plate, saying,”No. No. Get away from my olives!”
She looked a little like Popeye, her lopsided face and crooked smile the result of the removal of a brain tumor twenty years ago. “Stop. It. No, you can’t have my olives. But I will take your onions.”
They exchanged items from each others’ plates and continued talking over each other, just the way my mom and I do, an easy humor and love under their words.
Once we finished, we piled back into the car and drove from place to place all afternoon, checking items off our ‘to do’ lists.
The whole time, my mother and June sat side by side, resplendent in their colorful outfits and dark glasses, holding court from the backseat of J’s new car.
June cracked jokes and provided running commentary on our activities. Neither one of them could hear worth a damn, so they spoke louder than need be. (Imagine Maggie Smith and Ruth Gordon as sidekicks, to get the idea.)
“What next?” June sighed, clearly starting to run out of steam.
“Are you sure we should be doing this?” My mother worried we were being a burden, asking for help running errands.
“We’re just hanging out, mother,” I said, “for the fun of it.”
“Isn’t it great having a girl’s day out?” J added.
After we mailed Christmas gifts, picked up a blood pressure cuff, and got groceries, we ended the afternoon by dropping my mom off at the house to unpack groceries, while I went several blocks away to open a new bank account at the credit union.
June and J sat outside waiting for me as the bank representative took me through a painfully slow process to open an account. As this very thorough representative explained the details of the differences between money market accounts and standard savings accounts, June tiptoed through the front door and waved to me, motioning that she and J were waiting in the car. Still. “Still waiting,” she mouthed, and turned heel to return to the car.
Forty excruciating minutes later, I emerged, and apologized profusely.
“We didn’t think you were ever coming back,” she blurted from her post in the backseat.
Thinking back on it now, it was a perfect day.
We discussed the weather and our health and the falling price of gas and books we love. June told me she watched Outlander with her sister, and how “crazy sexy” the actor playing Jamie in the miniseries, was.
We didn’t do anything significant.
It was one of those days you don’t think are anything special: bright sky smeared with clouds; peals of laughter in the car as you drive from place to place; verbal clucking and cooing and chatting, mother to daughter, daughter to mother.
It was nothing and it was everything.
I know that now. Now that we can never get those precious minutes and hours back.
All your life you think — always — there’s plenty of time. No hurry. There’s plenty where that came from.
But, in the end, that’s not true.
The clock winds down and you find you’ve lost a pearl beyond price.
And you hope they knew what they meant to you.
And you say a prayer of thanks, of grief, of peace.
And you will yourself to remember. Every bit. Every cadence. Every joy. Every sorrow.
All of it.
© 2015 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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