Bill's Light (and Mom's, and Mine, and Yours...a post by Laura)
Listen in! "This Little Light of Mine" with Amelia Zinn-Brown and Yo-Yo Ma
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"What was your mom like," my former-minister-now-coach friend gently inquired this morning.
Angie had offered to talk a few times since Mom and Bill died on June 1. I knew grief support was, as her husband said, "in the middle of her wheelhouse." And I'd resisted, as I've been resisting most offers of the deepest sort. I mean, just skirting the edges of the deep-grief morass already sucked badly enough. I had no doubt the guts of it would catch up with me eventually, and I didn't relish the idea of reverse-inward-twisting off the ten meter diving platform straight into that sucker.
This week, though, the center of Grief's vortex decided to double down on its suction. By Friday, feeling like I was suddenly and involuntarily drowning in the middle of it, I raised my white flags for help. Angie was the first person I reached out to.
Classic Mom, circa 1974.
"Oh wow," I answered, as tears immediately welled up. "She was such a bright light! She went through a lot of hard times in her life, but through it all, her center was joy and love and light. And Bill's was, too. They were similar that way."
Light...it's what we live by. It's what we rise to. It's what we grope for in the dark. It's a word often used to describe what it feels like to be free. And it's always what I looked for, first and foremost, to get an indication of how Bill was doing each day and night.
See, Bill spent the last 2.5+ years of his life living across our back yard in a brand new 30' Coleman travel trailer (which he nicknamed "Gary"...get it?). An odd choice, perhaps, for a former sales professional who loved to dress sharp, who kept his car cleaner that I keep any room in my house, and who hated going anywhere without his hair lookin' fly. But he was between jobs when the stage 4, terminal lung cancer diagnosis was pronounced, with no health insurance. So Gary became the biggest purchase in his "spend-down," a process many applicants for Medicaid go through that requires they literally spend all of their financial assets down to the max $2,000 cash they're allowed to keep at any given time.
To be honest, I wasn't exactly thrilled about the visuals of a big, honkin' RV sidled up to the left side of our property. But what was way, way bigger than my vanity was the absolute relief of knowing Bill would be so close, that we could be with him in the blink of an eye for any need. No one would have to go screaming down the road through traffic, red lights, backups, etc. trying to get to him. All he'd need to do is text or yell or make his way down the mulched path from Gary to our house, and we'd be there. This solution gave him (and us) the perfect amounts of privacy combined with loads of togetherness. What's better than that? Vanity, be damned. He felt safe being here with us, and that was worth more than anything. (Plus, #hurricanenugget, upon their arrival, was immediately living her best life. #veryimportant)
In the early days of this living arrangement, we felt our way forward, navigating how much space and privacy he and we wanted and needed. It was important to all of us that Bill experience as much independence as he could for as long as possible, so I quickly formed a habit of glancing out any RV-facing window when I passed by, looking for light-related clues as to how he was and what was happening out there from day to day.
- In the morning, if his blinds stayed closed to the sun, I had cause for concern. It could have been another cluster headache, post-chemo-yuck, or any number of ailments. Not letting light in often meant "not a good day."
- If his blinds stayed closed during the day and there was no sign of lights as dusk turned to night, that was extra cause for concern. He was likely sleeping so long and hard that he hadn't waken up to eat (at the very least), so checking in was in order.
- If, however, his blinds went up before noon, especially if all of them went up, I knew he was up and about, feeling decent, happy to engage.
- At night, assuming he'd opened his blinds during the day, he closed them when he was winding down for the evening. He was a night owl, but "blinds-down, lights on" always indicated a turning inward and was (usually) a sign that all was well.
- Our upstairs bathroom windows look out over the back yard, and when nature called in the middle of the night, I always glanced out. Sometimes all the lights would be on, radiating yellow-gold through the fabric of the blinds. He'd be up at odd hours, but if the lights were bright, I knew he was probably okay.
- And finally, the most consistent light of all...a wee little lamp tucked into the back corner of his space, next to the window facing the house, closest to the chickens. When he went to bed, he always turned all the lights out but left this little light of his on. It felt like our distanced version of, "G'night, John Boy!" And I could usually rest easier, knowing he had turned in for the night. For me, that was his, "All is well, good night" light.
That "good night light" was the one that always got me, because I never looked at it, ever, without also having the thought that, one day, that corner of Gary would be dark, and there would be no Bill to putter around out there, listening to or playing music, making some kind of dinner he would rave about the next day, and turning in for the night after making sure his little lamp was on.
These days, I still look. I can't help it. And it always brings some level of gut-punch combined with a heart-swelling moment of remembering. It hurts to look, but gratitude is always wafting about, too.
Did he know I always saw it?
Did he mean for it to be our "good night light"?
I'll never know. But I think I will always remember that little light of his. And I know I will forever cherish the deep, brilliant, loving, smart, kind, massive light that was him, and Mom. They both got so much joy out of seeing my and others' lights shine brighter. That is something I will take with me from here forward. It's already in me, but tripled now.