Last fall, as the decline in Mark’s health steepened, and we spent more time in hospital and rehab units than we spent at home, the chorus of Dan Fogelberg’s “Hard To Go Down Easy” haunted my thoughts.
“And it’s hard to go down easy/And it’s hard to keep from crying/And it’s hard to lose a lover in the early part of autumn”
As the leaves fell, and the wind grew sharper and colder, and the colors of the life around us began to fade and fall, I knew the lyrics were right – it would be so hard to deal with loss in grayness, the fading light. I prayed for a reprieve. And got one. He died in March, just as the irises and thrift were blooming.
So there’s some luck, right? Some good luck after so much bad?
Part of our story, Mark’s and mine, has been about a ton of bad luck. Our minister and friend Eric Folkerth has said again and again that he has never seen any family deal with the great swells and crashes that we went through. Like, right as we rejoiced over an “all clear” on a biopsy surgery on Mark’s sinuses and the news that he was finally approved for rehab, the doctor calls to say yes, that biopsy was clear, but one on the lymph nodes in Mark’s neck were positive for cancer. This happened not just once, but twice. Great news/bad news.
But, at the same time, all around both of us and the boys, the world seemed to have us in its embrace. The harder the winter, the more beautiful the spring. The lushness of extravagant grace, it surrounded us, so many arms ready to embrace us, feed us, prop us up, hold on to us, ground us. At times it felt – it still feels – like we had “too much good.”
I am quoting myself above, are from my own work – RUTH*, a play based on the Hebrew scriptures from the Old Testament. “Too much good” is what Ruth says to Naomi when the bad luck finally ebbs away, and the “spring” is brighter and more beautiful than either of them imagined it could be.
I was writing this play all through the winter, in hospital rooms, at Mark’s bedside, at home alone in our bed in the hours before work and after visiting hours were up.
It was a long, long winter. And my lover is lost.
And somehow, I am alive and breathing, living in the midst of spring. I am sometimes so sharply aware of the absence of Mark, it is a bone-deep ache, dull and huge, beautiful and beautiful until it passes back into spring.
The poet Mary Oliver writes as if God is sitting on her shoulder and flowing down through her veins and pouring into her pen – this must be so because I have never met her and yet somehow she tells my story in her poem “May.”
May, and among the miles of leafing,
blossoms storm out of the darkness –
windflowers and moccasin flowers. The bees
dive into them and I too, to gather
their spiritual honey. Mute and meek, yet theirs
is the deepest certainty that this existence too —
this sense of well-being, the flourishing
of the physical body – rides
near the hub of the miracle that everything
is a part of, is as good
as a poem or a prayer, can also make
luminous any dark place on earth.
Prayers and poems help. The flowers, leaves and new life around me helps. It is good luck, that spring was here to catch my sons and me, and bring us light and warmth and color.
*RUTH is just a week away from opening at Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas, my home planet.