Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grief and Gifts continued

Magoo is the nickname my oldest sister has given our 21 year old niece. I'm going to refer to her with this name for her privacy ... even though she's given me permission to write this and to use her real name. Of course everyone who knows her will know who this is about but I'm sticking with Magoo.

Magoo is the youngest of three in my middle sister's family, and the only girl. She is also the only one who was born in Nashville. The family would come home to Maine in the summers and we would get to see how much the kids had grown, what teeth were missing and begin to hear the twang starting to seep into Magoo's dialect. At four years old she would sit in her car seat and wave a tiny hand saying "Bah, bah, y'all."

One summer day, when Magoo was maybe five, I got to babysit her for several hours. We went to a playground, we went to lunch where she entertained me and the waitresses and we stopped for ice cream on the way home. Sitting in the front seat (this was before mandatory car seats), not tall enough to see out of any windows, she looked up at me and said "Aunt Mary? I love you." That was it, this kid - who has the exact same eyes as mine - had stolen my heart.

This family soon moved back to Maine, to a small town two hours north and into the inherited family farm. There the kids became busy in all the school activities. During these years we headed north to see the school musicals, headed north so Jim could play ice hockey on the pond with the boys, and north to witness and celebrate the high school graduations. Magoo was around a lot more then her brothers, but usually we were there when my very large family gathered en mass so connecting was difficult. Close family ties and all, I had lost knowing who she was.

Until Jim was in Hospice.

When we went to Hospice friends and family circled the wagons; those who could take the time would come and go in order to be with us for the days we were there. Friends cooked dinners and brought them over so we could all sit in the dining area and eat ... while Jim drifted away in his room. I had such a hard time leaving that room, leaving him, watching him leave me.

Magoo was in her final exams at school and had several days when she didn't have to be back. She asked me if she could stay and be with me in Hospice. Her mother added, "Mary, you'll find she is very helpful!" My response was, of course you can stay! And you should just show up in the morning and hang in the room, don't wait to see if it's OK to come in, just come in, camp out and you will soon become part of the ebb and flow, the rhythm, the pulse in the intricate energy of the room. And this is exactly what she did.

Jim went to Hospice the first week in May, with the days warming and daffodils popping. During those days I could only leave the room for short periods of time; to sit in the sun, to eat a bit of food, to see friends who were gathered outside and wanting to see me. The days were incredibly long and yet timeless. On most afternoons Magoo would look at me as the shadows were lengthening and the sky was turning pink and say "Time for a walk Mary."
"I don't know, maybe I should stay and ..."
"Nope, let's just take a short walk around the neighborhood. It's really nice out. We won't be gone long!"

And thus, she would get me out and she and I would talk about what was going on in her life and not talk about what was going on in mine.

Magoo had to leave while we were still on watch in Hospice. She had to go back to school and take her last exam. The day she was getting ready to go I went looking for her and her mother. I was told they were out in the parking lot so I ran out to find them. Magoo jumped out of the car and came running, literally, into my arms. She was crying and shaking and bubbling a verbal stream of consciousness, "I don't want to go ... I want to stay with you ... I want to get to know you and I wanted to get to know Jim and I wanted to be able to hang with you when I finished school and get him to help me learn photography and maybe travel with him and now he's gonna be gone before I even get back and I'll never know him and you have so many friends and I want to be a friend even though I'm family and I'm just gonna be around now and I hate to have to go, this stupid math exam and I'll never see you again and .... "

"Whoa, whoa! Hey, I'm still here! I will still be here when you finish this damn math exam and you are welcome to come be with me at any time!" Never have I said words that were more true. We were both crying now. I hugged her and said, "come say goodbye to Jim." As we entered the room I asked other family members if they would mind leaving for a few minutes and went with her to Jim's bedside.
"Magoo, I truly believe he still hears everything, even at this point. So say what you need to say to him ... he loves you. No regrets, OK?" And she did. And then she left ... and I missed her horribly.

Jim died two days later on May 7th. I went into robot-like motion that allowed me to do all that needed to be done to celebrate the life of one amazing man. All that needed to be done to bring our amazing circle of friends and families together to put closure on a life that was so big, so full and ended so early. As some of you may understand, things are too busy at the end. But then the dust begins to settle, people go home and you're left alone with that hole that you try to walk around all day long but keep falling into regardless. And this is when Magoo came to be with me. She moved into the TV room and asked nothing of me. She and I would sit and read over coffee in the morning and she would allow me to stare into space for short periods of time before she would say,
"Hey, what do you want to do today?"
"Huh? Oh. I don't know"
"Well, how about we go .... " and she had ideas, and she got me moving and off the couch and got me out ... again. She was just there, just being with me, just getting to know me better and allowing me to get to know her better; a small piece of joy in my not so joyous life.

She's still here. She's doing her student teaching in Portland and staying with a friend of ours just down the road who has an extra bedroom. She calls me up to see if I'm around, comes over to make cookies, have dinner with me, help to move a wood pile, sit by the wood stove and read.

She is a real gift. In all the horrible things that were going on for me in May of 2010, she is the biggest gift Jim brought back to me.

And with this said, I have to add that all my nieces and nephews have rallied around me in amazing ways. They all loved Jim and they reach out to me; another niece, JW, asking me to do acupuncture and attend the birth of her little girl, my grand-niece (that was amazing and a huge honor! That little one was born one day before my own birthday ... we may find she and I are a lot alike!). They all are helping me in far more ways then I can mention here and being there for me in just as many ways.

So, there are gifts that come from cancer and from the death of a loved one. In all that darkness there are tiny beams of light. And many of them are in hindsight ... but many of mine are here now in the present, and I cherish them all.

Thanks Magoo,

PS - the photo is of Magoo and her two uncles, Jim Daniels to her right and Jerry Sanders on her left. The little sentry in the back was a friend who was visiting.


  1. Lost for words, except You, Sweet Mary are so loved. This love shall not pass or be gone.

  2. R - I love hearing from you! Thank you for you support of me through all this!