This Labor Day weekend found me surrounded by my loving, funny, adorable granddaughters in my daughter's house in Montreal. It is where my heart pulls me whenever there is enough time in my busy work schedule to take a break any longer than our regular two day weekends. My daughter is married to a great guy who loves her and the kids and who also has accepted me, the mother-in-law, into the house he has built for them.
Cooking is not my daughters favorite activity, so when I come to visit, her kitchen becomes my kitchen and she willingly allows me to take charge and cook whatever meals I feel like cooking. It gives me pleasure, as her husband seems to enjoy just about every dish I have concocted.
When I enter this world, of children and domesticity, my ego seems to melt away, the concerns and responsibilities of my job back in Boston, my past history and "alternative lifestyle" all become invisible to me. I am absorbed by those children and time becomes sensual, more primitive, marked by the movement of the sun across the sky, and whether or not we can go to the park before or after dinner, rather than the length of my staff meeting or difference between catching a 6 a.m. or 8 a.m. shuttle to Washington DC.
These visits to my grandchildren are touchstones for my own awareness of the passage of time. This weekend the five and half year old has her first wiggly front tooth, which she very proudly demonstrated. Grandma's intuition to bring a small, satin, tooth fairy pillow as one of the regular parade of gifts, was vindicated, as the little pillow now sits on her bureau waiting for the big moment when that tooth actually falls out. This is one of those events, the loss of the first of our baby teeth, that most of us can remember as we struggle to recall the significant markers of our lives, that tell us yes, indeed, we ARE growing older.
The first twenty years or so of life seem to push us forward in time. We are eager to rush ahead, the first day of school, being able to cross the streets alone, getting a drivers license, old enough to vote, old enough to drink, entering college, etc. etc. At some point, not for all of us, but for many of us, that rush forward becomes a looking back, sometimes with nostalgia, sometimes with regret, or longing for things lost, bad decisions, harm done.
I have been one of the lucky ones. One of those people who have never stopped the rush forward leaping through each phase of my life with anticipation, curiosity and expectations of new joy. A recent commenter on one of my posts called me fearless and I am not shy in accepting that evaluation as fear is a relatively alien feeling for me. Even death, though I know I am moving closer towards it, seems abstract, not a real presence in my consciousness, until something happens that makes me pay attention. That something came this weekend in a phone call from my partner RG. He always stays home during my frequent jaunts to care for our big old dog, Cassidy and to keep up with the demands of his business. We usually talk at least once a day, usually about nothing much, only touching base. This time was different. He just said, seemingly out of the blue, "Risé died." Just like that, "Risé died." Two words. "Risé died." Then there seemed to be a black hole in my brain.
My first thoughts were, "not possible", she's younger than we are, way younger, or so I seemed to remember it that way. RG and I had met her when she was a student at Harvard Law School back in the 1980's. She was a very smart woman, who had a look of solidity about her which made you feel she was a good deal older. She fell into our artistic, creative, circle of social experimental living, and became a friend that we had close contact with over several years while she lived in Boston. As the years passed she became a lawyer for a Washington firm that specialized in environmental law. While she could be very intellectually articulate, expressing herself emotionally was a struggle and she always kept her true feelings very close to the vest.
We knew Risé loved children and wound up adopting the daughter of friend who seemed incapable of caring for the child. She married a man I had never met, they lived in a house outside the city. Her experimentation with alternative lifestyles, which had brought us together years ago seemed to be nothing more than a dull memory. She was not able to have children of her own, I don't know why, we never discussed it. Occasionally when I was in Washington for business, we'd meet for coffee at the airport, just to reconnect. I think I represented something to her about her past that she did not want to entirely let go.
Recently we'd heard she had cancer, but it looked like the treatment had been successful, at least she was up beat about it. She even started to do some blogging, but not about the cancer. I just assumed she was "cured". Then she died. RG learned about it because he was concerned she was not replying to his emails. Finally he called her law firm. They told him, she had died.
After he and I hung up, I felt strange. There was a space in my brain where Risé's memory sat. But there I was in the hubbub of life and it was time for the kids baths and that is a grandma chore. The next day we went to a village fair, like many such celebrations that seem to be every where in late summer. They had demonstrations of crafts from earlier times. The kids loved the sheep shearing and patting the huge fluffy mohair rabbits as a woman spun their fur into yarn. I stopped to watch a stained glass artisan at work. Suddenly I saw Risé sitting there. She loved crafts and doing stained glass work was one of them. I felt a weight on me and a sadness so alien to my usual state of mind. It stayed with me for the rest of the day and has lingered off and on ever since, a reminder of my own mortality and a vague guilty feeling when you know someone younger than you has died.