Weekend bonus shot, 07.18.09


The beloved and Nancy behind a “flight” of Rhone wines, San Francisco, CA.

This isn’t a picture of a bunch of wine glasses.  

It isn’t a picture of my beloved, either, though that’s her, directly across from me.  

What this is is the only recent picture I have of my friend Nancy — the woman in the polka dot dress — taken the last night I saw her: May 30, 2009. 

She was in town and we had dinner at this swanky restaurant  to celebrate; we all went to the NCLR fundraiser afterward, where she danced and danced and reveled in re-found love. I had become friends with her partner over twenty years ago, and we were all fused together for good by an incident which changed our lives: the attempted murder of her partner by a stranger who’d entered their apartment. The woman who was Nancy’s partner then, the one who defied all odds to survive that attack, has since become one of my very dearest friends, a member of my family, the extended, just happens to not live in my house branch.  

Twenty years passed since then.  They broke up; Nancy’s life had taken her to Spain for a time, and then to the East Coast for a professorship (Spanish Language & Literature).  She married a man and gave birth to two daughters whom she adored, now 8 and 13. Then a little over a year ago her husband surprised her with the news that he wanted to end the marriage.  Nancy worked on healing, and this spring, quite by serendipity, she re-found her love of twenty years ago, my dear friend and our children’s 3rd favorite bedtime story reader.  

It is virtually impossible to convey in any number of words what their re-kindled love meant to each of their souls.  Suffice to say that they were experiencing the zenith of something extremely rare: the mixture of new love and old, discovery and recovery, relief at the notion that they would no longer be searching to be really, truly seen, and exhilaration at the prospect of the future together that their past prepared them for.

This night — in the picture above — this dinner, she was radiant. When I hugged her hello after so many years (I’d seen her last at a Modern Languages Association conference, back when I was still in grad school), her body and her energy felt so, so familiar.  Lit from within.  She is one of the most vital, filled-with life people I’ve met, right there next to my beloved in this regard. They both positively pulsate with energy.  “Irrepressable” and “ebullient” are adjectives many, many people come up with to describe Nancy. 

In the morning of June 17 — while on the phone with my dear friend — she died. Her heart stopped.  No evidence of heart disease; no evidence of any cause of death. She simply, suddenly, stopped being alive.  Evidently this can actually happen. Why? There is no why. It just happens.

Today is her hometown memorial, in Alfred, New York.  I can’t be there, but I can put this image here, this image which is the closest I can get to Nancy now.

En paz descante. 

14 thoughts on “Weekend bonus shot, 07.18.09”

  1. oh! I had desperately hoped that my “feeling” was wrong, and it was not the new/old love of the woman I briefly met at your house. I am so very sorry. Please accept my (repeated) condolences, and offer them to AZ as well, and tell her I’m the woman who shared my program with her at the puppet show. I am so very, very sorry.

  2. So sorry about the loss of your friend, and for your dear friend’s loss of her soulmate-partner. Such a sorrow-full parting after such a wonderful reunion and re-kindling. Thoughts are with you all, LD and family.

  3. Thank you both. I will definitely pass on your kind words, angelina. AZ was walking on clouds that puppet show Sunday — you could just see the joy shining out of her pores, couldn’t you? Even my 87 year old Pops remarked on it to her. That was just three days before Nancy died.

    Truly, the acuteness, the capriciousness of the tragedy would take away the breath of Aeschylus and Shakespeare. The vast sweep of life — its heights and the depths — astounds me more and more, the more of life I see. It’s humbling, and really quite incomprehensible. We’re ants; passionate, deeply feeling ants, but ants nonetheless.

  4. My heart is saddened for you, your friend’s soulmate, and those around her who will miss her. Revel in her life, and not in her passing, my friend.

    • If anyone’s life called out to be celebrated, and if anyone’s life-force called out to be emulated, it would be hers. That’s what I try to keep my eye fixed on. Thank you.

  5. Yes, it does happen that a heart stops all of a sudden, out of the blue. We lost our best male friend like that last year, also the most important man in our 6 year old daughter’s life. Only six months after I lost my mother. I wonder how your kids deal with your grief. Our daughter is quite freaked out by it. She actually reacted to news of his sudden passing with “But that’s no reason to cry!” – a phrase I swear to whatever powers she never got to hear from us, about anything. I tried to tell her calmly that yes, it is a reason to cry if ever there was one, and that I was still her strong mama and going to protect her even though I was sad. But every time his name gets mentioned she eyes us suspiciously to see if tears well up. It seems to threaten her a lot and prevent her to be able to feel the loss.

    • Thank you, Jennifer PM. That is a huge, vast, enormous gulf of a place, that “might have been.”

      O, cardamom, please accept my sympathies for such loss! Losing him, so very soon after losing your mother. I can’t imagine. After my mother died, the pain was so acute that I asked the dieties for a ten-year reprieve on loss, and for whatever reason (chance?) I got it. Thereafter it’s been a bumpy ride, but that ten years’ quiet was very, very much appreciated.

      As to our kids: you know, it’s tough to tell how they’re dealing with it. The littlest, 2.5 yrs old, tracks some things but not others. He’s very sensitive to the feelings themselves, but more in a kind of magnetic/empathetic way. In other words when we’re upset, he sucks it up and then gets upset himself. The older one, the girlie, now 4.5 yrs old (she actually insists it’s noted at 4 & 2/3, since she knows that’s older than 4.5) gets very quiet and turns inward to herself, often reading or singing to herself elsewhere in the same room. She’s still there, but somewhere safer for her. I can’t tell you how poignant that is.

      She knows Baba to be a person who has sadness in her, and she will from time to time simply come over and put her fingers at the edges of my mouth and push it upward. Which, amazingly, works.

      My partner is very sensitive to our overexposing our kids to adult feelings, or adult vulnerability when it feels like they’re too young, mostly because of what she grew up with (suffice to say: lots of both, to her mind, way too much). So we probably err on the overcautious side. On the other hand (so many hands here we’re like an Indian god), on the other hand, I often bring into speech the several (now, seemingly many) important dead people in our lives. I want the kids to know that people not here physically are still here emotionally, or have left a lasting emotional presence in those of us who continue to love them and think about them. Both my kids can name their eldest cousin Erik in photos, can pick out which toys or which clothes were his, even though Erik died before our daughter was six months old. He knew her, is the point, and she knows that he knew her.

      I can imagine the painfulness of feeling sorrow for these losses, and then seeing your daughter watchful for the signs of it, and redirecting whatever she would feel. What a very very hard place to be. I’ve got to hope that her own feelings are somewhere, and will find their path outward at her own pace and in her own way? One never knows. The day after my nephew Erik died, his younger brother Patrick (then eight) and Erik’s best friend Seth (then nine, my sister’s best friend’s son) were playing in the back yard. It was an elaborate role-play, where Patrick was a prince or something, and Seth was a dark knight, whose mission it was to protect Patrick from a constantly recurring threat of some sort. They played all day like this. Later when his mother asked Seth how he was feeling, he said something to the effect of, “Mom, when grownups feel sad, they get it out by crying and talking. Kids are different. We play it out.”

  6. What a wise boy, that Seth! Thank you very much for your long and detailed answer. Yes, it is a difficult balance to strike sometimes – protecting your kids from the adult feelings (grief, in this case) and still be authentic. We sometimes forget how scary powerful emotions can be. Kids do have a more natural way of integrating the various stages of being. One day, C. said something to the effect of “We have three lives, don’t we? One in the belly, one on earth, and one in the ground.” And when I regretted that my mother and our friend could not be there when she started school last fall, she just said, but they are here with us, and pointed to the sky and to my heart. It is me holding on to this life in the flesh! But then it was me, too, who suggested that our loved ones aren’t dead as long as they’re not forgotten … Still, I wish we’d have had more of a reprieve. For my sake and especially for hers.
    I feel with you, and thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

  7. What a wonderful, terrible story about finding the new/old love… and then losing one another once again. My heart aches for your dear friend — and for you.

    And, in a strange small-world coincidence, I went to college in Alfred, NY and in fact spent this past weekend with Alfred folks. Alfred is a truly lovely place in the summer, so I’m sure it was a serene, leafy place for her memorial.

    • Ah yes! My friend spent last night here telling us all about the weekend, and it included two major reunions there. Nancy went to Alfred, too, and her father is a fairly legendary (now emeritus) ceramics professor there. From her photographs and descriptions, it seemed indeed just as beautiful as you say.

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