Slap in the Face

As I approached the den like lean-to structure in the thick forest brush, the image of a woman became clearer. The dark green leaves and dreary entrance stood in contrast to the sunny day warming my skin. Despite the dismal appearance of the fort in which the woman awkwardly stood, her pale skin and hesitancy to come out of her nest drew me closer. I sensed a familiarity about her. Intrigued by her aloof yet wooing demeanor, I slowly, step by step, heartbeat by heartbeat made my way inside. As we neared each other, I began to recognize her.
In awe and utter joyous confusion I exclaimed in a giddy, child-like, excited exuberance, “Anna, is that really you?”
How could this be?
And as I scoured my mind for a reason, my body ran towards her to embrace my dear friend, who I hadn’t seen in what felt like a lifetime. Knowing she had died, and wondering if perhaps I had too, which enabled our unexpected encounter, I kept running towards her but the gap between us remained unchanged.
“Anna! Anna!” I said, exchanging rationality for the reunion with my soul sister, while I made the final plunge to her for a loving embrace. Instead of a hug, I felt a burning on my face from her fully cocked and loaded slap across my cheek. She hit me so hard and unexpectedly, the shock stole words from my mouth as quickly as joy escaped my heart. I could not tell if the pain on my face or in my heart ached more. Immediately, I understood the perspective from which she slapped me and I began trying to convince her of the truth; my truth, which, despite her being on the other side, still did not resonate with her.
I wept.
And wept.
She stood there staring at me until her mother and aunt came intimidatingly close to me asking me to leave. I remained solely and intensely focused on my friend as I begged her to understand I had not kicked her out while she was sick, and she left me no choice but to allow the transfer of estate execution to her family as her mom and aunt insisted. I reminded her that her lawyer and financial advisors deemed her within her right mind with faculties about her, which meant she could make her own decisions.
She wept.
I woke up.

Three years after her death I am haunted by dreams such as these. I haven’t fully unpacked the bags; I carry them under my eyes. Instead of ongoing relationships and shared grief with her mom, aunt and her son, Elijah who grew up with my kids, I grieve with the hole in my soul. I have not seen Elijah since Anna’s funeral and I do not doubt where the blame has been placed. The vitriol splattered on me has worn scars into my heart. For days after this dream I felt sad and weepy, devastated by feelings of disillusionment and betrayal; wondering if even on the other side of the veil truths are not aligned and love is not yet whole.
“What if every belief I have ever held dear is bullshit?”
“Is this one more something I believed in that crashed to the ground as ego dies?”
This dream left me wondering, “Does Anna now know the truth of the matter?” A truth I could not fully express during her living years.
The pushing away and silent treatment combined with blame and lies which unraveled in the weeks prior to her death muddied muddy waters. My emotional and mental states stretched far beyond sane limits when my divorce finalized while I attempted to support my best friend’s grueling battle with cancer. When you’re looking up to see bottom and find snide remarks, lies, betrayal and your soul sister’s last breath, you change, but first you also die.
So the dream now has me asking, “Was she slapping me in the face because she feels I betrayed her, or was she slapping me to wake up and remember a more whole truth?”
“Anna, when we had the conversation about you moving out we ended the conversation with a hug and agreement on the decision. We both cried as we confessed neither of us wanted the other to feel abandoned by bringing up our needs.”
She had a need to move out for better care and a quieter environment than I could provide with three teenagers, but she said she did not want me to feel abandoned. She stressed her forever gratefulness for the time I had cared for her and opened my home to her.
I brought up the conversation because I knew her mom desperately wanted her to move home so she could care for her. I felt how powerless her mom must have felt; how hurt that Anna chose me over her for her final days. I knew that I knew that I knew that Anna and her mom had healing to do. I also knew that so did I. I shared my needs too. I sobbed and shook as I explained that I simply had an overflowing plate and an empty cup; the deadliest of combinations one can merge.
When Anna moved in, my ex-husband, Drew, and I were together. We agreed as a couple to care for her so she moved in with us in July of 2015, one month after I started a new job. By October, Drew had moved out and the pictures of his new girl and him on Facebook was all I heard from him.
As the end of January drew closer, Anna drew farther into physical decline and I still had not heard from Drew. Working two full-time roles already; a demanding career and mother of three active and “grieving another family breakup” children, I simply could not provide the care I knewAnna needed. She was not ready for hospice assistance because she still had hope, but the emaciation in her body and the writhes of pain demanded attention I no longer had the energy to address. I had to work. I had to take care of my children. I had to ensure my best friend was not neglected; therefore, I forced myself to have the conversation with her about moving in with her mom.
I started the conversation with Anna by reminding her of her Mom’s efforts to change her house because she longed for Anna to move in. It felt safer to ask for the benefit of someone else than admit I had given up and needed help. I genuinely believed this move provided for the best interest of all parties and after our conversation, it seemed Anna did too. So she moved in with her Mom, but left all of her stuff in her room at my place just as Drew had left all of his stuff.

A few weeks later the logistics of a work trip meant I had to stay over a weekend in Europe, so I chose to explore Venice, Italy. I travel throughout Europe for work and extend my trips for writing from time to time. This weekend I visited Venice where torrential rains threatened to flood the city with water levels being nearly street level. On Saturday evening, dolled up in my sassy red galoshes and classy black and white umbrella, I splashed my way to a live jazz bar a few streets over. I walked in and asked for a table for one, received the familiar look of confusion as to why such a pretty woman came alone to a bar, before the sexy Italian man showed me to my table. I pulled out my journal instead of my phone which added to the peculiarity about me. Though I felt a weight from the stares I ignored it and kept writing. It did not weigh nearly as much as the trouble in my heart.
A few tears began to fill my eyes as the slow, jazzy music crescendoed throughout the bar; the subwoofer creating deep, heavy vibrations for my body. I smiled knowing how much Anna liked live jazz music, so I pulled out my phone to text her a picture of my experience. Instead she had a message for me.
“I’m going to call palliative care on Monday and see how to bow out gracefully. I’m done girl. I can’t eat, can’t keep pain at bay, this is not way to live.”
That was the 27th of February, 2016, five days after I received notice that my divorce was final.
The tears retreated while the wine kept coming. I sat silently alone in a crowded bar feeling nothing but the sound of the music. As midnight approached and the rain refused to let up, I paid my tab and walked into the night with my umbrella shut. I let it rain and rain and rain on me until the only thing I felt was rain. I walked and wished the rain would wash it all away…no, I wished it would drown me. I could barely breathe anyway.
I returned to the US a few days later hoping dynamics with Anna’s family would be different and wondering how I could remain in charge of her estate finances with the knowledge her family’s wishes differed staunchly from what Anna had outlined. Two years prior, when she received the diagnosis of cancer, she asked me to be in charge of Elijah’s money in case she passed on and I accepted. I believe she informed her family of this once we had the legalities in proper order which was only a few months into her cancer journey.
Unfortunately, once Anna moved into her Mom’s house and her health continued to decline, money matters derailed. Ultimately, her mom bought Anna’s Lexus SUV for a dollar, claiming, through tears, she wanted it as a memento to feel close to Anna. In addition, Anna rewrote the allocation of funds so an additional ten thousand of Elijah’s money went to her dad in order to pay off a loan Elijah’s dad had failed to repay to him. I continue to hope that Anna genuinely had a change of heart as she neared the end of her life because these were not her wishes previously. When I attempted to assert her original wishes it seemed she had arrived at a place of only wanting peace as her new motivation. It smelled funny to me like Anna told me it would; thick with manipulation and greed. This is why she asked me, instead of her family, to oversee Elijah’s money.
As her Power of Attorney, I decided to ask her estate lawyer to assess her because my gut would not allow me to execute these changes. I had already “secretly” written a check for eight thousand dollars so they could prepay her final expenses, also not Anna’s wishes. She wanted to be made into a diamond, but instead her family used Anna’s money to pay for a funeral she never wanted. She was deemed in her right mind; able to make coherent decisions; therefore, the POA would not be effective. I was off the hook. My friend, however, was hook, line and sinker caught with divvying up Elijah’s inheritance, and the undertow of tension between her family and me grew stronger.
Drew and Elijah ’s dad had been best friends since high school, but neither of them were speaking to me since Drew left in October. This, combined with the lack of support from her family, overwhelmed me when thinking about how the future would feel with the strained connection to Drew and Anna’s family. I felt like I would be tied to enemies, minus Elijah obviously, until he turned twenty one. Seven years of resentment, blame, scorn and bitterness plus a forced connection to Drew via Elijah’s Dad did not resonate with me. Especially since Anna had acquiesced to so many requests already, I felt odd about enforcing anything after she died. So I asked Anna to appoint someone in her family as Executor in my place and a somewhat distant relative agreed to the role. Once these changes were legally in place I felt like I could sit with my friend again and hold her hand and walk through the shadows of impending death.
As her physical death drew closer so did she and I. I sat by her bed and listened to her egoless musings packed in wisdom. We napped together and talked when she could. She thanked me again and again and reassured me of our forever bond as friends. Still wounded from the divorce, I spoke of myself with disdain and lamented over my supposed too muchness. I had grown to despise my need for authenticity since it seemed to push everyone away when I spoke truth. I felt alone, unloved and overwhelmed trying to say goodbye to her and my now ex husband.
Her words comforted me, “You’re not too much and you’re not brash. You’re a prophet without honor in your own home. Speak your truth. Write the story and embellish mine if you’d like, but shine your fucking light.”

She died three days later with her hand in mine.
I wrote the following passage in her honor

Have any of you suffered to the point of death? Anna did…and I watched her. We’ve all watched her over the past two years, but I had the privilege of seeing her square up to death. She greeted her fear of death head on as I greeted my fear of loss head on. We stared our demons down together that day…in the presence of angels!
When I got there Anna was barely responsive, but her head turned towards me as I walked to the far side of her bed opposite her grieving parents. She looked directly at me and tried to say something. I told her she didn’t need to respond and embraced her hand.
Tears filled her eyes and I whispered, “I know you’re scared, but that has never stopped you before. We will get through this together.”
I believe my presence brought her comfort that day…along with the presence of many of her tribe. We stood united and humbled to be part of the entourage that sent her on her exciting journey. In the same way loved ones gather at a hospital when a birth is imminent, we gathered as her death became imminent. Anna often asked why we celebrate and welcome birth, which from the perspective of the baby is a whole new world of unknowns…the sheer existence is different, while we shun death?
To Anna death became simply a part of existence. To exit this life womb is to enter something new and free and to meet your true creator. Death is analogous to birth and Anna has been born again. Born into her eternal state with her eternal Love. She did not lose her battle and she asked that we never say she did. She stared death down from the moment we heard the news. They gave her six months and she took twenty seven. Even as the moments prior to her death unfolded she fought valiantly. Yes, she was scared, but that didn’t stop her. The wind finally blew that direction so we walked the path together. We used to make some decisions, or justify them, by saying “that’s the way the wind is blowing.” So Anna embraced her journey until the wind blew her towards death. She did not lose, she lived life fully and died, as we all will one day.
May she be with the force.

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