Mara had said, “I will miss you!” Tee answered, “I’d stay if I could.”
Someone had said, “What will we do without you?” “Become famous!” she advised. There were 30 or more women singing her on her way. I am so proud of Tee, and of all of us.
Someone had commented that what she was doing took a lot of courage. She said, “I don’t feel brave.”
“What do you feel?” Bethroot asked. She considered. “Reasonable.”
She lived life to the last; framed two pictures the morning of her death.
At the last, looked around the circle and smiled to each one. All this I heard after the fact.
Tee had said on the phone, “Come at noon.” or “Be there by noon.” I don’t exactly remember.
“I’m going to take the medicine on Sunday,” she’d said.
“Oh, Tee! Are you sure?” I’d burst out. There was a patient, somewhat irritated silence.
“It must be the hardest decision you ever had to make,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, Tee! I don’t know what to say!”
“You don’t need to say anything,” she said.
“OK, then,” I said. “See you Sunday.” The common words echoed so odd and strange. In a little while, I called her back, asked if there were any vacancies in her schedule before Sunday – I’d been on for the next Tuesday. Now there wouldn’t be one.
“I’d just like to be with you one more time,” I blurted.
“Oh, honey, no, there isn’t. But I’ll keep it in mind if there is something you could do.”
“Well, then,” I blustered on, “I just want to say that you’ve been a really big thing in my life.” I was not eloquent. “One of the most important ones.”
“Thank you,” she said, as she’d said when we first met, taking the time to breathe, to feel it.
In the end I guess there were so many of us wanting to be with her one more time that Tee threw a pizza dinner Saturday evening.
If Tee said, “Be there by noon on Sunday” I hadn’t really taken in the import of that. I’d pondered when I’d take the medicine if it were me. I thought maybe sunset.
As the pizza dinner broke up on Saturday night I had overheard something about “noon till 1:15.” I assumed this was the time allotted for arrival.
So Sunday morning I charged up my camera batteries, in case photography was wanted, packed my toothbrush and pills in case of overnight stay. Forced myself to eat something after Donna Taylor reminded me diabetics must eat. Downloaded the photos I’d taken the night before, wondered if there might be time to show them to Tee. Packed her mask so I could touch her face as I drove. Maybe I was not thinking quite clearly.
I arrived to a livingroomful of women, singing. And no Tee in sight.
Loving touches and looks to me. I was put into a comfortable nearby chair.
I sat there listening to the beautiful song, tried to discern what was going on,
wondered if Tee was going to appear. Hoped I hadn’t come too late.
Shocked that my besetting sin of lateness may have led to missing this.
Yet all that was very small in the light of the momentous event underway.
After a while, I tried to join in the singing, but had no voice at all, no heart for it.
Only silent tears pouring like a waterfall.
Every now and then there were a series of abrupt, soft snores from somewhere in the circle. Was someone really falling asleep,
at such a time? Or were these the sounds of someone’s choked-down sobs? At first I ignored them, having much else on my mind and heart. But when it happened the next time I decided to look who it was… The sound came from over in that direction… It was then I took in the closed curtain on the alcove holding Tee’s bed. And understood. Tee was already deeply asleep.
Song: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…”
Song: “A woman’s voice raised up in the silence can be heard a long way…”
yes, that was Tee, breaking even visual silences, being heard a long long way.
But as for “We don’t need electricity,” Tee was not one to celebrate unplugged living.
And, to be honest, on or off the grid, most of us these days have found a way to feed our computers, even in remotest Women’sLand.
But whatever the lyrics, the love was clear, for Tee, for each other, as we circled together in the very presence of death, as we bore the loss together.
Days earlier, Renee had voiced to me her wish that when the time came we could sing for Tee. “Well,” I said, “Tee will do what she wants. It may not be women sitting singing in a circle, that’s not how she’s mostly chosen to spend her life.” But I was wrong, she had requested it. Without a lot of talking it over, Tee knew what to do when the time came. She’d joked, ”This is the last thing I control” about some last-minute detail of how it was all being done.
She had looked love at each one, and gone behind the curtain. I guess the singing began then. She’d emerged once more, a few minutes later, invisible to most, and slipped into the bathroom one last time, and back, through the kitchen.
“Hold me, hold me, never let me go, like a leaf on the end of the branches
And when I die, let me fly, let me fly, like a leaf from the end of the branches.”
All singing: “Oh, Tee! Celebrate Tee. Sing it with an open and a joyful heart” as our hearts were breaking.
And celebrate everyone in the circle, holding each one in the focus of love.
At one point someone said, “You know, ‘Amazing Grace’ is her favorite song.” So we sang that many loving times, and made some beautiful harmonies. But after a while the song faded. Someone began on “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and others started to take it up. Then from behind the curtain came Charlotte’s voice, riding high over it all, intoning, insisting, “Amazing Grace.” So we returned to that song, singing and then humming the softly rocking waltz, the sacred lullaby.
After a while the curtain pulled back. There stood Max and Charlotte, arm in arm, tears in their eyes. After a moment Charlotte said, “She’s gone. She started to go the moment you began that song.”
I think there was a silence. Then Barb sang out “Oh, the water is breaking” in a great, lamenting voice.
The singing stopped too soon, I thought. Hearing often lingers, I know. It felt to me that Tee might still be here. But the circle broke up, women began to talk in soft voices. Some trickled into Tee’s room.
She was still Tee, a waxen white, the Self-Elf doll she’d made once holding her close.
She seemed still to breathe, the illusion born of always having seen her do so.
She looked at peace. Not “happy,” but something good.
I traced my finger down her proud nose, as I never could in life, kissed her long, capable hands,
hands that made me think of my mother’s, though I never told her so.
I had said to her once, “Some people die with their boots on. You, you’ll die with your earrings on.” And so she had, carved red ones. A lovely touch of dark, warm color on the blue sheets.
I looked at the ceiling, wondering if she lingered there, but the white plaster just above us seemed much too low for that. She would choose a higher soar, a freer view.
Later, someone reflected that Beverly had hated “Amazing Grace”, insisted it not be sung at her memorial service. “Well, it’s a good thing they didn’t die together, then!” Bethroot laughed, as did we all. One of many laughs, many tears, many kisses and treasuring embraces into the afternoon.