The last time I saw Jane was unintentional, walking through a Presbyterian graveyard, looking for the headstone of a young girl's mother. Technically, I was just the girl's tutor but her father was dead too, and she was being raised by her grandparents, who couldn't bring themselves to place a wreath on their daughter's grave at Christmas.
I offered to go, not knowing that among the Revolutionary War soldiers and graves of nameless infants, I would find Jane's name on a bronze plate in a brick wall on a small box. There were rows and rows, like postal boxes, yet outdoors, with sunlight and a chilly breeze. Names and numbers, yet no locks or keys, a small closed box.
To the right, the green tips of snowdrop bulbs were quietly reaching up from below, as it happens every January. No magic, no miracle, this is the nature of bulbs. They look dead when you buy them. I've always found the process fascinating.To the left, children's laughter was carrying through the old pines from a day care center. Below the brick wall, was a weathered ribbon tied to a bouquet of faded red tulips, her favorite.
I know because the last time I saw Jane, I didn't really see her because the coffin was closed. Though her three adopted daughters looked as lost as their father, I saw red tulips everywhere.
The last time I actually saw Jane, her brain tumor had returned with a vengeance, no conventional or unconventional medical treatment, no organic food, filtered water, or slew of vitamins could conquer. She was in a hospital bed in the very room I once helped her dress and do physical therapy in, only she could no longer move at all. Her husband rubbed her feet while I talked to her.
In the blue room, her eyes looked bluer, like quiet wind and no clouds. I told her about my latest visit to the oncologist, how he said I needed to take 1000IU of vitamin D. I told her I called the office back to see how long I needed to do this; the nurse said, "forever." I jokingly replied, "you mean even after I die and hopefully go to heaven?" The nurse was professional or preoccupied; her answer was," yes, forever."
Jane's eyes flickered but she couldn't smile anymore. Back when she could still talk with considerable effort, we played Scrabble, making up our own rules. Her aphasia came and went, so we often looked at each other's letters, helping one another complete words. Two people playing as one. Insisting upon checking with the dictionary, one day she got frustrated trying to find a word that wasn't there, and threw the heavy book across the room, with the one arm that wasn't paralyzed. I had never seen tears in her eyes, so I softly chastised her, "you've been holding back in physical therapy; you're stronger than you think." I picked up the dictionary and we finished playing, until there were no more squares.
But that was back when she had been on an almost hourly regime of vitamins that I knew she hated. In the blue room, her eyes said, peace. Her IV said saline. I brushed some loose strands of hair away from her eyes, like a mother would to a sleeping child. So this was our goodbye, the sunlight of late day streaming through lace curtains, making patterns on blue walls. Leaning in to kiss her cheek, I whispered, "I don't know about you, but I'm not taking any damn vitamins in heaven."
The short visit visibly tired her. The energy she expended trying to focus vanished as her eyes closed, in that blessed sleep before death. When I spoke with her husband in another room, he wearily said it was just a matter of days. I asked how the girls were taking it, this being the second mother they would lose. He said, "they're teenagers, it's hard to tell. By the way, what did you whisper to Jane? I saw a fraction of a smile."