Friday, October 12, 2012

Just Show Up

In this life, we sometimes feel we need to present a certain front to the world, to be strong, to look a certain way, to be what we think is expected of us. 

6 weeks and some days ago my mama lost her battle with cancer. She fought hard and it was not enough.

I have struggled for words to adequately articulate all that this means to me, and the words don't come. Maybe in time.

When I knew, and when I was trying not to know, that there was not much time left for her, I wanted to run, to hide my head in the sand, to pretend that this wasn't happening in my life. As if, somehow, by avoiding the reality I could avoid the grief. But the wiser part of me, thankfully, knew better. 

I was not necessarily at my best those last days and weeks. I vacillated between many different emotions, strong at times, weak at others, sometimes pulling back. But I did manage to show up. And for that I'm grateful.

Looking back, I can examine myself during this time and wish I was different, stronger, somehow better. But mostly I'm just glad I was there. I never, never wanted to say good bye to her, but I'm glad that I had the chance to love her all the way up until the end.

This morning, at work, a neighbor's cat was struck by a car in the street in front of our office. My coworkers and I followed him across the street where he had pulled himself from the road. He was breathing heavily and I was afraid. I wanted to run, to hide, not to confront this, not now. Instead, holding Lucy in my arms we sat in the grass next to him. He was breathing heavily, panting, meowing loudly. Again, the urge to leave came over me.

In the back of my head, it occurred to me that it was rather ridiculous that I, who had sat with mother and my family as as she breathed her last breath just weeks ago, was struggling to be there for this unknown cat. I laid my hand on his heaving body and we just sat with him, Lucy pointing at him, me telling her, he was hurt, ow, Lucy pointing and repeating again and again, "ow." His breathing slowed, his meowing became softer, and I thought, oh, oh, he's leaving. But moments later he was still with us, calmer, hurting, but still very much alive. 

In the space of about 45 minutes my coworkers and I took turns being with him until the family was notified and the vet arrived to take him away. The vet felt, on first inspection, that he had broken bones but stood a good chance of recovery. She called later to say that he had been treated for shock but was resisting X-ray, so they were going to let him calm before trying again.

I don't know what our presence meant to this cat, but he seemed calmer and more peaceful when I was touching him. I know that in times of intensity in the lives of humans, we struggle to know how to help, what to say or do. 

And I know I have been tremendously comforted by many seemingly small gestures from loved ones. A call, a card, a text, an email, a hug,a squeeze on the shoulder, a meal, a listening ear, just the words, "I'm so sorry." These things have lifted me up, buoyed me when I felt myself sinking and I will remember them forever. 

If I have learned anything from all of this, it is this: It's not so much the end result of our actions, the polish or poise with which we present ourselves, as it is that we show up at all. For our lives, for those we love, for the work we do, for the commitments we make. Sometimes just showing up makes all the difference.