Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Big, Great Heart, Gone

Cyn, my wild tomboy friend, died at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Her body gave out. The body that made so many childhood journeys with mine. The ones I was fortunate to have and knew it even then.

Slipping from our houses into the glowing summer nights of the deep south. Sinking, knees first, into grass and mud to launch burning shoebox boats from the creek bank, watching them float in flames into tree-lined blackness, with only stars to light the way. All for the simple joy of it (August entry, Wild Gratitude).

Later, we were spirited young teenagers who had the idea that we were the physical equals of our athletic older brothers. So we played pickup football and baseball with them. Then we fished and played tennis nearly everyday in the summer. In our minds, we were excellent natural athletes in no need of lessons. Or tennis shoes even. An old Polaroid shows Cyn in loafers on the tennis court. All we needed, we felt, were old rackets. And cute outfits.

We knew we would live forever.

Which is why I did not write in August about Cyn being sick. My husband says we knew this was coming. But I didn't, really I didn't, despite everything.

At Christmas two years ago, Cyn came to my son's birthday dinner in Alabama. We were hosting it there during a holiday visit. Already thin, Cyn was losing weight and doctors couldn't say why. "Stress," they suggested. A few months later we caught up at my niece's Alabama wedding, where Cyn, a self-employed florist, had done the flowers. No expense was spared on this wedding. My sister-in-law wanted Cyn and nobody else would do. As usual, the arrangements were the most striking thing in the rooms. Cyn, who taught herself to play the piano by ear as a child, was, simply put, an artist.

At the reception, we sat outside on a wall ledge and Cyn talked. She was still losing weight and exhausted, drawn. Doctors still said they couldn't find anything wrong. "I just feel there is something wrong. I know it somehow." But then she put on her usual cheerful facade. She would not fret for very long in front of others.

A short time later, she had a medical crisis. She was diagnosed in the E.R. as having this, then that. After a series of unnecessary treatments they removed her gallbladder. Then they decided none of that was the matter. That she had a faulty heart valve and COPD -- inherited. The same thing that killed her father before he was 40 and her older brother, my brother's friend. They sent her home with portable oxygen tanks.

Even more horrifying was the fact she did not have health insurance. Pre-existing health issues, a husband who left her, etc. The lung doctor kept telling her she was the heart doctor's problem and the heart doctor repeatedly shuffled her off to the lung man, saying surgery was impossible with her lungs in such poor shape. Cyn wasn't supposed to live this long. But the last time I saw her she looked so good I was amazed. She sounded good. She stuck around, defying the odds. She even went several times to Tunica, Miss., to gamble with friends and family. I thought she was going to make it.

But the past few weeks, she went downhill. Something happened during the weekend. Another crisis, then a seizure. And her body gave out.

She was a fighter. Although she would give away her last quarter if someone asked.
And although her life seemed straight out of Jerry Springer at times, with two marriages and some nightmarish betrayals, she stayed one of the most optimistic people I've ever known. That's what people loved most about her.

Which is why I cried on and off most of the day. And why my oldest friend J., who unfortunately got the call at school where she teaches, broke down too. J. is an Auburn graduate who has pulled for Alabama for two years because the Crimson Tide's bid for a national championship was giving Cyn such joy during her bad times. If you know anything at all about Auburn-Alabama football rivalry, you will understand this sacrifice J. made out of love.

Because Cyn turned her sadness into laughter, even after being told repeatedly by doctors that they couldn't help her. "You won't believe what happened next..." and then she would laugh a deep-throated laugh and start the tale. What others cried about, Cyn turned into material to laugh at.

She was one of a kind.

So I'm distraught. And I'm angry. I'm wondering what could have been done to change this outcome even though that is futile now. I can't focus on that right now.

I'm thinking instead about something an Irish musician/artist/poet told me a few months ago, Lucy, Lucy has a knack for words that take the heart and flood them with light. So it wasn't a surprise when she suggested a radio program that talked about an experiment by a Massachusetts area doctor who sought to measure the mass purportedly lost by a human body when the soul departed the body upon death (Radiolab, Sept. 18, 2009).

In 1907, Dr. Duncan MacDougall weighed six patients while they were in the process of dying. The entire bed was placed on an industrial-sized scale. And when the patients died, MacDougall found that the bodies lost on average of 21 grams within a short time. He suggested this was the weight of the soul.

So I am sitting here, not 24 hours after Cyn's soul left her body, and I'm looking out the window at the cold, dark, rainy night. And I keep wondering, "Where is she?" Because a soul that big, that generous, someone that expansive and full of life cannot just be gone.

I really do want to know. Cyn and I were friends for half a century -- little girls who were already friends when her father died much too early, partners in a foursome of girls who sang in talent shows. We refused to enroll in home economics in high school, taking science instead with a classroom of boys. After I graduated from college and took a newspaper job in a new town, Cyn showed up at my empty apartment on move-in day with my mother, having filled the truck bed with second-hand furnishings and the like from her home and shop. She knew I wouldn't bother.

And now I can't accept that she's gone. I need more time. There are journeys ahead and where is she? We thought we'd live forever. I need a little more time. With my bare feet in the mud of that creek bank beside Cyn's house. Little wild girls streaked with mud, twirling and dancing by the water under the moon, cheering the fire we had set in makeshift boats and in our hearts.

I want her back. I need a little more time. Please. I need her back.


  1. I am so so sorry for your loss, dear Glimmer. I wish I had know Cyn. She sounds lovely.

    My heart aches for you.

    Love, SB.

  2. Thank you, SB. You know, that helps, it really does.

  3. This is a beautiful post ... sending positive thoughts your way ...

  4. I've been trying to get time all day to tell you that I am so sorry that your friend died. I know how it feels. I've lost two in the past fourteen years. And it sucks and it's never fair. You're going to grieve and that is not an easy task. I lost my mind for awhile after both deaths. After the first one, all I could manage to do was pretty much watch infomercials on TV. Honestly. I couldn't focus enough to read or watch a real TV show. It was hard. And this friend had had a beautiful death and six of us had been there with her and she had literally died in our arms in the most loving, peaceful way imaginable after a long, hard illness.
    I still think of her every day and I miss her goofy grin and her smart mind and her dry humor and her emotional heart and her love of Patsy Cline and Budweiser beers and young musicians and dammit, I just miss her and it's not fair! And I miss my other friend too, although her illness was so cruel that her death was a pure blessing.
    I'm sorry. I've gone on too long about me and mine and I wanted to tell you that I do understand and that it's hard and there's no getting around that fact.
    So cry. Mourn. Grieve. Watch infomercials. Listen to Patsy Cline. Taste her ashes if you get the honor of scattering some. (Honestly- I did with both of my friends- it seemed like something I needed to do.) Light candles for her. Do whatever it takes and honor her life by living yours to the fullest.
    We all die. Some of us way too early.
    As Ms. Bastard said, my heart is aching for you too.
    And now I'm going to go light a candle for you.

  5. Thank you Rick. Writing it was the only thing I could do. And seeing your name always cheers me up!

    Ms. Moon -- You are unbelievable, writing all that for me and for other people who come here. People who don't post comments, so it will help them too. And I am glad you went on about you and yours, that is what I want. It is why I always read your blog, after all.

    I'm not sure about the infomercials, but my son's loud teenage friends are coming over this weekend so I'll be a slave in the kitchen constantly making-providing food. Busy is good. And then there's that AL-Auburn game. J. says Alabama will win because Cyn will be exerting her will in a supernatural way for sure now.

    I've been lighting candles since finding out. This is life too, after all, the losses.

    Thank you so much for lifting me up.

  6. Oh gosh, this just made me bawl. What a beautiful tribute. Such clear love, writing, heart stuff. Wow. I'm so sorry. It much ache.

  7. I'm sorry for your loss. It sounds like she will leave a big hole in your life. x

  8. She would be so p-o'ed at me, Bethany! She wanted everybody to laugh, not cry. So, I'll need to remedy this in another post. I promise.

    And Mwa, so many people for two years did so much, trying so hard to hold onto her, to keep her here. Because we felt we could not lose her, not this particular great heart. So I'm not alone. Not in the least.

  9. its so hard to loose a friend..sometimes its harder to loose someone your are bound too by friendship then by genes...i know this place..i have been there...i just can say thats a wonderful post..and i love how you wake your friends spirit..make her appear in front of well as the way you draw a picture of the south which i love so much..thank you for sharing...

  10. Danielle: My own heart just lifted to read that you are seeing Cyn and the south in these words. Because that is precisely why I am writing this. I wasn't able to raise my son there. So, this is all for him, someday. Thank you, just, thank you.

  11. Dear Glimmer,

    I am so very sorry for your loss. Your words are a true tribute to Cyn.


  12. Goodness Glimmer, where have I been all your life?

    The subject of your post is so sad and yet somehow I could not feel unhappy. Cyn's loss is heartfelt, but you made me feel it, taste it, jump up to touch the love and fun you shared, and finally, sit down to cry with you, but only a little. No matter the length, a life well lived is my soul's fondest desire. When I see her from behind your eyes I have to believe she accomplished what she came here for.

  13. Thank you Cheri!

    And Spellbound, you are exactly right on. Cyn lived big and loved being "seen." She would hate the grief. Okay, fine, a little tear would be fine. But that's it. That's why I posted the nutty picture of her playing tennis in loafers. She just didn't care. Whatever, move on, have fun.

    I'm just really glad I got to know her for so long.

  14. Oh I'm so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a person I would have loved-or for that matter someone everyone would love.

  15. Someone pointed out that other people in our high school class "had gotten sick and we didn't do anything." But Cyn's illness galvanized us. We've always been a close bunch, now even more, one of her legacies. She'd like that.

  16. That's damn hard, it is. I'm hurting for you, and that's no lie -- but I'm glad for you that you thought of Lucy Foley's words. That Lucy knows things.

    Later, alligator.

  17. Shelia: Do you remember what Lucy said when her grandfather died? Those words slipped into my mind and are there now, singing. A balm.

  18. I am so sorry for your loss. Cyn sounds like an amazing woman. If it helps at all, I wrote a song about losing's called "Moonless". You can listen to it here:

    Perhaps it may help you feel better. Don't worry...she will always be with you.

  19. Shannon! That beautiful piece "Moonless" is more perfect than I can even tell you. I've been reading your blog and obviously did not investigate the way I should have. I'll be passing your site along to everyone I know.

    Thank you so much for posting the link and the song title. I absolutely love it.

  20. Such a loss of a dear friend is hard. I'm sure that Cyn's energy is hovering nearby. There are times when I would feel the closeness of my father and mother. Now they come to me in dreams. I think that Cyn will return to you in various ways to comfort you.

  21. I think so too, Syd. I'm watching and listening. I think it will be in Alabama, though. Just a notion I have.