I've mentioned Cindy a few times - the mother of the boys for whom I was a nanny. She died of breast cancer in 1993. At the time, Jonathan was 13 years old and Ben was 9. What follows is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote to Jonathan, eldest of the boys, on the 14th anniversary of her death last year.
For me, the day started with no indication of anything changing for the worst, though that threat had been imminent for weeks. You left for school just after I got there, Ben came downstairs to breakfast and we chatted while he ate. Then your Dad came downstairs, into the kitchen, looking hollowed out and lost, and quietly said, "It's time to come say goodbye." I tried to steel myself, as I had been for days, months, years, against the inevitable. As I walked into the room, I knew she was already gone, but I went to her beside anyway and touched her cheek. I think I softly said, "Oh Cindy." before I completely choked, wept out, "Oh Bill!" and hugged your Dad, who was crying too, for... I don't know how long we stayed like that. I managed to keep one hand on Ben's shoulder. He couldn't understand... he broke my heart, trying to wake her up, saying, "Mom... Mom..." After what could have been two minutes or twenty, your Dad took Ben with him to pick you up from school.
So, I sat alone with Cindy for a while, held her hand one last time, reiterated promises I'd made to her, thanked her again for her love, her friendship, her trust in allowing me to care for her children, for the deep and beautiful perspective she brought to my life. I'd never met anyone like her, and I haven't again since.
Then I heard the car pull up, the door open, footsteps on the stairs. I remember standing up and walking to the bedroom door. I didn't want you to have to cross that chasm by yourself. You walked in first, with your Dad and Ben behind. Your anguish, as you came into the room, was palpable. Everything in my being wanted to shield you from it all. I remember thinking, "I have to hold him up, I have to help him stand, this is so wrong." I held out my arms, and managed to whisper, "Jonathan." And you just collapsed onto me. After a couple of minutes, your Dad pried you away and led you over to your Mom. At that point, as much as I was a family member, I felt like an interloper and I crept out of the room.
The towel. Funny, I have a fond memory of that as well. Once, in her drug and brain tumor induced confusion, Cindy woke as I sat with her, and asked me what she was doing at a Turkish Bazaar - all of the towels and blankets hanging over the windows to shield her eyes from the light, made her think she was in some foreign, dusty town square. She had a great time describing the merchant stalls selling rugs and hookahs, the men arguing over figs and dates and pistachios, and the exotic women meandering around looking for income. She was enthralled by the vision, as was I.
And, to me, that is the epitome of who your Mom was... a woman who found beauty in the everyday, no matter where she was, or what she was doing. She was a woman of near infinite patience, soft-spoken, able to see any given situation from several different perspectives. She had a wry, delightful sense of humor, and was always quick to laugh – which was fortunate, because she had one of the best laughs ever. She was just as quick to share a tear and lend a shoulder. Whomever she was with, whatever was going on, she was always so there in the moment. And I’m not putting her on a pedestal here – it’s really who she was, how I saw her at least. She taught me tons about being a good human. She wasn’t perfect by any means… she always got overly anxious way too easily, and she had to discuss any decision to the nth degree (doggone lawyers!). But, you’re right, she was a great confidante and one of the finest friends I’ll ever have. I still talk to her whenever I have anything heavy to weigh out in my mind, or wink in her direction when I see extraordinary in the ordinary. Still, I long to sit at the kitchen table with her again, drink tea and shoot the shit like we did in the olden days when “you kids” were off at school. I’d love for her to know me now, and be able to relate to her as the “who” that I am now.
It is strange to think how young I was then, yet how much older I felt than I do now. Everything had such immense weight to it. It was all so serious. Had I realized then how little in life actually posed a threat to me, I’d have enjoyed my youth a lot more.