WRITING THROUGH GRIEF IS A NEW BLOG POST SERIES. THIS IS MY HONEST RECOUNT OF MY GRIEF AT THE LOSS OF LONNIE WHO PASSED SATURDAY, JANUARY 16, 2021. THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE READ DEAR UNIVERSE, I GET IT NOW, WILL KNOW SHE’S BEEN THERE FROM THE BEGINNING. THOSE OF YOU WHO KNOW ME PERSONALLY WILL KNOW SHE WAS MY SECOND MOTHER.
I went for a walk this morning. The sun was already shining brightly and bouncing off the leaves despite the early morning hours. Usually, I like the morning walks where it’s still partially dark, like the day is just barely beginning to open its eyes and adjust to waking. But today the sunshine was lovely because it danced with the breeze, casting dazzling shadows across the carpet inside my house before I left and grass and pavement once I made my way outside. It reminded me of the prisms Lonnie had hanging in one of the kitchen windows. I loved to watch the rainbows dash about on the wallpaper like they were chasing each other. “Aren’t they beautiful?” she would say.
The breeze wasn’t only involved in its dance with the sun this morning, but also singing the song they danced to. Like a loud shush but playful and peaceful. I closed my eyes to listen, trusting my other senses to keep me moving without falling or stumbling. And I listened. I listened to Mother Nature’s great whispering song, felt the breeze across my skin and sun on my face, and the ground under my feet, and I thought this is beautiful. This thing called life and this Earth we’ve been given. This, too, had Lonnie’s stamp on it.
How many times had she remarked on the way a tree curved and made her think of an old hand, or how much she loved the way the Cherry Blossoms would bloom in the Spring in D.C. How many times had we driven the interstate and she remarked on the way the sun hit the mountaintops at one certain mile marker. How many times had she stopped our conversation on the back deck to tell me to turn my head slowly and marvel at a bird bathing in the bath at the corner. Every time she paused to take a moment to notice, there was always joy in her voice and on her face. She was reveling in these sights like they were freshly opened gifts, revealed to her for the first time. It didn’t matter how many times she had seen these before, she still looked at them with wonder. They were beautiful pieces of God in her mind.
It occurred to me this morning, as I felt bedazzled by the trees swaying in the breeze and the birds chirping from inside their branches, that Lonnie knew how to be present. To turn everything off in a single instance and be in the here and now. To look at something closely, inspect it with curiosity and love, and appreciate it for what it was.
Her ability to see the beautiful daily, to practice the art of presence, must have contributed to her resiliency against cancer each time it came into her life. “Today is a good day,” she would say of those days where she didn’t feel chemo-warped. And she celebrated that one ‘good day’ without the expectation that the next day be the same. She seized the higher amounts of energy, the better appetite, to get up and enjoy something … even if it meant cleaning the house, or doing the dishes, because finally she had what she needed in herself to do it independently and that was a blessing. To not have to rely on someone else to clean her toilet suddenly became a gift.
Watching her wade her way through cancer twice, I came to understand what accepting the things you cannot change looks like when it’s done with faith and grace. I came to understand the blessing of able-bodiedness, health, phenomenal practitioners, insurance, personal identity through your body (having your hair, having your breasts) but most of all, the simple and powerful value of a feel-good beautiful day. Each day for Lonnie truly was a gift.
Even well before cancer, she saw gifts in all things. She could look at a blue drinking glass and twirl it in her fingers, marveling at its color and shape. She would comment on the weight of silverware or a cup when she dined out. “Oooh, I like the weight of this glass,” she would say. She loved the way a coffee cup would fit snugly in the palm of your hand. We would go to craft shows and she would smile and gently touch the items she found the most finely done. Some of them, you would see her eyebrows lift with excitement as she inspected it and when we started to walk away she would lean over and whisper out of the corner of her mouth, “We could make that.” There was beauty in everything. This only bloomed and magnified with cancer but it had always been there. Perhaps this gift to see all things as beautiful, to be present, was purposefully given to her, knowing she would need it.
By the time I returned home, I came to this conclusion. My life was made sweeter by Lonnie not just because of her involvement in my life, but by her outlook. Her presence taught me presence, though I am still practicing. Her ability to see so many great and small things, natural and otherwise, as beautiful has given me the chance to develop this skill myself as I’m not sure it was a natural gift given to me. She taught me. It’s why I can look at a mason jar in all its shapes and find pleasure in them. Or the thrill I get about the way a particular ribbon on a Christmas gift curls perfectly. And it’s definitely why in the midst of a mealtime conversation with my son or my partner, I stop talking to revel in the bird that has landed on the bird feeder hanging on the deck.