Sarah and I laughed uncontrollably during our best friend’s memorial service. We created somewhat of a spectacle in the otherwise somber church. What began with a sly grin over a fond memory unfolding with the photo montage crackled into a hushed chuckle, a stifled giggle, a heavy lean and the clutching of an upper arm, that finally erupted into a body-shaking, tear-squeezing wheeze.
Drew, weeping since the service began, looked at us like we were maybe having a breakdown? and maybe now is not the time? Aunt Carole and Uncle Roger glanced over, but remained perfectly still, as if any sudden movement would surely send Sarah and me tumbling to the wide carpeted aisle, where we might never recover.
What I couldn’t get out of my head, through the entire celebration of Amy’s life, was the irony of the whole thing. How did Amy, who has never been on time to anything in her life, make it to Heaven before any of us? I half expected her to rush through the doors, an overstuffed purse jingling on her shoulder, grimacing as she stepped on our feet to wedge herself into our row.
What will we do without Amy? I wondered, after she called me with her diagnosis and gave me the correct spelling so I could google the rare, genetic brain disease after we hung up. I googled and I fell apart. I liquified and drained myself for three solid weeks, crying hysterically on my drives home from the office where I pretended to listen on conference calls all day long. What will we do without Amy?
We refused to say goodbye, Amy and I. Ever. Goodbye hung between us at various times like a taboo superstition, an incantation that might summon the dark lord. When I moved away to Colorado, Amy stood on my front porch, blocking the path to my packed car, open-mouth sobbing because our avoidance of the word did nothing to stave the inevitable.
When the Stanford team told Amy she had to give up her car, her students, her apartment; when she labored at speech and shuffled her feet, I came back to dress her in a fancy gown and a white boa and we went to see Sarah perform in a play. We sat on the balcony of our oceanfront hotel, ordered room service, and quietly watched the sunrise together, letting the the Santa Cruz seascape sear into what was left of her memory and her eyesight. After I dropped Amy off with her folks, she and I turned away from each other. We took our twenty paces, but never spun around to draw, never signaled finality.
We got the hospice call exactly one year later. Sarah and I traveled to visit Amy together. Amy sat in an armchair in her room, an aide tilting spoon-fulls of water into her mouth which could no longer swallow. And we knew. I held Amy’s limp hand, and we tried to see her through her diminished weight, her atrophied legs. Her thick, once-long hair now chopped like mine. Sarah made Amy laugh, a silent shoulder-shrugging heave detached from her vocal chords. There you are. She was still in there. When it was time to go I said, “This isn’t goodbye. I’ll never say goodbye. I love you, Aim”.
She was buried in the fancy gown and white boa she wore to Sarah’s play. Amy’s stepmom told me that was her most recent happy memory.
So here is what we will do without Amy:
We will take our sweet time. We will sit with the lonely girl at the party. We will give thanks for our motor function and for our voices. We will do all the things that scare us most. We will laugh inappropriately at each other’s funerals.