I have had enough of death. A high school friend died recently, suddenly, without warning. A young 41 year old mom, with three kids, recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The list is long and I will not bore you, but it became, over time, overwhelming for me.
I know there is no escaping bad news. Beheadings in the paper, massive flooding reported on TV and all sorts of unjustified shootings. Just too much to take.
I finally just turned off the news once and for all.
I like reading about tea. So that became my go to read. Teatime magazine has the loveliest pictures on-line of beautiful table settings and wonderful recipes. I indulged in that when not working or cleaning or shopping or walking in nature or taking care of my new chickens and ducks. I started to feel better. And I kept ignoring the real news as much as I possibly could.
But one headline kept screaming at me. Bruce Jenner. Caitlyn Jenner. I see it everywhere. It is hard to ignore.
People are talking about it. A lot. Perhaps that is a good thing. At least she is using her fame to bring to light a subject many once thought taboo.
People are posting her magazine cover on facebook. Some of the comments are cruel. Some, not so bad. Most of my friends have not posted. I know I have not. But still, I thought about it often.
I know a few transgender people. I like them. They are good people. They did not feel like they were men (they were both male at birth) and finally decided not to hide their true selves anymore and became outwardly female. They were always female inside.
I thought, I could not imagine living like that. Hiding something because of fear or shame or insecurity. Afraid of ridicule.
But then I thought more about that and decided, most of us do this all the time. I know I do.
Very few of us show our true selves to the world. We think we are too fat. This is not possibly me we say when we see a picture of ourselves. I was always the skinny girl. That is my true self, not this tub! Or we lose our hair. Or our stamina We go grey.
So what do we do? We try to fix it. We try to become more our "real" selves. The picture we have in our heads and hearts of who we truly are.
So, how is this different from Caitlyn? Or any other transgender person? They just want to live as their real selves, too. Why do we find this so amusing and entertaining? This is someones real life. Why is it so hard for us to accept change?
We are also most likely never going to be on the cover of a magazine and we are certainly not getting a reality TV show. We are not famous. But the famous are going to be hounded and photographed and written about regardless how discreet they try to be. "Gotcha" is the way society is entertained now. So I am sure it was empowering for Caitlyn to take that power away and give it to herself and present herself in a way that made her feel beautiful and special.
I wish we could all do that. I hope her family responds in kind and embraces her. Society will not. That is hard enough, but loved ones turning away, that is a heartbreak I wish on no one.
I remember a hospice patient I was asked to see years ago. She was a lovely lady with end stage pancreatic cancer who wanted to die at home. I went to the address I was given and was told her son would be there. But when I rang the bell, the door was opened by a woman.
Hi, I am Jane, she said.
She a looked a bit like a man, five o'clock shadow with a rather large protruding adam's apple that bobbed up and down as she talked. She wore longish blond hair and a too tight shirt with a flowing checkered skirt. Her voice was deep and strong. She had beautiful, long red acrylic nails.
Good afternoon, I said. Is your mom Nancy here?
Right this way she said.
Her mother was in a lavishly decorated bedroom wearing a white flowing nightgown and robe. She was reclining on the bed looking regal and thin, but comfortable and calm.
Come in she said.
Her husband, Ed, sat nervously in the corner.
I came home to die and I want you to go over all my medications with James so that I am not in pain.
Jane, mom. Not James anymore.
Oh, right dear. Sorry.
I could feel the tension in the room. It was palpable.
Ed got up and walked away.
I stayed for over two hours. I reviewed everything that Jane needed to do to keep her mom comfortable. There was so much left unsaid in that room. You could feel it hovering like a cloud before the storm. But I said nothing.
Then I left them and walked out to speak to Ed.
He was sitting in the kitchen reading the Boston Globe.
He looked up.
Do you have any questions I asked.
Yeah. Why did my son do this now? Why could he not have waited until after she was gone? I just don't get it. James is our only child. He was James until last month. It sickens me to the core. I do not know what to do. He is no longer my boy.
I sat down with Ed. I did not know what to say.
We sat in silence for a few minutes, then I heard a loud commotion in the bedroom.
Come on Ed, come with me. Let's see what Nancy needs.
Ed followed me as we hurriedly entered the bedroom.
On the bed we saw Nancy. Lying next to her was Jane. They were looking at old family pictures in an album and laughing. The loud commotion was laughter. They sat close lying against a sea of pillows touching shoulders.
Come Ed, join us said Nancy.
But Ed left instead.
He went back to the kitchen, sat down and cried.
I am losing my wife and I lost my son. It is almost too much for a man to take.
But you have not lost your son I said. You have to forge a new relationship with Jane.
Jane, shmane. I will never get used to that. It is humiliating. Do you know he went to Harvard? Played sports. We went to football games and played golf. He left his investment firm. He is living this weird life. I am so ashamed.
As Ed said this I looked up to find Nancy standing there.
Ed, she said. He looked up.
We have been married 53 years. James is still our son. But he lived a lie for us. He wanted me to know the true person before I died. He wanted to be with me as he truly is. As she truly is. As she has truly been all her life. Of course, I knew about this for a long time. I hid it from you. I knew you would not be able to take it. I encouraged her to move forward faster, before I was gone. I wanted us to be a family before I go. I wanted you to know her. She is all you have. And she is the same, loving person we raised. Inside. I hope you can embrace that. It is my dying wish.
Ed looked at her. It was silent for what seemed a very long time. I asked if I should go. Ed said no.
I have known also, said Ed. I want to love her. But I love him. All my life I wanted a son. I cannot face the humiliation. I built a life on a lie. Everything is falling apart.
Ed got up, hugged his wife, grabbed his keys and was gone.
I followed this patient for quite some time. Most of the time Jane was there and Nancy's friends and sister. Ed was always working or out somewhere.
One day I called Ed to see if might come home early.
Nancy is taking a turn for the worst I told him.
I was there when Nancy died. She had a peaceful death. Jane was there and so was Ed. They both cried over what they had lost.
Not only Nancy, but each other.
I often think of them. I had heard that Jane moved away from Boston to California. Then one day I read an obituary about Ed.
In it, James was listed as the surviving son.
Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. ~Norman Cousins
What is the opposite of two? A lonely me, a lonely you. ~Richard Wilbur
Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color. ~W.S. Merwin