Thursday, March 24, 2011

Embrace the Moment

There’s only so much preparation that can be done in advance for a move. No matter how organized you are, how much planning you do and how ready you think you are, eventually it’s crunch time and you’re left pulling all nighters trying to clean and pack at the same time… then clean and unpack at the same time. Meanwhile, the unexpected expenses start to pile up and your net worth plummets faster than Obama’s approval ratings. You wonder how you accumulated so much stuff and where it will all go.

Lately my focus has been based solely on creating my new life. This is a far more stressful thing at 29 than it was at 19. A sad byproduct of that is that I’ve been extremely self-absorbed and haven’t checked up on my loved ones as much as I once did. It’s not intentional, but it’s happened.

A couple of weeks ago I received an unexpected text that was like a knife through my heart. I knew Judy, the mother of one of my first-ever friends and my across the street neighbor for 19 years, was battling cancer. But last time I’d bothered to ask how she was, it seemed as if things were OK. To hear that not only was she not OK but that she was down to her final days was devastating.

This was a family that had invited me to their dinner table, knobby knees swinging under my chair as I ate their meals with them and rambled about eight year old nonsense, hundreds of times. They’d picked me up from summer camp, driven me around town in their minivan and made me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I’ve had to face several things in my life I wasn’t ready for, but I can’t even comprehend the thought of losing a parent right now. I wasn’t sure what to do, so after a few hours of freaking out I reached out to my old friend on Facebook. I expected her to be absolutely devastated. Her response was so full of maturity and grace that it even calmed me down. Of course she and the family were terribly sad, but they were treating every last moment with her like the blessing it was.

When I got the call that she was gone, I was in Seattle handing out resumes like candy and juggling 10,000 last minute moving details. It was the beginning of one of the busiest weeks of my life and I worried I wouldn’t be able to make the memorial service. When I learned the celebration of her life would literally be on the one day that week that would be physically possible for me to go, I cautiously approached the subject to Mr. W, hoping he’d be OK with a mid-move stop in Yakima.

“Absolutely,” he said instantly, looking at me like I was crazy for even asking. “No question. We’ll get you there.” I chose well in the husband department.

That Friday we made the first of two trips across the state. As I packed the boxes and sped off to my new home, I didn’t feel nervous even though I had hundreds of reasons to be terrified (and still do). I felt better than I had in a long time. I felt so good, so alive, like I was finally listening to a voice beyond myself and doing what was right. I felt like I was truly living.

The next day, we climbed off our futon mattress, filled up Butters the van with overpriced gas (again) and raced to Yakima for the service. As we were seated inside the church and my old neighbor’s face greeted me from a photograph, things got real. 

I hate funerals more than just about anything. But this was no funeral. I’d always known Judy as the stern but loving mother who challenged her children to do their best (which shows through their many accomplishments). But during the video montage of photographs from her life, I was introduced to a woman I had never known before. This woman, so thin, beautiful and stylish, traveled to some of my favorite places, made funny faces at the camera and was obviously crazy in love with the man by her side who was now mourning her loss at the front of the room.

 I shed plenty of tears in that hour but I found myself laughing a lot, too. This wasn’t a woman who let life pass her by. She lived it to the fullest. In fact, the Reverend said Judy had worn a shirt that said “Embrace the Moment” during her chemo which is one of my favorite expressions. Unfortunately I’ve lost far too many people who have died before they’ve really gotten to live. Though Judy was robbed of some good years because of cancer, she obviously used the years she was given wisely, filling them with joy. I left the church sanctuary feeling sad, but also with a lighter heart and a smile knowing she was at peace. I was also ready to pack the last of my things in Idaho and head West for good, already.

After the service we headed into the foyer to enjoy Judy Cake, a chocolate delicacy she was known for. I skipped the cake (for maybe the second time in my life) in favor of catching up with some familiar faces from the church I attended as a child, the little church on the hilltop where I married Mr. W. One woman waved curtly at me and I turned to my mother with obvious question marks in my eyes, silently willing for help recognizing the face.

“That’s your wedding coordinator,” she whispered.

“Oh, the wedding Nazi!” I said. It was true. The woman took no joy in the happy occasion that day and barked orders at us with diligence. Nazi or not, I’ll forever be grateful to her because she informed the guests (so that I wouldn’t have to) that we’d provided them with sitters during the ceremony so their little darlings wouldn’t squawk during my vows. Still, her demeanor is often less than pleasant.

She walked over and greeted me and we made small talk. When she asked if I was living in Yakima, I informed her that Mr. W and I were in the process of a rather large move. As she asked questions and I answered them, the smile fell from her face. I could see the judgment clouding in her eyes and her wrinkles deepen as she asked, “So you’re just…starting over? New jobs and everything? Really?”

“New jobs and everything,” I said.

“Well good luck,” she said sharply before heading back into the crowd.

“Thank you!” I called out with a grin. Sure, I could’ve said something sarcastic or asked if she had paid attention to the whole point Judy was trying to make, but I didn’t. I’ve reached the point where I honestly couldn’t possibly care less what anyone else thinks of me and that feels indescribably amazing.

My family said our goodbyes and went back to my parents’ house. We changed back into our sweats, loaded up the dog, headed back to Idaho, packed up or gave away the last of our things, signed off our house, drove into the sunshine and embraced the moment. Not one cell in my body questioned our decision and I’d like to think that somewhere Judy is proud. The first time our Seattle friends have us over for dinner, we’ll make Judy Cake and we’ll remember that each moment on Earth truly is a gift. 

Embrace the moment.


MOM said...

What a beautiful tribute to a lady who evidently touched your heart! I wish you nothing but success and love in your new home and I'm betting Judy feels the same way!
Big hugs! Love ya!

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Lyn Burnstine said...

This is one of your best, Jessica. I really like the spirit of it.

Caryn said...

What a beautiful and well written post. We are all on autopilot and life often gets in the way, but it is the things and people that bring us back. It sounds like Judy was one of a kind and anyone would have been lucky to have met her. I love that she wore Embrace The Moment to chemo treatments. And in regards to Mr Husband's response - you picked a keeper! Oh, and good luck with your new jobs/new home/starting over. That takes bravery and courage. Ignore the Wedding Nazi! Good for you!

gatordad said...

...great post! It's always rough going to funerals but we do them for the living friends there and remind ourselves of what is important.

Unfortunately, back in the day we were going to many of our friend's funerals as they were getting killed on a pretty regular basis in Vietnam. Boy did that get old!

Think about moving across country; not just across the gawd!

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