24 August, 2010

Me and Mrs. Jones - Billy Paul

For seven years I worked at an independent living center in Los Angeles.  It was the best job I've ever had.  I went from Administrative Assistant to Executive Assistant to Office Manager while I was there.  The person I was assistant to was Mary Ann, the Executive Director.  She was a quadriplegic wheelchair user and one of the most amazing people I've met.  She had been working in the disability community for over 30 years and was a tireless, motivated, inspirational leader to everyone who knew her.  No, she wasn't a saint and she wasn't perfect but she was one of the good guys.  Not only was she my boss, she was also my friend.  

As you may have guessed, she died a few years ago.  I hadn't been working at WCIL for a while at that point.  I'd tried to keep in touch with her, which for me is a minor miracle considering how well I usually do at such things.  There was a mention in the Center's newsletter one day that Mary Ann had pneumonia.  Not too long after sending her a get well card, I got an e-mail from one of my former co-workers.  Mary Ann had died.  It was a bit of a shock and I was sad, I grieved, all that jazz.  But I dealt with it, life moved on as it does but Mary Ann has always lived on in my heart & mind.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of WCIL or am reminded of it and the people I worked with.    

Fast forward to last Friday and I had the occasion to catch up with another friend and former co-worker who I hadn't spoken to in a long time (told you, I'm terrible at keeping up with people).  In the course of our conversation, he told me in more detail about Mary Ann's death.  It was awful.  She'd suffered horribly and for quite some time.  Man, that seriously laid me out Friday afternoon & evening.  She'd been going through this terrible time and I hadn't been there.  I could have visited, should have been there to support her.  My default is to beat myself up so I did that for a bit.  However, a friend once wisely told me that should've, would've and could've don't count.  One of the most important pieces of advice I've ever been given.  So it wasn't too long before I had to kick myself in the ass so as to stop wasting more of my time.   

Anyway, I know this song is about an extramarital affair and all but Mary Ann told me once how this song was special to her and her husband and ever since then it's reminded me of her.   Since she's on my mind more than usual lately, as well as the fact I needed to write to exorcise the guilt demons, here it is.  Thus will end the death and grieving posts for a bit.  It's been that kind of week & a half or so and I'm done with it.  

23 August, 2010

O Sole Mio - Luciano Pavarotti

Many people in this world have family businesses.    Some are plumbers, some are lawyers, some are doctors.  My family, our business was a nursing home.  My aunt was a partner and the administrator, my mom was the activity director and my mentor/one of my closest friends was the assistant administrator.  Being a single parent, and having an understanding boss in her sister, my mom would often bring me to work with her on the weekends and school holidays so that I wasn't left home alone.  The nursing home was a second home to me.  I grew up helping with the activities, talking with the patients, racing wheelchairs down the hallways and in general getting in the way whenever possible.  It was an invaluable experience in that I never considered wheelchairs as something odd to be stared at and I learned the value and the importance of the elderly.  I'd listen to their stories, talk with them and their families and I had more grandparents than any other kid around.  

When I was old enough, I began working in the business office.  Over the years, as would be expected, I became closer to certain patients.  One of them was particularly special to me.  Her name was Clara.  She had been a patient for a short time after breaking a hip and once she rehabilitated, she went back to the board and care where she normally lived.  She liked our beautician, however, and so she'd come back every few weeks to get her hair done.  Since she didn't drive, I'd go over and pick her up and then take her back.  She was a great lady - funny, irreverent and a little bit crazy but in a good way.  She was from Italy and had married a US serviceman in World War II.  I still have her green card.  She had the most beautiful black hair when she was younger.  By the time I knew her, it had turned a gorgeous snow white with strands of black shot through.  

Eventually, as generally happens, she became ill to the point where she needed to live at the nursing home full time.  Her mind deteriorated so she didn't always know where she was but she usually remembered me.  Her actual family wasn't involved with her at all so I ended up being her emergency contact, her caretaker, all of it.  I'm listed on her death certificate as next of kin.  Most days, the nurses would wheel her up to the hallway right outside the business office so she and I could talk while I worked.  When Clara was feeling especially nice, and not a little nuts, she'd sing for me.  My favorite song out of her repertoire was O Sole Mio.

Clara didn't have the most beautiful voice and she didn't always remember all of the words but her rendition of that song was, and always will be, my favorite.   We had a routine we'd go through.  She'd ask me what song I'd like to hear her sing, knowing exactly what I was going to say.  Then I'd tell her O Sole Mio and she'd warble it just for me in her sweet 80-year old voice.

When Clara got really sick for the last time, the nurses called me when it looked like she was going to die.  They said she'd been asking for me.  It was really late and I drove as fast as I could through the empty streets so I could say goodbye.  I went to her room, held her hand and she looked at me with those lovely brown eyes for the last time.  She'd waited for me to get there before she died.  That had never happened to me before nor has it happened since where I meant that much to someone that they held off death just to see me before they let go.  It was a powerful gift and not one I've taken lightly.  My sweet Clara.

04 August, 2010

Train - Homesick

There's this daft little dream that occupies a space inside of me.  Of a house with a wrap around porch in a small town on the Pacific Ocean (or any temperate climate zone, really) where everyone knows everyone else's business.  The kind of town where when someone dies, their family gets inundated with casseroles.  This song speaks to that space inside of me and fills it up for a few minutes.

You wanna be where they still open doors for you
It's not hard for them to remember you at all
They light your cigarette and tell their friends
you used to love them
Where they remember your name

When I hear this, I close my eyes and I can see myself sitting on that wrap around porch, watching the sun go down while I'm drinking a lemonade, Patrick Monahan's voice drifting through the screen door from where the song is playing on the stereo inside the house. 

I can see myself dancing and cleaning up the house on a Saturday while Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl blasts in the background with me singing along (badly), of course.   Slow dancing with my sweetie (whoever he may be) to Tupelo Honey while the sun sets.  Have I mentioned I like sunsets?  Especially the sun setting into the ocean with just enough clouds to give the sun a canvas on which to paint those beautiful colors.  

Every year that goes by, that space inside of me where this dream lives takes up a little more room.   Someday...