Like most everything else thrown her way my daughter, Mackenzie, has handled the news of Ed’s death with wisdom and acceptance beyond her young years. While she misses him terribly she also knows that this happened with purpose and benefit we do not yet understand. This is the very same wisdom that brought Ed into our lives in the first place.
Mack had a catastrophic stroke in the lunchroom at school when she was 14 years old. Face drooping, arm and leg hanging, speech impaired, head throbbing, life-changing stroke. I will never get over the sight of her broken body and her last audible words that day, “Please make it stop, Momma.”
The 2+ years since that day have been a journey for Mack, and our entire family, that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody. They have been filled with pain and chaos; life and near-death. Despite all of this Mack and I quickly found a rhythm in our perseverance and humor. The truth is we felt gratitude for what we did have. And this kept us chugging along. Putting our pants on in the morning. Crying some. Laughing when we could. And moving, moving. Always. With love and trust.
When I learned of Ed’s leukemia diagnosis I decided to take a risk and reach out even though we didn’t know one another at the time. I sensed that Mack would give him comfort and started to send him “Mack-isms”…like breadcrumbs. What I didn’t expect was the bond that Ed and I would also forge. Sometimes it seemed that we were the only two in the room who understood that death had entered through the side door and our job was to artfully dodge it. Ed and I shared this knowing. And, we also shared a refusal to be afraid.
During Mack’s recovery I would text Ed giving him tabs about the end of occupational therapy, or injectable blood thinners; or surviving her heart surgery. Medical milestones. And, as she got better still, I would send pictures of her driving a car after getting her permit or at bat at a softball tournament or kissing her boyfriend on their way to the semi-formal. Ed would shine at the prospect of her living fully again. Sometimes long periods would go by with many such texts and no news from Ed as he tackled his own treatment. But when he would finally surface he let me know that Mack kept him going. He called Mack “his hero”.
Tonight I asked Mack what Ed was to her and, without hesitation, she answered “My Godfather” meaning someone watching over her and ensuring her safe passage. She could feel him even though he wasn’t nearby and considered him one of her best friends even though they never met. And she said that the humor they shared about all things ~ dreadful and not ~ made what she had to face less terrifying so she could keep moving forward. In a way, he helped her to save her own life.
The last time I saw Ed was across a church aisle. I knew I shouldn’t approach because it would have been dangerous for him given his health but I flat out wanted to tackle him and rub his bald head. Instead, I tapped my heart with my hand and told him that I love him from a distance. He gestured the same and later texted me “send my hero my love.” This is the last time I heard from him.
I do not feel conflicted about Ed’s death. He fought hard. He never quit. He showed up. He lived fully. He kept his sense of humor and did not leave unfinished business. He was courageous and beautiful in spirit.
I have wondered for quite some time when I would finally feel the full impact of watching my daughter fight for her life and the exhaustion from knocking down every obstacle in her way, no exceptions. It appears that Ed was also the keeper of the invisible stitching that kept me together these last two years so that may very well be now.
At one particularly low point I told Ed that I wanted to quit and just lie down. He responded with “Yeah, that’s called a nap. You should take one.” (Funny bastard).
And so, with that sage advice, I think I will do just that.
Take a nap.
Get up tomorrow and put my pants on.
Be grateful and courageous.
Remember that there is purpose and benefit to this that I do not yet understand.
And love Ed…from a distance.