February 20, 2013 — I see that Nora Ephron’s play, Lucky Guy, is in production on Broadway, at the Broadhurst Theater. Her friend Tom Hanks will play Mike McAlary, the New York muckraking columnist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his columns about New York police officers’ brutalization of Abner Louima. McAlary died later that year of colon cancer. He was 41. Nora Ephron died in June 2012. She was 71, my age.
I don’t remember Mike McAlary, but I do remember Nora Ephron. She was one of my favorite writers, and she wrote one of my favorite movies, Sleepless in Seattle. I’m so glad it had a happy ending, an affair to remember. I think I will remember Nora Ephron a long time. She seemed to have always a smile on her face. I think we could have been friends. Hanks and Ephron were good friends. He said he liked to hang with her, one of the reasons he is doing the play. He said about missing her, “It’s terrible, horrible.” So now he will have to hang with her in second place, “hanging with the essence of Nora as opposed to Nora herself.” (I read this today and watched the video interview in a New York Times story written by Patrick Healy: http://theater.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/theater/tom-hanks-in-lucky-guy-his-broadway-debut.html?hp.)
When my grandmother was in her sixties, I remember her sitting in a chair in the living room and saying wistfully, “All my friends are dead.” I’ve never forgotten that. It is one of the reasons I value my friendships so closely. I haven’t forgotten my grandmother; I haven’t forgotten either of my grandmothers, nor any of my family members that have gone on ahead of me.
They gave me such a secure childhood and I miss that security. Moreover, they were fun. We laughed a lot. They were storytellers, and their stories were funny. I seemed always to have a smile on my face when we visited. I looked forward to every visit. I miss the humor and the laughter.
Last evening, I had just put a chicken potpie in the oven. The warmth from the oven fended off the darkness outside and the cold wind blowing right through the clapboard walls of this Victorian house. So I felt all warm and secure. The doorbell rang. I thought it was some stranger blown up onto my porch, like the neighborhood trash in the corner of my flowerbed, circulating pamphlets to hand out. To my delight, standing there was my mother’s superb and caring healthcare aide of three years. She had just finished her workday caring for a dementia patient who had reached forward, gotten her in a tight grip and ripped the buttons off the front of her coat. We shared stories and warmed up over a glass of wine. (We each had our own glass, mind you.)
I am so very glad she keeps in touch, a sincere, caring friend, because some of my friends have died, too. I miss them very much. I wish I could pick up the phone or turn to them and say something. When I think of them, is that like posting a thought on the wall of the universe, and somewhere they’ll pick it up? I miss many friends whom I presume are still living. The winds of change over the years drove us apart. I have forgotten none of them. Some I connect with on Facebook after years gusting by like lifetimes. It’s like, “So, hey, how’re ya doing in this lifetime?” It’s very cool.
At times I walk into Emma’s bedroom, look at her king-size bed with its white comforter and white eyelet-ruffled pillowcases, and I sense them there, Emma and her little dog, Jetta. I miss them. Recently I was very sad about the loss of a friend. I sat down to relax and suddenly I cried. Then I felt a comforting presence. It was unmistakably Emma. I dried my tears. I felt better. I feel the presence of various people from time to time; often at that moment they’ll call. This was the feeling of Emma. Sometimes when I was very sad about something, she would comfort me sympathetically. There’s nothing like a mother’s comfort. I thought Emma had moved on, true to her character; but I guess she saw my need and stopped back for a moment. Of course, I will never forget her beautiful face, nor Jetta’s sweet little face, nor that of her apricot toy poodle, BeeGee, whose untimely death at age four preceded Jetta’s arrival.
Of course, some faces we encounter in life we’re glad to have forgotten. Others, not so.
Losing a friend who is living is not only terrible, horrible, it is also tragic, you know, like Romeo and Juliet, but the characters are still living. I have lost a couple of friends during the past year in this manner, over what I perceive as a horribly perverted rearrangement of words. It is despairing to hang with someone over the years watching them slowly die; it is traumatic to lose one over insensitivity and misunderstanding. It’s as if the relationship leapt from the platform in front of an oncoming train. In either case, that loss leaves me feeling bereft.
My writer friend Susan Scott (author of the book In Praise of Lilith, Eve & the Serpent in the Garden of Eden) forwarded my blog link to a woman friend whose mother has a form of dementia. This friend read my blog and, in turn, forwarded the link to a male friend named John. He picked up on a phrase in Thomas Wolfe’s poem, in the left sidebar of my blog, prefacing his novel, Look Homeward, Angel – “the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth,” likening it to the mental prison of Alzheimer’s/dementia.
John read my blog and emailed his adult children. His parents, too, suffer from some form of dementia.
Just here as I write this, I smell something nutmeggy; then, a hand on my shoulder. It is Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog. I turn and look up at him. “You’d remember this face anywhere, right?’ he says.
“Oh, how could I forget,” I reply. He is leaning in close, reading my computer screen.
“Tell them the man said this,” says Moriarty, pointing to a line: “‘The woman writes exceedingly well.’” (Thank you, John. May you always travel in the light.) I will be working at my writing into this evening, so Moriarty goes off to make dinner – a piquant Chinese affair, he labels it.
This father in poetic email ruminates to his children, “Will I eventually recede from life worth living in similar fashion as the writer describes?” By then, “it won’t be a simple manner of prior choices in life and their later consequences, nor of having asked politely ‘Please, Sir, may I be allowed not to walk into that dark recess?’ The journal speaks to unease, a recognition this could afflict us … Her account of her mother’s cognitive decline resembles” what John’s friend’s mother and his parents are going through, though each in different ways. Indeed, the unique experiences of dementia sufferers differ within the commonalities of the condition according to their life experiences and genetic makeup.
The sufferers become forgotten faces, in a way. They don’t know where they are, wonder how they got there, plead to get out, they forget how to do things, they may forget the identity of your face.
This kind man emails a thank you to Susan, “My four siblings and I, all of us over 50, will be the better for reading her thoughts, insights, and the cogent advice one can draw from such compelling writing.”
And then this father in his email to his children goes on to touch upon my Russian soul, the face of which is an up-close mystical remembrance of a 19th-century past life:
He says, “Her insights are well worth the time to puzzle through the curious matryoshka-like construction of her journal of dementia and caregiving for ‘Emma’.”
He asks, “Will the two of you be confronted with me having become the likes of your Grandfather, or [his friend’s mother] in my own Anna Karenina way?”