“He won’t be with us much longer, ” she says.
I haven’t seen her in a few years. I am headed to a writer’s retreat, which she was also planning to attend. At the last minute, she calls to tell me she is unable to attend.
I head north on the interstate, leaving at rush hour, the worst possible time of day. I arrive at 6:15 pm, but it might as well be midnight. I turn right off the main road and head south on a narrow street that runs parallel to the lake. Houses lining the street are mostly obscured by trees. I imagine this road must be difficult in winter. I wonder how long it takes for the snow plows to arrive at this side street– if indeed snow plows even come.
I double-check the address and find the right house. I park at house #1, and head upstairs to the kitchen, following the instructions I had received in an e-mail. Large windows face the lake, which I cannot see in the darkness. The house is chilly and empty. I check-in and then drive toward house #2, where I am staying. I park the car and unload my belongings. A couple of others are already here.
I am not accustomed to the sound of the lake. From outdoors, it sounds like the ocean, though not quite as loud as the ocean. From indoors, it sounds like the wind is blowing with an irregular cadence, with an ebb and flow peculiar to the lake. When the heat in the house clicks on, I can no longer hear the sound of the big lake.
“He’s in palliative care, and I’m his main caregiver,” she tells me.
She asked me if I could take some books on her behalf to the workshop.
” I can’t come because S is sick and I have to stay with him,” she explains. “He never leaves the house anymore, except for doctor appointments.”
I stand there, unable to speak, my words stuck in my throat.
Is he 22 or 23 years old now? I can’t seem to recall his exact age.
She explains his diagnosis, the genetic testing, and medical terminology that goes completely over my head. At least, I am hearing but not really listening. My mind is still catching up on the news that he is in “palliative care”.
And it’s not just him, but one of his siblings is ill, too, with the same genetic disease, and she isn’t handling it so well. She is in drug addiction recovery and also happens to be pregnant. Could she be about 20 now? 21?
I am speechless. Two of her young kids are dying of some illness I have never heard of.
I met her and her children about a dozen years ago. And now two of them are dying.
I can’t prevent the tears from welling in my eyes. I tell her how sorry I am. I had no idea about any of it. I give her a hug and she heads back on her way. I go back inside the house and don’t try to stop the tears while I pack.
All night long, I heard the waves lapping the shore. In the morning, I see the big lake, and how close this house is from the water’s edge. It is a beautiful scene, but all I can think of is the continuous never-ending slapping of the waves. The big lake is intimidating.
I step out with a hat, coat, and gloves. The temperature drops when it will, and we have no choice but to comply.
I hear more stories today: adoption of special needs children, stories of abusive parents, stories of accidents, difficult childhoods, all kinds of loss, etc., many, many stories. I hear the stories of the broken roads many of us have walked, but with redemptive, hopeful ends.
We have our words, which exert power. Our words are a voice of healing and truth to a broken world. We’re here to learn how to use words to tell stories that help, that heal, that offer hope.
The waves are vociferous and choppy, and it isn’t even a very windy evening. Waves are subject to the mercy of other factors. They exert an enormous amount of power to pull us in, drown us, or push us back to shore.
Where will we land?