Counting Stars, Time, and Remembering Jerry: Everyday Magic, Day 880

10801514_10152411963826315_5462935666005367948_nLast night, I stood on the wet back deck of our house in my leopard-print fleece bathrobe late at night, head tilted back, counting the seconds between falling stars. It was late, the sheer clouds dissipating after a day of enormous rain. Inside, the clean house hummed its happy song after the warmth and light of the Hanukkah party, the air still enhanced by what frying potatoes and onions can do for a home.

All day, I had been thinking about a year ago when our dear friend Jerry died after either a short or long illness, depending on how you count. I heard the news in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s in Kansas City, just after leading a writing workshop at Turning Point for people living with serious illness. Hanging up my phone, I was shocked although the doctor in Jerry’s intensive care unit told us it would be a roller coaster when it came to knowing if he would survive. I remember walking into Trader Joe’s and putting various things in a shopping cart, but not whether I actually checked out or just wandered out of the store.

At our Hanukkah party a year ago, another way to count the time from there to here, still in shock about Jerry’s death, we sang two of his favorite songs–James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes” and Chet Powers’ “Get Together.” This year, right before we lit the candles, we had a moment of silence to remember Jerry and/or whoever we loved who was gone or far away.

Yesterday, the Turning Point writers gave a public reading where they shared startling images and enduring stories of what it means to find courage, meaning, even joy in the web of mortality. The reading, held on a Saturday, resonated with Jerry dying on the Saturday I was with these writers, another way to count time. Like the Turning Point writers, Jerry struggled with serious illness. Unlike them, he didn’t go on to share his story of coming back from this brink.
Considering Jerry in the year in between his death and now has brought me surprising joys, such as finding friendship with Jerry’s sisters and brothers (he had six!) after we bonded in a hospital waiting room, telling stories of him as a boy and10858644_10152644832843208_4356927544652366850_n man around a fake fire while drinking mediocre cups of coffee. I’ve seen them at his moving memorial (“Jerry on the prairie!“), and for meals and even some music several times in Minneapolis. I tell them that we’re each other’s Jerrys now.

At the same time, it hurts when someone you love dies, especially in a scenario that, had any of us known all the pieces of the crazy-quilt puzzle, we might have prevented. I’ve ferried my guilt through many layers of rationalization, disappointment in myself, and big-picture framing, understanding both that he chose this, and I still wish I had intervened more. I’m beyond grateful for the days we had during his last week, especially the night I played James Taylor and other songs I knew he loved from my phone, held his hand, told him I loved him, and chided him, despite and because he was on a vent at the time, for not holding up his end of the conversation.

Yet the conversation doesn’t end. Shivering but determined to see more falling stars, I scanned the sky, wondering where best to aim my eyes, and how to better open my peripheral vision to catch the ride of a particle of dust from the stars to the earth. “You didn’t fail me,” I dreamed Jerry said after his death. The Geminid meteor shower didn’t either although there was a long stretch between the first two falling stars and the next. Just as I was about to give up, a large white meteor flew east to west, dissolving in the dark. I wrapped my robe tighter and went back into the warm house where sleep and the rest of my life awaited me.

Travels with Jerry: Everyday Magic, Day 862

Ready for another trip with Jerry's suitcase
Ready for another trip with Jerry’s suitcase

Since my sweet and dear friend Jerry died 12/13/14, I’ve been traveling with just a bit of him. No, not his ashes — a small baggie of those are on my shelf next to his picture, to be scattered in the field near our house that he loved at right time (and after chigger season). It’s one of his suitcases, which I’ve been packing my stuff in and out for its excursions to Vermont (twice), Minnesota (twice), Iowa, Missouri, both Carolinas,  all over Kansas. and the far reaches of West Texas.

The dark green suitcase with the rainbow yarn tied on the handle has been to 13 presentations of Chasing Weather, my book of poetry with weather chaser/photographer Stephen Locke, and also the last book Jerry bought at the last place I saw him a month before his death. It’s rattled in the backseat of a rental car zooming from the Davis Mountains in West Texas over the ridge into beautiful Alpine, TX, and eventually, along the Rio Grande during one of the best wildflower seasons in decades on our way to Big Bend. It sat without complaint in the passenger seat beside me as I drove through South Carolina to North Carolina to the poetry 36 hour cialis no prescription therapy conference. It’s been checked in on planes or stuffed into overhead compartments. It’s rested on luxury hotel beds and cardboard-like motel beds while I rifled through it, looking for my toothbrush. It’s reclined happily in the backseat on the way home from Minnesota in April, leaving the snow for the lilac weather, and it’s never fussed at being overpacked or zipped too fast or accidentally knocked down a flight of stairs.

Jerry, your suitcase made it through baggage again!
Jerry, your suitcase made it through baggage again!

Every time I see that suitcase, especially the rainbow yard, I can’t help but think of Jerry, and wonder if he would enjoy the adventure of the day — climbing a long trail through the Chihuahuan desert mountains in Texas, eating a large amount of hummus and gyro meat with some of his family in Minnesota, or wandering the streets of Montpelier, Vermont to marvel at lilies in bloom.

The sad part is the obvious: it’s just a suitcase, and not Jerry himself who is who-knows-where. Sometimes, like all of us who love a lost one, I just miss him. But it feels good to touch the yarn he strung together and tied into the handle, and to think of the found places where this talisman of his has traveled, me in tow.