In remembrance of my friend Lori FitzGerald, an extraordinary woman, the most positive person I have ever met in my life, a retired teacher with a wide Chicago accent and an exuberance that is rare in this cooler than cool town. A woman who could wear a tutu skirt with a rock and roll t shirt and a flowery hat. A woman who wore purple lipstick and laughed from her soul. A woman who passed from this world on March 6 of brain cancer. I wrote most of this after the last time I saw her, a few weeks ago, when I gathered with a few other women at her house, sitting for over an hour next to her bed. I did not know that would be the final time I saw Lori, but as I left her house, the tears spilled out and something broke and I think, now, looking back, I knew.
“Yes” is the only word she has left now. Variations of yes. Inflections of yes, that can sound like an affirmative to a question posed (“Do you want some water?” “Can I rub your hands/brush your hair?” Do you want me to turn the lights down so you can rest?”) or a resignation (“Are you tired” and her eyes may cloud over, her chin lower, and she will whisper, “yeah” like a child). Or, surprisingly, sometimes it comes full flower like a bright yellow balloon, a powerful “YEAH!” and her eyes light up and the light dances in there, somewhere, and for a second, I think, there she is, there she is.
Lori is dying. And it is coming soon. This came on too quickly. Weren’t we just walking the path along the river, talking about my pregnancy? Weren’t we in yoga together, sweating on our thin mats? Weren’t all of us just spending New Year’s Eve together at a John Prine concert, smiling and singing along?
Although how could I not know it would come. Brain cancer. Not a thing you recover from.
She lays in a room in her small house in a hospital bed that has been rented and brought in just a few days ago. The dressers and tables are lined with framed photographs of her family and friends. There’s Lori smiling and laughing with her daughter, there’s Lori surrounded by women laughing and hugging. There’s Lori and Bob on their wedding day, laughing and smiling at the luck that brought them together for their 2ndchance (3rd, 5th, 7th…). The walls are lined with posters of musicians, most are friends, most are in recovery, like Lori. Some are famous. Most are not. There are flowers everywhere. There’s a portable toilet that, no surprise, has a cover on it with a cat. Someone last night joked, ‘It’s a pussy pot’.
We sit around her bed, we few, we women of the program that have shown up for her. Her daughter arrives with pink hair and a black t shirt that match her black painted nails, bitten to the quick, shredded. She leaps into the hospital bed, pulls her legginged legs up on the quilt, her hands find her mother’s face and she leans in and kisses Lori fully on the mouth. “YES” Lori says.
Yes oh yes oh yes oh yeah yes yes yes
Like James Joyce’s Molly soliloquy: “yes I said yes I will yes” all slurred together without commas and periods nothing to stop the rush of breathless wonder at the beauty of love and life and all that was before and all that would come.
There is a stillness at some point, after we’d all shared around the elephant, about being present and being grateful and being blessed and community and the elephant is Lori’s daughter on the bed and what I imagine she must be thinking “Fuck your gratitude. I don’t want this blessed god to take my mommy”. I can’t imagine her silence being kindly towards us self-congratulating sober women. But maybe she is and maybe she knows and maybe it’s my own still quiet voice saying “Fuck this gratitude and fuck cancer and fuck all that is taking my friend from this world when I haven’t even had the chance to tell her I love her.”
Silence. And to me, in that space, God shows up. God is in the breath in between the words. In between the awkward anger and the reigned-in grief. God is there and Lori has not died and Lori is there in her Yessing that may or may not mean yes but may mean fuck you or I’m thirsty or dear god get these women out of my house and get that hospital toilet out of here and could I just make out furiously with my husband one last time before God steals the rest of my brain and my body?
There is poetry in her dying and I know that this thought can come only for those not near enough to feel the absolute devastation of her loss but near enough to know how that must feel. Near enough to feel the empty space now left in our world.
In the end, the cancer could not beat her: it stole language but left her one word. Her only word. The perfect word. The word that defined Lori. And embodied in this word, I realize, is the service that one human passed onto the rest of us. The greatest gift.