Life lifted the hem of her lovely gown and showed me all the poor stitching and ragged seams, the moth holes hidden under silken blossoms, the tangled threads of satin floss draggling just the other side of those brilliantly embroidered gardens flouncing at her feet.
My youngest sibling was 8 at the time. She wasn't home, only me. And my father. She knows now what no one could tell her about that day. That I kept him breathing. That I forced him to stay alive until the ambulance could come.
Today I told her that as perverse as it is to think this of a young child, it might have been good for her to have been there, because she would have seen what I did in the face of death, and understood how it works when things fall apart, how you break each moment down and work through it without thinking about the next, no matter what that exact moment is, you keep at it, until it's time for someone else to take over. You shrink death down to the tiny knife-edge of a moment that will only occur sometime after this one where there is still life. You don't look at death at all. You look at a smaller and smaller moment where it isn't quite here.
I knew he wanted to go, and I made clear to him that I wouldn't-- couldn't-- let him do that on my watch. Either he understood, or I made it understood. I was not going to let go. That was not my job. That was for someone who could make that choice and live with it. Who wouldn't have to look the rest of the family, and themselves, in the eye every day. For those people who pay for their opportunity to save lives with the times, like this, that they must give someone up instead.Grandpa told me, a few days before the funeral, that I had been given a gift, and my first thought was I knew what he meant (and didn't appreciate the sentiment), but I didn't really. Mostly I didn't want to understand it. It took me a long time to just sit with it. It's terrible, but now I even I find myself a little-- I dunno, irritated? -- at people who cannot face life head on. Sure, back up and hide a bit, but do. not. quit.
My sister is in her own crisis right now, one that I'm forcing her to accept help with. I tell her, it's hard to keep perspective, sometimes you have to pull back through space and time so far that all of human life kind of hangs before you in a blur -- far enough that you actually feel lucky for the same thing you feel cursed over. Because you lived this long, that you would see this. Because you loved enough to find yourself in this emotional crossroads.
I totally believe in fixing my own messes. I totally believe in other people learning from fixing their own messes. It's what makes you strong, responsible and wise. But I also totally believe in being honest about how much you can fix, and how much you need other people to help you fix the big ones. It's what makes your relationships strong, and makes everyone a little wiser, and humbler.