Sunday, March 22, 2015

May God Hold You in the Palm of His Hand

Erin, our art teacher Phyllis, me and Anita, Getty museum 2000
It’s Saint Patrick’s day, and though I push away the painful truth that she is gone, I can’t get through a single moment of this day without thinking of Anita. Her beautiful Irish brogue, her gentle voice, her kind and thoughtful manner. These are the qualities that come to mind when I picture her. And the love that exuded from her.

We met in painting class 25, maybe 30 years ago. Every Monday night we’d sit together and paint for hours, and while we pushed paint around the canvas, our stories poured out of us. We talked about everything. Our pasts, our fears, our families, motherhood, our hopes, our worries. She told me so many stories about her children Ellen and David when they were little, the beautiful ways they had changed her and blessed her life, her hopes and dreams for them. And before you knew it, you looked up and the scene had come together on the canvas in front of us, just as it eventually would in our lives. She was a brilliant painter, her brush strokes exacting and fine. Her paintings were delicate and soft, and beautiful, just like her. Anita was also a ballroom dancer. She wrote poetry. She went back to college in her forties and studied psychology, to try to better understand herself, her complicated Irish family and the life around her.
Anita and Bill met as ballroom dancers and were married for 51 years.
Anita told me all about growing up in Ireland, the strict Catholic schools she attended where the nuns tormented her, and her phobia of nuns after that. Though Anita was a sweet-natured, gentle soul with a soft voice that registered just above a whisper, after surviving her second heart transplant (yes, she had two) her edge had sharpened a bit, and I thought she was even a tiny bit sassy. My friend Erin and I decided the new Anita needed a warrior princess name, so we dubbed her “Danitra.” Oh, how that made her laugh. She would always marvel at how uninhibited Erin and I were. “You two are so outspoken,” she would say, astonished. It was incredible to her that people could just come out and say whatever they thought, and yet that’s something “Danitra” was starting to do, more and more. 
Anita and Troy at Erin and Beth's wedding, where Anita read the Irish blessing.
I loved her musical, soft Irish brogue, and also loved to tease her about it. She’d ask, “What do you mean? What do I sound like?” I’d respond with an over-the-top, “Always after me lucky charms!” and she would laugh and laugh. Every once in a while, though, her edgier accent would pop up, especially when she’d call George Bush an “eejit.” Of course I loved that and would holler, “Tell it, Danitra!”

She loved Hummingbirds and had feeders lining all the windows around the back of her house, outside the kitchen and living room. I have never seen more hummingbirds in all my life than I saw in Anita’s backyard. They came in dozens to visit her. And who could blame them. She was the female equivalent of St. Francis, her kind and gentle ways drawing animals and children to her, easily.

Anita and I on our birthday, 2003.
Anita and I shared a birthday. We called ourselves birthday sisters, and would always celebrate together. At painting class, our teacher Phyllis would bring out a cake for us, and her husband Bernie would play Happy Birthday for us on his saxophone. We lost Phyllis and Bernie some years ago, but we still always made it a point to celebrate our birthdays and Christmas together, no matter what else was going on. One year, we spent our birthday at her hospital bed in ICU. Erin, Beth and I visited and as she lay there with a million tubes hooked up to her, unable to eat any birthday cake this time. We put a tiara on her head and sang anyway.

She lived through two hellish heart transplants and a year in ICU. She survived more procedures and surgeries than anyone I’ve ever known. No matter how gentle she appeared on the outside, she had a resolute strength that came from the fierce love she had for her family. She was going to survive because she wasn’t done loving them, and dammit, she was going to live to see those grandkids. And she did. Just two weeks before she passed, we had a wonderful dinner together, and she couldn’t wait to show me pictures she had printed of those grandbabies, and tell me all about every sweet thing they had said or done.
Bill never left Anita's side a single day that she was in ICU.
I am finding it really hard to end this piece, because I don’t want my precious friendship with Anita to end, and truth be told, I’ve been trying to pretend she is not gone. From the time between her death and her memorial service, I have kept myself busy, attempting not to feel the loss of someone so monumental in my life. I felt, and really knew, that Anita loved me. That is the hardest thing to let go of. And yet I know I don’t have to. Anita’s love, the way she lived her life, her quiet beauty and strength will always be part of me. 

And so I bid you godspeed on your journey home, Anita. You gave us all the very best of you, and you did it well. You lived your life so beautifully. You loved your family so well. Heaven is lucky to have you.
I was lucky to have you.
As you said to me at the end of every phone call, “I love ya, Missus.”

The Irish Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.