(today's word is DONE)
Moving toward the family room I found Cindy sitting on the floor, her knees drawn up under her, her head bent toward her heart. The flicker of the fire in the fireplace reflected off the smooth skin of her hairless head.
“You ok?” I whispered, some force restraining me from speaking too loudly or too much. When she raised her head I could see trails of tears on her slender neck, and her eyes were red and brimming. I sat in the soft brown easy chair before her and handed her a tissue. We just sat. Wordless. Then she whispered, “I think my body is done.”
“And by done you mean…” I responded, though I knew full well what she meant. I knew she needed to say it. Out loud. My heart throbbed at the realization that the words came out, that her reluctant walk to the gate was nearing its end, and none of us could stop the holy hinges of heaven from swinging that gate open for her.
In typical Cindy fashion, she reassured me. “I’m fine with it. Really, I am. And I am so grateful. But I just have a feeling that it’s time to let my body do what it yearns to do, and my spirit should stop fighting it.”
We have known Cindy a long time, long enough to understand that she has what some people call a sixth sense. Because we are confident in the source of her premonitions, we recognize it as the Holy Ghost working through her. If Cindy said she didn’t have a good feeling about something, trust me, we didn’t do it. I remember her standing at my doorstep a decade ago, frustrated and emotional because she could not shake the feeling that she should not go on the humanitarian trip they had planned, a trip to Guatemala where their son Jason had served his mission. My sister Libby and daughter Sarah were to accompany Reed and Cindy and Jason.
“What’s bothering you about it? I asked her, and she replied that she had absolutely no logical reason to not want to go. She just had a feeling. And so, faithful as she was, she cancelled. And the next day Reed had a heart attack and bypass surgery. He survived, no doubt because he was in the hands of good neighbors and friends who were doctors who got him to surgery immediately. Had they been in Guatemala, or on a plane to Guatemala…well, you know what I mean. I’ve learned not to question Cindy’s promptings.
So there, before the warmth of her fire, she cupped her hand to her heart and surrendered. In the most noble, courageous retreat I can comprehend, she allowed herself to turn from the battle and face her Lord with dignity and full consent. We wept together.
“I worry about Reed. I worry about my kids. “ The tears wove down her sallow cheeks, around her chin, and fell onto her blouse. “And… she drew a breath, ending in a muffled sob…”I’m afraid my grandkids won’t remember me. “
There were no words to adequately comfort her.
“I am not really afraid to die. I’m really ok. But I am afraid to leave Reed, and the kids, and my littles.” The fear, for people of faith like Cindy, is not the future The fear is the separation. It’s a heightened emotion familiar to all scouts and Beehive girls that first time they go to a weeklong camp. There is confidence in the fact that there will be a reunion, and that the adventure will be dynamic and exciting. But the loss of the familiar faces of those we love is frightening.
I searched the air for the right words for her, the true and softest words to say to her, but I cannot recall what I said. I don’t even recall how the sacred moment ended. I try to keep it still, tucked away under my left shoulder, the same place I cradle my grandbabies.
Not long after, when her skin became yellow and her body swollen, she felt a profound need to visit her family in Arizona. So Reed took time off work and they drove down. I talked to her on the phone as they were driving back to Utah. She was lying in the back seat as Reed drove. I knew it could not be good, if she was not there in the front beside him. Lib, Sherry, Dave and I went over Sunday evening, when they got home. Kathy Kay was there, with her magical hands and sacred oils, massaging her swollen feet as Cindy lay on the couch, her profoundly compassionate spirit doing as much good as her hands. I had brought a blueberry pie. We cut it and nibbled as we talked.
“Well Cinny,” I said (that’s what we called her, an endearing name that has a story of its own). Well, Cinny, I used your pie crust recipe. Only I added a tablespoon of vinegar. “
She looked over at me and smiled. “Then you didn’t use my recipe.”
And she is right.
Five days later she was gone.
All the kids and grandkids were there, thankfully, and the passing was divinely orchestrated. We gathered at her bedside the night before, with our guitars and our voices, and we sang her to that gate. But the holy moment, when she was completely and triumphantly done, was reserved for her husband and four children.
We sifted in and out in the coming days, those who know and love her. The morning of her passing, while her flesh was still warm but her spirit risen, her three year old granddaughter Chloe took my hand as we walked from the living room to the kitchen. As we passed by the hallway to GG’s room (GG for Gramma Gardner) Chloe stopped and looked. She pointed and smiled and squealed, “GG!”
Don’t forget, Chloe and Treven, and Stella and Anton, that your GG adores you. Look for her. Look toward the things and the people she loved, and continues to love. Embrace what she embraced, and you will feel her. Follow her recipe, and since it is an especially wonderful recipe, don’t go fooling with it. Her finest ingredients were compassion, service, devotion, faith, commitment, laughter and love. The most important ingredient, for sure, was love. Never leave that part out.
The last words Cinny said to me, when she was really able to talk to me, were these. I had bent over to kiss her, and she looked up at me, her voice weak and her eyes amber. “I love you”, I had said, and she whispered back.
“I love you. I love you. I love you.”
I hear her whispering them to me now, over and over. I love you, I love you, I love you. As if the words could not be repeated enough. I think she left them to me so I would repeat them to her treasures.
No one I know was more courageous, more gracious, more selfless in her journey. Most people were surprised when she left, because she had appeared to be rallying against all cancer odds. And indeed, we had been blessed with many more months than we had anticipated. But the final lap for her was kept for her alone. Her and her Lord. And maybe Reed. Her last figurative steps were strapped with dignity and poise, so much that few knew it was near.