There is a picture that is tucked away in my mind, and diffuses all the way down to my heart. I write these words to keep it there. Yesterday, after we had gathered in the narrow room marked “Palmer Family” on the 4th floor ICU at the U of U Hospital, after we had embraced and reminisced and told Michael stories, laced with laughter and tears and more laughter; after the doctor had come in to explain the unsurvivable damage to his brain; after we had two by two made our way through the large loud doors into the ICU, down to the room where Michael lay uncharacteristically still, surrounded my machinery; after his faithful dog Buddy had been smuggled in, had leapt onto Michael’s bed and laid calmly and comfortably atop the little man’s body; after innumerable hugs were given, to him, to each other…after all this Kelli and Cristy and Jamie asked if I would sing a song before I left. My guitar was there in the corner of the family waiting room and of course I agreed. We wept together as the music came, holding hands and clutching hearts. Cindy, down the hall with Michael, asked if I would come down and sing for them in his room.
I walked into that sacred space, the love so thick you could almost hold it in your hand like a soft snowball. Cindy lifted her head from Michael’s chest, and said,
‘”Do you know you are my hero?” I paused for a minute, surprised at her words. “Well, that’s kind of ironic cuz right now I’m thinking you are my hero.” I said.
And then there was a slight pause.
“No, she said, Do you know the song you are my hero?”
We had a good laugh, and then I tried to find the place in my brain where the song Wind Beneath My Wings might have been stored a number of years ago.
I suspect some musical angel whispered the chords and words to me, because really, I don’t know how to play that song. But I did play it. And I was glad it came somewhat freely because this is where the indelible picture is emblazoned in my head.
It’s a scene of a boy, really a man in a boy’s body, and the women who adore him. They surrounded him like ministering angels. Cristy, and Jamie, and Kelli, his aunts…and of course his mother…his champion…his confidant and first love. My fingers stroked the strings of my guitar as I watched. Kisses upon kisses fell all over his tiny head, down his arms, kisses and more kisses, sparkling against his soft warm skin under the sheen of their tears. I saw in that snapshot of a moment 27 years of adoration, of strength, of patience and tolerance and selflessness all gathering into that one place where true love circled and circled like electrons around an atom, and central to it all was Michael. Dear, sweet, funny, mischievous, nose pinching Michael - encircled and enfolded by the women in his life.
It took massive amounts love to make him remain here, those twenty-seven years ago… love and determination and perseverance, intelligence and drive. He spent the first four years of his life in an ICU. When a family has used those traits for so long it is a hard thing to change course and let go. And yet, call it the grace of God, I witnessed in reverence the tender beauty of these magnificent women whispering their love to him, sending him off with dignity and passion, so there would be no doubt of their love, their trust, and their devotion.
A similar scene had played out earlier that afternoon, with Randy and Michael’s brothers-in-love huddled around his bed. Such devotion and unity is palpable.
We know the days ahead will have their heaviness. There will be moments of silence where his voice would have swirled in the conversation. There will be pangs in the heart when you drive by a Lost Dog poster nailed to some telephone pole. But there will also be an undeniable shift in the air, now and then, as if a breeze came out of nowhere. You will straighten up your ears and your shoulders will rise, and it might not be till later that night when you whisper your thoughts to God that you realize the slight lightness of being was not a result of nature; you’ll know it was something more familiar. It will have been your boy, laughing in his heaven place, blowing you kisses, telling you to lift your arms so he can be the wind beneath your wings.