In June after the sale of our house, I returned to Houston to move our furniture and things. Our daughter Erica kindly offered to help and, in the bargain, have a final farewell with her friends. This project had my name written all over it: getting things sorted, cleaned, and organized. I had always loved the fable of the Three Little Pigs building tidy homes; even better was the cartoon of a cleanup crew that came in after the wolf. I can see these genes run in the family too, but it’s odd just where each person might start such a task. Our eldest for example cleaned her room by first dumping all the contents into a massive pile in the middle of the floor and taking from it only those things she wanted to put carefully back in place, the remaining heap destined for the trash. This is not generally how I start but rather, like my mother, with a massive sorting that involves endless trips down the hall. Erica had a plan for our moveout with a precept that WE should not have to move anything at all. First we would have the movers take everything we had tagged, second we would sell the larger remaining pieces, and finally,what was left in the house, would be for the estate sale. I was happy to defer to her as my ultimate goal was simply to keep things out of the landfill, although at the end of the day, I did have the number for 1-800-Got-JUNK.
With a few exceptions, it went smoothly. We even had some choice moments like when Harry discovered his 30-year old Macintosh in the furthest reaches of our baked dry attic closet under the roof rafters on the third floor. “Oh, he said those are selling like hotcakes on EBay.” I rolled my eyes at him, “Surely you are kidding! It’s 30 years old and hasn’t been turned on for the past 15 years that we’ve lived in this house, at least.” He wiped it off, plugged it in and up it started. Even the printer fired up to print on yellowed paper—the type with the little holes on the side.
We did not sell much furniture on Craig’s List and it dawned on me after the first day of the estate sale, when buyers quibbled over whether a candle should be $1 or $2, that when Harry and Erica left in just two days I could be there by myself trying to roll the marble wrought iron dinette set down the stairs for the junk truck. “Let’s rent a truck and take it all to Goodwill,” Erica suggested. She asked her friends to help and we were done in just a few hours. The best part was when her friend, a computer science teacher, said her kids would get such a kick out of that vintage Macintosh. She also took our most favorite piece of furniture, an antique oak dresser with a lovely vanity mirror.
Sunday, when Harry and Erica were set to leave, he noted there was a hurricane coming to town! I pinched myself for having saved $10 on Hotels.com by making a nonrefundable reservation for the next night, when the last mattress would be gone from the house. It was a slow-travelling storm system forecast to sit over Houston for days with the potential to trap me in flooding and stop air traffic all together. At the last minute the next morning, I decided to change my reservation, put the pedal to the metal and got the hell out of Dodge. I still had to take the computer equipment for recycling, stop at UPS to return cable equipment, and ship our eldest daughter her high school sports medals and memorabilia (that I trust will not end up in the dregs in the middle of the room some day). I had driven my husband’s car to the airport loaded with stuff he would drive out to California when he returned from his final business trip before retirement. I pulled into the airport bar with a couple of hours to spare and decided I owed myself a martini!
Back in Monterey, however, we were stalled. When I returned the bank called about the construction loan set to close at the end of the month. “What are your reasons for the delay?” the loan officer asked. Out of a million possibilities, I came up with solar panels and changing the deck guard rails which required approval by the structural engineer. “That’s a very good answer,” he said, “we will grant you a two month extension through August.”
I hadn’t told him that the real delay was the cabinets, which has made Allan quite wild-eyed at times as we have had to express ship paint and stain samples half way across the country to our designer. This isn’t so bad when the answer comes back, “It’s a go!” But when it doesn’t, you cannot try again for a match until the one floor sample can be returned. Allan says the cabinets have delayed us five weeks. The good news is they are being installed now and they are beautiful as are the tiling and kitchen countertops and the Ipe siding.
Ahead is a commitment that will not come as easily as sorting out and straightening up. This week I return to Romania to be with my dear friend, Enikö, who is battling with cancer for her life. I wrote about her in a post last year, Sweet Spot. She is the wife of the retired minister of our partner church (of First UU Church in Houston) in Arkos, Romania. We have visited them almost every year for the past 15 years, and three of those visits were with our choir of nearly 40 persons. These have been highlights of my life and none of it would have been possible without Enikö’s careful arrangements and welcoming spirit. Even now, brought low by cancer, she says to me, “We wait your visit to Arkos.”
This will be a difficult visit in part because Romania does not have hospice care or supports for cancer patients and their families. Doctors there are still inclined to decide “what is best” to tell a patient, while closest family members are advised not to say anything that might cause upset. Enikö is very smart, and from our phone calls she seems to have all of her faculties and still speaks English beautifully. I believe she knows that she is terminal and perhaps that is why she has asked me to come.
She has refused any pain medication to help her cope with the breast cancer that has metastasized to her brain. She can no longer walk. Her friend, Eva, from the village takes care of her during the day, along with her husband Janos, and her two sons and their wives who live in the village and help with home care. Janos and Enikö have asked me to stay with them for the four days that I am there. I wonder of what use I can be.
I will simply be present and try to be a comfort. Why is this such a challenge? It’s more than I did for my father when he died alone because I was too afraid to face his weakness and pain in the hospital. Ironically, a Navy veteran from WWII, he was always drilling me that there was nothing in life of which I should be afraid. Perhaps I can do better this time just by being there, and holding Enikö’s hand, so that together we might fathom the great beyond.
Trying to comprehend that void as a child so terrified me it first brought me to prayer. Again it was my father, a mathematician, who introduced the concept of infinity, perhaps prompted by some question of mine on one of our long walks. This was how I pictured death then, my little body hurtling through space. If my reticence to think about it now is any indication, I still cannot bear the thought. In preparation for the trip, I am trying to contemplate my own final moments, encouraged in my Buddhist studies by the maxim of Carlos Castaneda that, “death is our eternal companion.” As I exhale, each breath can be seen as a type of death, that moment gone forever. I hope when that moment comes for me there will be someone there to hold my hand; I am honored that Enikö has asked me to be there with her now.